Like every year that goes by, 2014 has seen tragedy and triumph. But most of all it’s ushered in new dialogue around racism, climate change, education and civil rights. During an age when complacency has been the common thread and the aforementioned topics have all too often been swept under the rug, thousands of protestors, activists, public figures, journalists, and educators have mobilized this year in the name of equal justice. Here are some of the year’s biggest moments in social impact, in no particular order.
Racism And Police Brutality Go Under The Gun
Protests broke out in the Midwest in August after an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, MO. When it was announced that Wilson would not be indicted, civil unrest in Ferguson erupted largely due to conflicting witness reports and racial tension that has permeated the area for decades.
On July 17, New York resident Eric Garner was killed while held in a chokehold by a Staten Island policeman Daniel Pantaleo. A video recorded by an onlooker shows four officers restraining Garner, while Pantaleo grabbed his neck from behind. Garner, who had asthma, repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe,” as he was brought to the ground by the police and died from a heart attack caused by compression on his neck. Even though medical ruled Garner’s death a homicide, and chokeholding is a violation of the NYPD, the grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo.
The tragedies continued in November when 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a police officer in Cleveland, OH. After hearing reports that a “young black male” was carrying a gun in a city park, officers Timothy Loehmann Frank Garmback arrived, and Loehman fired two shots hitting Rice in the torso. The policemen reported that Rice reached toward a gun in his waistband. It was later found that Rice's gun was an Airsoft replica. His death was ruled a homicide by the Cuyahoga County medical examiner.
The events have galvanized thousands of people to protest against police killings and racial profiling in the U.S. On December 13, tens of thousands of demonstrators joined the Millions March in New York. While there has been heated debate and discrepancy over how the grand jurys have handled the aforementioned cases, two truths remain constant. Racism and racial profiling are alive in America. But so is the will of citizens coming together to take a stand for those who are unable to defend themselves.
To Change Everything, The World’s Climate Needs Everyone
The largest climate march in history took place on September 21, two days before President Obama and world leaders gathered for the Climate Summit at the United Nations, which was called for by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to discuss the danger posed by human-induced climate change. More than 2,000 rallies in162 countries rang in the People’s Climate March seeing millions move in solidarity, while calling people across the globe to take action.
Until recently, most of the climate change discussions have revolved around academic research analysis, media reports and independent protest rallies. The People’s Climate March marked the first time a worldwide, coordinated event for this issue took place.
Indigenous in Latin America are continuing the crusade. On Wednesday, campaigners marched in Lima during the 20th UN Conference on Climate Change (COP20). The mission of the march was not only to push for climate change solutions, but to call for fairness for environmental activists who deal with opposition from corporations.
A Teen Activist Stands Up For Education For All
When she was 15 she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012 for standing up for the right for girls to have an education in Pakistan, yet Malala Yousafzai survived, and has lived to write a book about her journey to fighting for social justice, as well as become the youngest person and first Pakistani to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize. She and Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi jointly accepted the award on December 10 in Oslo, Norway.
Malala began writing about the need for education justice in her country when she was 11 years old. Today she is running worldwide campaigns promoting education for all. Through the Malala Fund, she’s working to lift people out of poverty and ignorance.
Yousafzai recently spoke to TIME about Tuesday’s attack on the school in Peshawar, where more than 100 children were killed by the Taliban.
Here's the speech she gave when she was named a 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Ice Cold Charity Goes Viral
Unless you were on a different planet this past summer, videos of friends, colleagues, and family members dumping buckets of ice over themselves more than likely flooded your social media streams. According to the Washington Business Journal, the viral juggernaut, the Ice Bucket Challenge, has raised a global total of $220 million for ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Born from grass roots campaign among families who deal with ALS every day, the Ice Bucket Challenge started as a means of to informing the public of the disease. As the call to action gained national attention and celebrities started participating, the ALS Association began receiving international appeal.
Even though it was criticized for using excessive water, people couldn’t get enough of the meme’s watch-donate-nominate process. According to ReelSEO, approximately 456,000 Ice Bucket Challenge videos have been uploaded to YouTube, generating 1.3 billion views to date.
Here's a celebrity-filled montage of some of the best Ice Bucket Challenge clips.
Hong Kong Speaks Out For Democracy
While protestors hit the streets in the U.S., demonstrators in Hong Kong protested outside government headquarters and occupied a number of major intersections after China announced it would not allow civil nominations during elections—meaning all nominees would need to be approved by by a pro-Beijing committee.
This prompted the advocacy group, Occupy Central, to launch a “civil disobedience” campaign, which led to aggressive force from the authorities—as in militarized police and tear gas. It's been a long demonstration for many activists there. It's also been a high-tech example of how groups can use different tools to mobilize and communicate.
Two months later, the number of protestors has decreased, but citizens in Hong Kong of all ages are still holding down the fort. While the power of the China’s Communist Party is formidable, the voices and spirits of the people have been raised in their quest to democracy. And this is just the beginning.
In this video, visual artist Kacey Wong explains why the protests have been dubbed as the 'Umbrella Revolution.'
These are just five significant social impact moments in 2014. There are many more. The lifting of gay marriage bans in multiple states, the legalization of cannabis in more states, and a new conversation around feminism in pop culture are also at the forefront. We'll have updates and tool tips on all.
In the meantime, what was your favorite social impact initiative this year?