2023 Was a Year of Hope Amid the Horrors

This year had plenty of horrors. But there was also much cause for hope, from the burgeoning pro-Palestine movement to the UAW’s historic strike.

United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain speaks during the press conference with union leaders and supporters of a cease-fire in Gaza on December 14, 2023, in Washington, DC. (Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

With a possible Donald Trump presidential victory on the horizon, and our tax dollars funding an unspeakably brutal slaughter in Gaza, it’s clearly a rough time in US history. But 2023 offered tremendous hope for the resurgence of left and working-class mass movements — which are, after all, the main way the world gets better.

A Year of Strikes

The Teamsters scored a major victory against United Parcel Service (UPS), with significant wage gains and safety improvements following a strike threat. The Writers Guild of America went out on strike against the major Hollywood studios and improved their wages by some $233 million compared to the last contract.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) — full disclosure, I am a member — had an especially triumphant year. After voting to make its elections more democratic (“one member, one vote”), the union membership promptly chose leadership with fire in the belly to fight for the rank and file, including new president Shawn Fain, who led the union’s “stand-up” strike to several stunning contract victories against the Big Three auto companies, hitting back against a divisive two-tiered pay system, reopening a shuttered plant in Belvidere, Illinois, expanding existing factories, and clearing the way to organize electric vehicle battery plants.

What’s next? In 2024, the UAW will be organizing at Tesla, continuing the campaign to make the transition away from fossil fuels work for workers.

A Year of Socialist Victory

Shawn Fain and the UAW sought to make climate progress more economically just — and thus, politically viable. Socialists in New York did the same by successfully pushing for the Build Public Renewables Act (BPRA), mandating that the state fund renewable energy if the private sector falls short of legislatively mandated goals. The popular pressure to pass the landmark bill was led by Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) activists and supported by elected DSA members inside the legislature.

BPRA was not the only socialist victory in 2023. As my Jacobin colleague Branko Marcetic wrote after the November elections, “A surprisingly good night for Democrats was an even better one for socialists.” Several ballot measures endorsed by DSA succeeded, including, in a very close vote, a Tenants Bill of Rights in Tacoma, Washington. All told, forty-six DSA members triumphed in state and local races, including seats on the Minneapolis, St Paul, Philadelphia, Tacoma, Santa Fe, Indianapolis, Onondaga County (New York), Hamden (Connecticut), and Portland (Maine) city councils, among others.

A Year of Waging Peace

While Palestinians have long been suffering under Israeli occupation, the situation, like most matters of US foreign policy, rarely inspires mass mobilization. There hasn’t been a significant antiwar movement in the United States since 2003, when the United States retaliated against Iraq for the September 11 terrorist attacks, despite that country’s complete lack of relationship to the same.

But recent protests against the massacre in Gaza have reached, and at times the surpassed, the massive Iraq War protests. We’re regularly seeing demonstrations of tens of thousands, mobilized by left groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, DSA, Students for Justice in Palestine, and many others. Public opinion is shifting, with younger Americans much more skeptical of Israel.

This movement is not only impressive for its size and persistence, but by the breadth of support, including labor unions. The most prominent of these is the UAW, whose leaders announced support for a cease-fire in Gaza alongside hunger strikers in front of the White House. Other significant unions, like the National Education Association and 1199SEIU, have joined the call as well.

A Year to Take on Housing Injustice

The movement to demand housing for all boasted some victories, too, including a “mansion tax” to fund affordable housing in Santa Fe, and a property tax increase serving the same purpose in Seattle, both cities where people are struggling with housing costs.

A Year for Abortion Rights

It was also a year in which reproductive rights activists organized, grew in number, and won. In Ohio, where Trump prevailed by 8 percentage points in 2020, voters approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion rights, a result that bodes well for similar 2024 efforts in Florida and Arizona.

As well, an attempted Republican crackdown on abortion rights led Virginia voters to elect a Democratic majority in both state chambers, a defeat for the far-right Republican governor Glenn Youngkin, who deserves all the humiliation and rejection our political system has to offer.

A Year of Climate Progress

Thanks to the worldwide climate movement, and the horrifically visible effects of the climate crisis, there was some progress on climate policy in 2023. New York’s BPRA was a bright spot for ecosocialists, but it wasn’t the only one: the world finally took a big step at COP28 toward making rich countries — the biggest greenhouse gas emitters — compensate poor countries for the impacts of climate change. The European Union passed legislation to limit corporations’ ability to import polluting products. Though stymied by Congress this year, the Biden administration issued some decent executive orders, including one this summer mandating all government agencies to implement environmental justice principles into their work.

Overall, carbon pollution in the United States dropped by 3 percent, partly because of the long-term decline in coal. That’s not enough to keep us on track to meet the goals outlined in the Paris accords, but it’s still an encouraging sign that by gradually changing the politics of this issue, we can save many lives and ecosystems.

These mass movements are our hope for significantly changing the world. Their resurgence and many successes give us good reason to look forward to a better 2024. Shawn Fain put it well, speaking on the eve of the UAW strike: “It’s a battle of the working class against the rich, the haves versus the have-nots, the billionaire class versus everybody else. . . . It’s time to decide what kind of world we want to live in and it’s time to decide what we are willing to do to get it.”