EDITORIAL | The decade in review: 10 years of people demanding change

Editorials Opinions

For better and for worse, calls for change have shaped the world

The Women’s March, January 2018. Photo by Belle White.

As 2019 draws to a close, we’re taking a moment to reflect on a decade where the world changed immensely — and the forces that shaped it. 

As we sat in the Martlet newsroom, talking about how we could possibly define the last 10 years, our staff reminisced about the big changes: the growth of social media, the end of the Harper era, and Justin Trudeau’s tumultuous first term in office. 

While all of these things are significant, one theme stood out from our discussion: people demanding change. 

This decade has been one of protests. On every continent — including Antarctica — protests gained momentum around themes of democracy, rights, liberty, race, and our environment. 

Less than a year into the decade, the Arab Spring rocked the Middle East as people from Egypt to Syria came together in mass pro-democracy demonstrations. They protested the lack of economic opportunity, corruption in government, and repression by authoritarian regimes. Although most of the region remains under oppressive rule, with only Tunisia making notable lasting gains, this movement helped pave the way for other protests around the world such as Occupy Wall Street that rallied behind similar tactics and themes.

In Canada, only one year later, the Idle No More movement sparked in opposition to a bill introduced by the Harper government that protesters feared would erode Indigenous sovereignty, and evolved into an effort to advocate for Indigenous rights and environmental issues. 

Halfway through the decade, in the United States, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem in support of Black Lives Matter prompted a discussion about the country’s treatment of minorities and police brutality. 

In 2017, the day after the inauguration of the openly xenophobic, sexist, and racist U.S. president, Donald Trump, approximately five million women and their allies participated across the country in the Women’s March — making it the largest single day demonstration in U.S. history. At the same time, over three million other people around the world held sister marches to stand in solidarity against the threat to reproductive, civil, and human rights posed by the Trump White House.

Also in 2017, #MeToo spread like wildfire on social media, leading to national and global conversations about sexism and gender-based violence in our society. Individuals began coming forward en masse to tell their stories about experiencing harassment and abuse. One of the most notable results of the movement is the arrest of Harvey Weinstein, a former producer who has been accused of abuse by more than 80 women, and will stand trial in January for predatory sexual assault.

This has been a decade in which people demanded change in favour of equity, human rights, and reconciliation. 

In the last 10 years, our tools for instigating institutional and societal change have come a long way — and with it, so has our collective social and political will for progress.

These massive movements were made possible, in part, because of new platforms connecting and elevating the voices of those who might otherwise have gone unheard — bringing messages and video from the front lines of conflict onto the screens of people half a world away. From the Arab Spring, to the Global Climate Strike, to the Hong Kong protests, the advent of social media platforms like Facebook and online communication apps like WhatsApp has allowed people to organize on an unprecedented scale, and made it possible for activists to influence public opinion outside of the realm of traditional media.

However, not all efforts to reject the status quo this decade have promoted inclusion. Both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in 2016 were at least partially a rejection of the perceived status quo on the part of disillusioned voters in the U.K. and U.S. Unlike many of the other demands for change that took place this decade, Trump’s election and Brexit have not pushed for inclusion — at least tacitly condoning Trump’s racist and sexist rhetoric and fears of immigration in the U.K. 

This has been a decade of activism and protest — with the Global Climate Strikes this year topping the list for the sheer number of people that have ever shown up for the planet. We’re not sure what the next decade will bring, but science is absolutely sure that we need to act now to protect our future.

In our increasingly polarized political and media environment, it can be hard to avoid taking sides on issues like race, colonialism, healthcare, and climate change that are often portrayed as being black and white. Sometimes there is an obvious right and wrong, but more often than not, the reality is grey. It is up to us to think critically and to make informed decisions about the causes and people we choose to support.

In 1981, the Martlet staff wrote an article titled “1980: A Year in Review — Twelve Months of Impending Disaster.” In it, they talked about the Cold War and the Quebec referendum on separation. It seemed, then, that the world was ending. Now, scientists are certain that the world is facing impending disaster. But today, the enemy isn’t the Soviet Union or Quebec separatism — it’s us and our own actions.

While this decade was defined by people demanding change, these movements have seen mixed success. They have proven, however, that a critical mass of people demanding change is something the world simply cannot ignore. That, alone, makes us hopeful for the next decade  — even if we are facing impending climate disaster. 

In the last 10 years, our tools for instigating institutional and societal change have come a long way — and with it, so has our collective social and political will for progress. We expect more of our societies, and we expect more of ourselves. So in the decade to come, let’s keep holding each other to this expectation of accountability and change.

So maybe, while crafting your resolutions for the new year — and the new decade — keep in mind the positive change you would like to see in the future, and the tangible steps you can take to see that through while continuing to push for positive action in the 2020s and beyond.