Have you ever been in a fight before? I mean a real fist fight. Not a martial arts match, but the kind of fight where you rarely get a chance to strike a Bruce Lee pose or make a Bruce Lee noise. We’re not talking made-for-TV. Real-life fights are a mess, and after you’ve been in one, you’ll approach every other fight from that point forward very differently.
For many of us, 2017 was a fist fight. Like many fist fights, I’m not even sure if we won or lost; I suspect we lost. I know we’re battered and bruised. We landed a good punch here or there and I know we’re still standing, but if this is a win, I’d hate to see what losing feels like.
For many of us, 2017 was a fist fight. We’re battered and bruised.
More people were killed by police this year than last year, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department are doing everything they can to avoid holding police accountable. Muslims and immigrants and indigenous Americans have been railroaded over and over again. People are starving to death in Yemen. Africans are being bought, sold, and murdered in Libya. Rich people just got huge tax cuts, while most Americans can’t afford health care or college tuition. And politicians who claim to be progressive still seem like they’re embarrassed to actually act like it.
Then there are the more concrete losses, and we lost a lot.
The sudden heart attack, coma, and death of 27-year-old Erica Garner, a mother and anti-police brutality activist, somehow made sense as we closed 2017. Her death was a horrible cap to an unimaginably hard year. Erica was my friend. I trusted her. She was as honest and authentic of a person as you’ll ever encounter on this earth. She spoke of truth to power as a daily discipline and refused to suffer fools gladly. It’s in the shadows of her untimely death that I look forward into 2018, trying to imagine what’s ahead.
It might be better to start with what is not going to happen in 2018.
Donald Trump is not going to be impeached. Period. First and foremost, no matter what Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation finds, Republicans will continue to control Congress at least until January 2019. Between now and then, even if Democrats have landslide victories in the midterm elections, the current Republicans in Congress will not impeach Trump. They are in too deep with him; they’ve hitched their wagons to his legacy and leadership. Even if the Mueller investigation charges someone in Trump’s inner circle with obstruction of justice or some crime related to collusion with an foreign government, Trump would never resign under any circumstances. All of this to say that 2018 will be another year with Trump in office, and expecting otherwise is futile.
After you get your ass handed to you, you can either go back with the same game plan and keep losing, or you can rethink everything, regroup, and go back to the fight.
Yet there is room for some victories, and here’s what I do expect to happen in 2018:
2018 is going to be a year of successful organizing. After you get your ass handed to you, you can either go back with the same game plan and keep losing, or you can rethink everything, regroup, and go back to the fight with a better chance of success. That’s one lesson we need to take from Erica: organize, organize, organize. There’s no substitute for making it happen by showing up and being there and doing the work, especially in the face of adversity.
If we do all that, 2018 will be the year of better plans, better actions. A lot of losses accumulated on the criminal justice reform front in 2017, but every win — ranging from essential juvenile justice breakthroughs to more widespread legalization and decriminalization of marijuana — was hard-fought and well-organized. A few reform-minded district attorneys were elected in 2017, and with the skills and understanding gained from those elections, hundreds of additional district attorney races that have been historically ignored will now be in play in 2018 and beyond.
On Monday, January 1, recreational marijuana becomes legal in California. This breakthrough cannot be understated. The impact this will have on California’s justice system and economy is massive. California is a pace car for much of the U.S. As other states see the benefits, 2018 will be the year when a record number of cities and states begin to follow suit, either by enacting reforms or putting in place the mechanisms to consider it. (Speaking of California, the state will also make meaningful progress on extending universal health care.)
Legalizing pot will mean that, in 2018, we will see a growing movement to expunge the criminal records of those convicted of marijuana-related crimes in California and beyond. We will also see breakthroughs on the restoration of voting rights for formerly incarcerated people all over the country.
Lastly, we are going to see record-setting voter turnout all over the country in 2018 for important midterm elections. It will rival or top that of previous presidential elections. That trend will continue in 2019 and 2020, and will indeed lead Democrats and progressives to begin regaining power.
There’s work to do; none of it will come easy. But if we make the effort, we can expect this and more. We can find our way to progress.