Yes, the election results were generally awful. But the untold story of 2016 is that grassroots activists, bold campaigners, and the movements they embraced frequently prevailed—and their successes showed progressives how to press forward even in the most frustrating and difficult of times. Our 2016 honor roll of the most valuable progressives is a chronicle of the fight that has already begun, and a road map for the resistance yet to come.
Most Valuable Campaign
“So, are you guys ready for a radical idea?” the Vermont senator asked as he kicked his 2016 presidential campaign into high gear. Sanders was speaking about creating “an economy that works for all of us, not just the 1 percent.” But he could have been referring to the idea of a presidential bid by a seventysomething democratic socialist from a small state that began, as Sanders likes to point out, at just 3 percent in the polls. “We had no campaign organization and we had no money. And we were taking on the most powerful political organization in the United States of America,” the senator recalled. Yet his rallies would soon fill the largest halls in the country, and he would go on to win more than 13 million votes, 23 primary and caucus contests, and more than 1,800 delegates. That wasn’t enough to clinch the nomination, and Sanders is the first to admit that his campaign made strategic mistakes in its initial outreach to key Democratic constituencies and superdelegates. Yet he won overwhelming support from young people; he forged a coalition that energized Native Americans, Arab Americans, rural voters, and displaced and disappointed workers across the country; he opened up transformational debates about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and about pipelines and climate change; and his supporters played a crucial role in writing the most progressive platform in the modern history of the Democratic Party. Most important: Sanders encouraged his backers to build an organization, Our Revolution, to extend the energy of his progressive populist campaign beyond 2016.
Most Valuable Struggle
Stand With Standing Rock
By the time most Americans had heard about the Dakota Access Pipeline project, it was close to completion. But the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota kept raising objections to the project’s plans to tunnel under the Missouri River, which would threaten not just sacred lands but access to safe drinking water for the Sioux and for millions of people living downriver. Tribes from across the country and indigenous peoples from around the world recognized the importance of the struggle to prevent completion of the oil pipeline as planned. They were joined by Bill McKibben, 350.org, and other climate-change activists in standing up to the fossil-fuel industry. Against daunting odds, this intersectional movement delayed the project and, in early December, the US Army Corps of Engineers refused to issue the permits needed to complete it. The feds will now consider “alternative routes.” Despite this major victory, the struggle is far from over, as Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline’s developer, has powerful allies in Congress and the incoming administration. Yet, as Naomi Klein says, the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline has shown “people everywhere that organizing and resistance are not futile.”