Reflections on 2016
By: Thomas Rose, Staff Writer
As I type this now, my desktop background displays a picture of what was probably once a grand old farmhouse. Now, the roof has been stripped away to show the rafters beneath. The doors and windows have been closed off with bricks, and the surrounding landscape is one of nature at its best – wild, untamed plants reach towards the sky, slowly claiming back their space from whoever once called this place home. It’s a stock image provided by Microsoft, but I like it. It reminds me that no matter how solid something may seem, brick and mortar holding it together like this old house, all things must eventually end. It’s a thought I’ve had a lot over the last few weeks. With classes coming to a close, the pile of unfinished assignments dwindling, and this seemingly interminable year slowly crawling towards December 31st, it’s hard not to remember that nothing is immune to the ravages of time. As we enter the last month of 2016, it occurs to me that it’s not just schoolwork and excuses for not doing schoolwork that are drawing to close.
The DAPL protests in North Dakota have been going strong since January, despite official attempts to clear the protestors. The US Commission on Civil Rights has called in a statement released November 22nd for “federal, state, and local officials and law enforcement to work together to deescalate the situation and guarantee the safety of protesters” after reports of “excessive” force against those rallying against the building of the pipeline. Protestors, apparently unarmed, have reported being subject tear-gassing, being shot with rubber bullets, and pelted with concussion grenades by authorities, allegedly resulting in a disturbing number of injuries. In a move purported to be in the interest of “public safety”, the US Army Corps of Engineers has announced plans to officially close federally owned land to the public as of December 5th, the day this article will be published. Though they have said they will not “forcibly remove” protestors from the Oceti Sakowin camp, one can’t help but wonder how things will shake out. After backing off on threats of spot checks on vehicles entering the area and fines for those found to be bringing supplies to protestors, will officials similarly renege on promises of avoiding force? With a number of the over 2,000 veterans pledged to create a human shield between protestors and law enforcement already arriving at the camp as of December 2nd, only time will tell.
The Standing Rock Sioux aren’t the only ones exercising their voices – citizens from across the United States are still taking part in protests demonstrating their discontent with the results of last month’s federal election. When President-elect Trump hosted the first event on his planned “thank-you” rallies in Cincinnati this past Thursday, supporters were met by a number of protestors sporting signs ranging the gamut from the relatively innocuous “love trumps hate” to the vitriolic “[expletive] Trump”. As we’ve seen over the last month, many Americans feel slighted after Trump lost the popular vote by more than 2.5 million votes, calling the American Electoral College “undemocratic”. Though the Electoral College is – strangely – under no legal obligation to cast their votes for the chosen candidate in many states, it’s difficult to imagine them not making Trump’s victory official when they meet on the 19th, given that a significant number of so-called “faithless electors” hasn’t attempted to flip a vote since 1863. Not exactly impossible, but very highly unlikely. Will these protests end once the votes have been cast? The tens of thousands of RSVPs to the January 20th “#NotMyPresident” rally outside the U.S. Capitol seems to suggest otherwise. Until that day has come and gone, however, all we can do is speculate.
While Standing Rock and the Trump Presidency are arguably the most visible examples of such protests, this phenomenon is far from being a solely American issue. South Koreans continue to demonstrate in astounding numbers calling for the resignation of President Park Geun-hye. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon continues to condemn UK Officials over Brexit, a decision criticized as “ignoring the voice of the Scottish people”. Unrest continues to mount in the Kashmir region against the killing of Burhan Wani by Indian authorities. Italians await the outcome of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s referendum which will “significantly reduce” the power of the country’s senate. 2016, it seems, is a year of unpopular politicians.
But what does this tell us? It’s all well and good to note that people are getting upset with politicians – and making no secret of it – but is there something bigger we can infer from this apparent global rise in mistrust of those in power? Admittedly, I lack the expertise to draw any significant conclusions. But I can tell you this: we have seen that there is a portion of the global population which seems to feel threatened by the increasing interconnectedness of our world. Immigration and globalization are perceived as not only a threat to their livelihoods, but to their very identities. On the other side, we seem to have those who would call the former’s viewpoints “archaic” or “backwards” at best, and “dangerous” at worst. Both sides, it seems, are becoming increasingly concerned that the current political system – whichever system that may be – is unable to address their concerns in a satisfactory way. As near as I can tell, the end of the calendar year may well be the beginning of a dramatic shift in global political thought. How we get there, however, is as much your guess as mine.