Social injustice may have grabbed the media's attention in 2014, but there were also significant victories
With all of the negative media attention on social (in)justice issues these last few months, we must not overlook the positive changes that have occurred during 2014. This past year has been a busy one for social justice advocates evidenced by quite a few encouraging changes in various state and federal legislation, as well as with the individuals who have inspired change.
Social justice isn’t confined to just race, or class, or gender. It encompasses all individuals from every facet of society, and envelopes a wide range of social issues, from economics to the media, legislature to the workplace, and corporations to education.
Here are just a few of the many advancements we have seen during 2014. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, nor is it in any kind of prioritized order, but it will give you an idea of the progress we made this past year, and perhaps will help you realize that 2014 wasn’t such a bad year after all.
As one of the more momentous moments, Arizona had a big victory on the abortion front. The Supreme Court stood up for women’s health by upholding a lower court ruling. Arizona lawmakers will not be allowed to impose unscientific, excessive restrictions on how doctors use medication to help with abortions.
In December, North Carolina’s plans of forcing pregnant women to have ultrasounds before receiving an abortion were unanimously struck down by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal.
17-year old Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner ever. She, along with Kailash Satyarthi, was recognized for her efforts in securing education for all children, especially girls. This has brought the total of women winning this honorable distinction to 46 out of 103 individuals and 25 organizations since its inception in 1901.
Stella Ameyo Adadevoh was a Nigerian doctor who was instrumental in preventing an ebola catastrophe in Nigeria by overseeing the treatment of Patrick Sawyer. Unfortunately, this heroine contracted the virus, and passed away on 19 August.
Lego finally got on the ball, thanks to Dr. Ellen Kooijman, and finally produced a female astronomer, paleontologist and chemist figurines. Although they sold out quickly, and Lego claimed they were limited-edition, it was a true beginning in acknowledging women in the STEM world.
The National Council of Jewish Women was instrumental in helping defeat a Florida ballot measures that would have removed reproductive health care which would have taken away a woman’s right to her own health care decisions.
In April, President Obama signed an Executive Order to prevent workplace discrimination and empower workers to negotiate in order to combat the unequal pay gap between men and women.
Perhaps one of the most significant steps toward equality is seen in the adoption of same-sex marriage laws in several new states this year. Thirty-five states have now joined in to provide legal same-sex marriages to their citizens. 24 of them by court decision. This is significant in the fact that 64% of the U.S. population now live where issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples is legal. There’s still a ways to go considering that 36%, a full one-third of our nation, still agrees with discrimination against human beings, but the outlook looks more and more promising.
As well, it has been a good year for married transgender people. Arizona and California joined in affirming the legal recognition of gender identity as well as transgender people’s right to marry and have children. This has been beneficial for trans people seeking divorce, also. Two higher profile transgender men won their cases in court to divorce their wives. As one author wrote: “Validating the trans marriages and allowing these marriages the same divorce proceedings of any opposite sex marriages are considered victories for trans rights and shed clarity on the vague status of trans marriages.”
President Obama signed an executive order in July banning workplace discrimination against LGBT federal contractor workers and the federal government. Although this isn’t a complete comprehensive move covering all businesses and corporations in the U.S., it does affect 24,000 companies and 28 million workers, which constitutes one-fifth of the country’s workforce.
On a state level, Philadelphia finally established new LGBT hate crime laws in November with a unanimous 17-0 vote to approve jail sentences and fines for those found guilty of committing a hate crime.
Early in the year, Arizona Jan Brewer vetoed Senate Bill 1062, a bill that would have lead to discrimination and hurt the state’s economy. SB 1062 would have amended an existing Arizona law giving individuals and legal entities an exemption from state law if they used religion as an excuse not to serve the LGBT community, including in public accommodations.
As a result of 2014 legislation efforts, 21 states have raised their minimum wage laws, positively affecting the hourly wages of 2.4 million workers.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Labor Department announced the U.S. employers added 214,000 jobs to payrolls in October, showing the best yearly employment gain since 1999. This is great news for those who had been struggling just to survive and trying not to end up in poverty.
Social media has gotten on the social justice bandwagon more than ever this past year. Twitter hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter, #BeenRapedNeverReported, #YesAllWomen and #WhyIStayed have brought crucial public awareness to some serious issues. Like the fact that there is still substantial racial inequality, unreported rapes and domestic violence. These hashtags have given colossal public voice to these serious issues.
The state of Vermont has wised up, recognizing the need for adequate treatment of heroin drug users rather than incarceration. They are now offering these addicts a chance to avoid prosecution by choosing treatment and support, recognizing that this is a health issue, rather than a “win” for prosecutors sending them to jail.
To bring to an end this short list, Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps, who paved the way in stupidity for picketing funerals, gays, Jews and more finally kicked the bucket, to the delight of social justice activists around the world.
Though I agree with you that some significant positive changes have occurred in the arena of social justice, I wish I felt as encouraged by them as you.
When I consider several decisions handed down by the Supreme Court this past year—in particular, McCutcheon, McCullen, Hobby Lobby, Schuette—and its legally disturbing decision to hear the anti-ACA case involving what amounted to a common wording error in a congressional bill, I am not encouraged. That the Court has become so politically-gamed—“politicians in robes,” is, I believe, the way it was described—is not only discouraging but explanatory of the sound of thunder we hear just over the horizon.
The continuing wont of Republican “legislators” at both the state and national levels to compete for the most extreme position on seemingly every issue is discouraging as well—it signals that pandering will still be taking precedence over governance in what I fear will be another do-nothing, waste-of-time Congress.
And the fact that Democratic leaders tend to fall in line with Republicans per protecting Wall Street from any limits and from any risk by using the American taxpayer to collateralize what once were criminal behaviors leaves one wondering about the shelf-life of the American middle- and working-classes. As does passive Democratic reaction to Republican plans for privatizing/cutting benefits per Medicare and Social Security.
Extremist politicization of racial, cultural and religious differences in American society became even more visceral in 2014. One wonders if the time is nigh when those who revel in calling this president a “Nazi” will, like their brethren in Germany, begin to organize anti-Islam marches.
But, perhaps the major strides made in the areas of marriage equality and the minimum wage will be matched by leaps made in other areas of social justice in 2015. One does hope.
I will, however, exempt myself from that group of social activists who delighted in the death of Mr. Phelps—if for no other reason than rejoicing in his bucket-kicking might make me feel as small as I perceived him to be.
Your addition of a little balance to this review of advancements toward social justice is most appreciated. As for the parting of another self -proclaimed leader of what’s really not a church, let’s just keep him and his out of the limelight altogether!