A map showing the concentration of Occupy protesters
In the world of American politics, 2011 was a year of acute partisanship. In the aftermath of the Arizona tragedy, many lawmakers promised a renewed commitment to civility. However, it proved short-lived. Tensions rose as the first few months of the year featured dramatic contrast between two visions for the future. Obama's plan to "win the future" and Paul Ryan's ambitious budget overhaul both found many supporters, little common ground, and little progress towards implementation. As the year went on, Democrats and Republicans continued to spar on almost every issue, from keeping the government running to raising the debt ceiling to extending the payroll tax cuts. By November, Congress had an approval rating lower than BP during the oil spill of 2010.
Internationally, it was a year of upheaval. The Arab Spring toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Revolutions in Yemen and Syria are still underway. Protesters also took to the streets in Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, and Algeria to demonstrate against corrupt governments, economic stagnation, and a lack of freedom. Beyond the Middle East, millions spoke out against corruption in India and thousands marched in Russia after massive election fraud. High youth unemployment and fiscal austerity in Europe spurred demonstrations in Greece, Italy, and Spain. In the United States, what began as a march against corporate greed and the pervasive influence of money in politics transformed into a worldwide Occupy movement.
Osama Bin Laden, Moammar Gadhafi, and Kim Jong-Il died in 2011. So too did attitudes of apathy and complacency across the globe. Last year will be remembered as a time when people around the world stood up for rights, dignity, and change with renewed vigor. 2012 is another crucial year. With anti-incumbent sentiment mounting, what choices will voters make? To what degree will the populist demands for solidarity and reform come to fruition?
The answers to both of these questions begin to emerge as early as this month. A flurry of caucuses and primaries will take place over the coming weeks as the Republican party winnows down its field of candidates in one of the most tumultuous nomination processes ever. And on January 17th, thousands are expected to converge on Washington, D.C. to Occupy Congress. To everyone who reads this, I wish you a peaceful and prosperous new year. After the progress and tribulations of 2011, let's not lose sight of the exciting possibilities for more change in 2012.