Hope and Dread in 2019

You already know all the reasons to fear 2019. Here are all the reasons to welcome it.

Signs prepared by LA teachers in preparation for their strike, on January 4, 2019, in Los Angeles, CA. @jollenelavid / Twitter

“Best of 2018” top ten lists are so last year already, and in any case banal. Instead, let’s consider the year that awaits. I think I have rarely approached a new year with such a mixture of terror and optimism, and I know I’m not alone.

The reasons for dread are so panic-inducingly obvious that we hardly need to enumerate them. Meanwhile, many on the Left are suspicious of “hope.” They feel there’s something false or propagandistic about pushing left-wing optimism in these times, given ongoing (and, likely, escalating) threats from climate change and the equally insistent rising tide of right-wing, racist authoritarianism. Some prefer words like “courage” or “resilience,” rather than “hope,” as these may seem like more attainable affective states for political activists in our time.

Of course, people feeling despair about the state of the world resent being told they have a political duty to be hopeful. I get that. You don’t have to feel hopeful. The last thing we need is more guilt-tripping.

Yet 2019 holds more rational cause for hope than we’ve seen in years. Less than a decade ago, the idea that socialism would ever again be a mainstream social movement or salient political force seemed almost quixotic, even to many socialists. In the nineties, being a leftist mostly meant spending years of your life fighting to save one community center in your neighborhood and watching as the developers eventually tore it down anyway. Your whole political existence was organized around being right, but losing. Lost causes held a kind of magnetism for the Left; some people spent decades defending political prisoners for whom there was never any reasonable possibility of release.

Now, whether we’re fighting to save a neighbor from foreclosure, pass a $15 minimum wage, elect a socialist candidate, stop a pipeline, or get better workplace conditions, we sometimes win. That’s because, for the first time in decades, a critical mass of people agree with us, our analysis of power is solid, and relatedly, people with left convictions are willing to work their asses off.

This list could be much longer but, here in no particular order are thirteen — in acknowledgement that we will have bad luck as well as good — reasons to welcome the coming year (or join an organization other than a suicide cult, invest in something other than a bunker, or bother waking up in the morning).

  1. If there’s anything better than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib’s 2018 election victories, it’s having them in Congress now, in 2019. If you’re not following AOC on Instagram and Twitter, you are depriving yourself of pleasure, especially if you are paying attention to the hellscape that is the rest of the political Internet. Don’t do that.
  2. Green New Deal. Not only is Ocasio-Cortez in office, she is already busy. For the first time ever, a US elected official at the national level has presented a serious outline of a plan to address our climate crisis in a comprehensive way. AOC’s Green New Deal approach is also genuinely redistributive, not only putting people to work but directing resources to health care and other vital human needs (and she’s proposed taxing the rich at 70 percent to fund it). While the grotesque excrescence that is the Senate — invented by white supremacist property owners in the fond belief that the vast majority of us would never share the franchise — will prevent it from becoming policy this year, AOC has offered a way out of one of the worst crises in human history while also giving the Left a concrete and unifying agenda, and throwing some great ideas to more liberal state and local governments (some of which are already making progress on this issue, despite the avid death drive of the Trump EPA).
  3. Workers will keep going on strike and winning. Last year, a wave of teachers strikes in red states won concrete gains for teachers and for public schools. Marriott hotel workers nationwide also went on strike and won higher wages. Expect more of this in 2019.
  4. People keep joining socialist organizations. The Democratic Socialists of America, which had six thousand members in 2015, has more than fifty-six thousand now. Smaller radical groups have been growing, too.
  5. The mainstream left is talking about foreign policy again. In 2016, Bernie Sanders was rightly criticized by the far left for not having much to say about the murderous horror that is US foreign policy. Now, he’s a leader in opposing the war in Yemen and the awful alliance with Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez’s victory and commitment to antiwar politics has given longtime antiwar Congresswoman Barbara Lee an ally. It’s easy to forget that Trump won office in part by promising less overseas military intervention; a revived antiwar movement could shake things up right now.
  6. Bernie is extremely popular and will almost definitely run for president again. Whether or not he wins the presidency, his success may take the form of ripple effects — like Medicare for All, free college tuition, more left electoral triumphs, and some other less awful president.
  7. In New York state, where I live, we organized and defeated a slate of conservative Democrats in the state Senate last year, replacing them with progressives, including one genuine socialist. (Full disclosure: I did some volunteering on these campaigns.) After years of paralysis in one of the most liberal states in the country, this offers hope for progress on equitable funding for public schools, single-payer health care, renewable energy, legalizing weed, funding public transit, fighting government corruption and other left-of-center priorities.
  8. Florida’s phenomenal decision to re-enfranchise people with felony convictions shows the bipartisan momentum of the criminal justice reform movement nationwide. It might even help push Florida into the blue column, which would permanently weaken Republican prospects at the national level.
  9. Missouri defeated a right-to-work law, a sign that some in the labor movement knows how to fight back at a time when the more-organized right is kicking our asses in the courts.
  10. Anti-union Scott Walker, enemy of public education and all public goods, is no longer governor of Wisconsin. This should serve as a cautionary tale for other aspiring reactionaries inclined to follow his model.
  11. In France and worldwide, people will keep filling the streets with militant disgust for neoliberalism and inequality.
  12. Remember the ozone layer? It’s recovering, due to international cooperation on chlorofluorocarbons, and may be completely restored by 2060.
  13. Green technologies are proving to be far more economically viable than expected. Solar energy capacity in Europe is set to grow by more than 40 percent this year. Wind energy is expected to have a huge worldwide growth spurt. The global electric car market is expected to grow almost 19 percent per year through 2023, with the Dutch bank ING projecting that all new cars in Europe will be electric by 2035.

Humans will keep demonstrating that we are smart enough to save our civilizations. We can do this.