Like any year, a lot of history happened in the year 2014. For most of it, I was in my own personal bubble in my apartment in Brooklyn, New York. It was within this bubble that I came to learn what happened around me, filtered by American media, Twitter feeds of people and orgs I followed, by Facebook algorithms and by friends, coworkers, and strangers I came in contact with. I can’t put my finger down on what the year was ultimately like. I have no decisive adjective to describe 2014. All I will do right now is list what I remember as historic moments of 2014 and talk about it.
In my memory 2014 began really cold. I remember beginning a day inside a high school auditorium and noticing that half of the students and the teachers were not in attendance. That was February 28, 2014, now recorded in history as a day in which NYC had the coldest high temperature since 1871. It was the continuing story of NYC having bizarre temperature swings, followed by Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2013. I really don’t want to assume there will be another chapter to this story in 2015.
On a related note, on September 21, over 300,000 people marched along the streets of NYC, through Central Park, through Wall Street, chanting for and demanding action on climate change. It was the largest climate change march in history and the date of the march was planned to coincide with the date of the UN summit. What I felt soon after this day was this idealistic notion that people were coming to be more aware about and concerned about our human impact on the environment, despite this important issue being so repeatedly and continuously dismissed and ignored by corporate-sponsored news networks and think tanks.
People marched and protested a lot in 2014 for many other reasons. Arguably the ones most talked about were regarding Fergueson, MO grand jury deciding not to indict Darren Wilson, the police office who shot and killed Michael Brown. This became a national conversation in the country for months, sparking debates and discussions on topics of anti-Black racism in America, militarization of police, criminalization of poverty, police brutality especially towards darker-skinned Black and Latino Americans, the U.S. criminal justice system, and more related topics. At one point, I almost felt there would be nationwide rioting, and a small part of me thought that could be something healthy for this country. This national conversation has come in many forms and evolved in many ways especially in light of recent deaths similar to those of Michael Browns. The event that galvanized not only Black people but White people as well to protest about racism by police in America was when the NYC grand jury decided not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for choking and ultimately killing Eric Garner. Several movements resulted after this, many of which can be categorized by Twitter hashtags – #blacklivesmatter, #alllivesmatter, #bluelivesmatter, #Ican’tbreathe…
Tension between NYPD (and its unions) and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Administration has been brewing since the beginning of the year when de Blasio announced plans to abandon stop-and-frisk practice. At the end of 2014, the tension erupted after two police officers – one of whom had gone viral on social media after Huffington Post commemorated his kindness to a homeless person – were ambushed while they were in their cars and shot dead by Ismail Brinsley. The tension continues into 2015 with NYPD currently abiding by the principle of “not making arrests unless absolutely necessary” and so the amount of arrests on offenses like public urination, drug possessions, parking tickets, and other violations that can be categorized as “small-time crimes” have dropped significantly in the past week. This is NYPD saying that they do not agree with de Blasio’s vision of “Broken Window” policing model. From what I’ve been reading (mostly NY Times), it appears many communities have mixed feelings about this, from having felt that police were over-policing their neighborhoods, and that they were not responsive to their real needs.
Other large movements in 2014 revolved around minimum wage. Most have been local movements though there were notably large movements, particularly by workers in Wal-Mart and fast food restaurants. The movements didn’t erupt into a full-blown class warfare, as it had in America over a hundred years ago, because at the backdrop of American poverty is record-breaking American prosperity. NYC for example has never had this many homeless people residing in the city, and by the time of this writing the number has reached 60,000. Yet, at the same time, the city has never had so many billionaires and the richest people of the city have never been richer. Overall, under President Obama and 114th Congress, U.S. economy has improved quite significantly, but being optimistic about that fact would be ignoring the ever growing income inequality in this country, which continues to widen and widen ever more unless there is serious course correction.
Obamacare is still the law of the land, though its future still hangs quite uncertainly in balance. 2014 in Congress was a year of gridlock at the federal level. Almost no laws were passed and politicians spent more time filibustering and bickering over party lines than promoting for the general good of the American public. This might change drastically starting in 2015, because with the November midterm elections in 2014, the Congress is now Republican-controlled, and in a few issues, it’s veto proof. Personally for me, it’s the first election I was able to vote for because I became a U.S. citizen in 2014, and almost all my votes in NY were winners, but nationwide, most people in my age group did not vote. Democratic participation in 2014 was abysmal. In contrast, on the other side of the planet, the largest presidential election history took place in Indonesia on July 9. I would not have learned about this important historic event if I wasn’t tuning into The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Almost no American media site and news channel covered this historic event.
Vermont was on its path to a single payer universal health care system, until in December 2014, the governor of Vermont decided to not continue this path. Healthcare in America will continue to be a serious issue in 2015.
For a short while in 2014 America went bananas about ebola, many TV pundits so terrified by it that they demanded all air travel to African countries be arbitrarily disabled. The American hysteria was not brought on by Americans becoming more informed and aware of the ebola epidemic crises in West African countries but only after a doctor who had returned from treating ebola patients in Liberia was found to have caught the ebola disease in Texas. This for me was a very disappointing time to be an American, but I kept a level head by reminding myself that informed and generous Americans were major contributors and volunteers to important organizations like Doctors without Borders and Medicins du Monde’ (Doctors of the World) who were on the front lines in those countries, treating patients/survivors of ebola and their families.
Another international hot topic was a nation-building terrorist group initially dubbed Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS for short. I, like President Obama’s Administration prefer to use the acronym ISIL (for Islamic Sate of Iraq and the Levant) because Isis is a name of an Egyptian god, and many people and companies that are named Isis have inadvertently been harmed by this translated acronym of an Arabic term. National discourse about ISIL resulted in Obama Administration sending thousands of U.S. armed forces back to Iraq to act as “military advisors.”
Counterterrorism under Obama Administration in 2014 is a very complicated picture. On paper, America is ending its “wars” on Iraq and Afghanistan. At the end of the year, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan has changed to Operation Resolute Support (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/01/us/mission-ends-but-sacrifices-are-not-over-for-us-soldiers.html?emc=eta1&_r=0). Despite the name changes and many soldiers returning home, U.S. continues its military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, utilizing its fleet of remote-operated aerial drones. Guantanamo remains in operation, and there hasn’t really been any national conversation about it even after a Senate committee released its comprehensive report on U.S.’s quite abhorrent U.S. interrogation practices which involved the likes of rectal feeding and breaking limbs of detainees. Also remember, Edward Snowden continued to be a topic of some discussions in 2014, and he actually was able to communicate to experts and attendants in important conferences and conventions.
For me, this is what I read as major historical moments and conversations in 2014. There are so many other things I want to talk about more in detail of course, like the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Hobby Lobby, on #GamerGate, on #icebucketchallenge, Malala Yousafzai being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the worst cyberattack in history (on Sony) and all those other things that made 2014 what it was. What will we actually remember about 2014 as an American a decade from now? Fifty years from now? A century from now? I’m not quite sure. Who knows what will be written in the history books of the future? Time moves on, and as we look back and write and read about it, hopefully we can learn from our history as we move towards the future.