2016 has been a dreadful year for many reasons. The rise of a politics dominated by real or imaginary scandals and post-truth rhetoric rather than debates on real needs and policy issues. The intensification of violence, hate, intolerance, cynicism, opportunism and frustration often amplified by technologically mediated social relations that reproduce instead of challenging preconceptions. The disenchanting death of politically-relevant artists and figures such as David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Leonard Cohen, Prince, Harper Lee, Fidel Castro and George Michael. The pervasive sense of anger, grief and disillusion that is poisoning our societies. But these negative sentiments cannot rule our relations and need to be transformed into a constitutive force to organise and act.
Violence has been a powerful highlight of this year. A series of terrorist attacks in France, Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Libya, Lebanon, Pakistan, Somalia, Kenya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Yemen and other countries; the not-less-terrorist murder of Jo Cox in the UK and the shooting in Orlando; the exorbitant number of deaths in the hopeful journey to cross borders; and the tragic escalation of the war in Syria. These events, particularly those labelled as ‘Islamic terrorism’ in the West, have resulted in the intensification of security measures and in subtler forms of intolerance and violence against more vulnerable people. These forms of exclusion are articulated around the axes of race, ethnicity, class, religion, gender and sexuality and legitimised according to Western ostensibly democratic values. Values which are often used as a pretext for control, occupation and domination.
Gender equality, for instance, remains an unfulfilled promise in the West as in Southern and Eastern countries. This is demonstrated by the daily acts of discrimination and violence against women and LGBTIQ. Gender equality, nonetheless, is enlisted in a discourse on democratisation that has repeatedly manipulated feminist causes in light of political and economic interests or to affirm the supremacy of the West ‘over the rest’. 2016 started with the harassment of women in Cologne that reminded us how women are too often instrumentalised in the war for power. Cologne exposed gendered hierarchies and instigated divisions with the risk to limit the potentially unstoppable power of a plural feminist multitude. In the same way, the response to the terrorist attack in Nice last July resulted in a proposed ban on burkini for public order and security reasons. This repressive measure, again, undermined women’s substantive freedom to choose and define their own identity in the name of a disempowering form of secularism.
An ambiguous idea of freedom has also dominated the debates on Brexit and the US presidential election. The dangerous nationalist and exclusionist narrative underpinning these debates and the senseless blaming on migrants, refugees, women, LGBTIQ, non-white and poor people has unrealistically reframed the category of the ‘left behind’. As if crises and poverty that affect normally well-off white people are exceptional circumstances that require a total change in politics, while non-white crises and poverty can stay invisible or simply be regarded as part of the natural order of things. Brexit and Trump’s demagogic rhetoric have eclectically merged nationalism, imperialism and neoliberalism in a xenophobic vision of white supremacy. In this narrative, the recognition of difference, openness and multiculturalism are portrayed as the problem to be solved through repression, walls and security and not as achievements towards substantive equality and social justice.
Progress towards global social justice is exactly what we need to focus on. 2016 has exposed all the contradictions and structural problems of Western neoliberal democracy, which for too long has been promoted as the model of government to be exported to the ‘rest of the world’. At the same time, the excluded and dispossessed are reclaiming a moral and economic reward that the enriched West is unwilling to pay: considering this historical debt is a necessary starting point for our action.
2016 has also showed how activism can be powerful and how resistance can be fierce. This activism includes communities of civilians who provide food, clothes and shelter to people in need, nationals or foreigners, often substituting themselves for the disappearing ‘social state’. The political work of international activist movements such as Black Lives Matter, which are exposing oppressive narratives of power but also showing alternatives. The Black Monday protest in Poland that successfully mobilised tens of thousands of people and helped to ensure that an anti-choice legislative proposal on abortion was voted down. The demonstrations NiUnaMenos in Argentina and other countries, which have built networks of support to demand political and legislative measures against physical, social and economic violence both nationally and globally. These movements give us hope.
This hope goes together with the potential to change. We, as a collective We, shouldn’t be holding our breath to see what happens in 2017, we need to fight side-by-side building upon existing struggles and as Antonio Gramsci suggests, be pessimistic in our thinking, optimistic in our wills and never afraid to stand up for the causes we care about.
We need to act in this direction.