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5 overlooked activist victories in 2013

In the capital city of Brasília, demonstrators take to the roof of the National Congress on June 17 during the largest mass demonstration in Brazil's history. (NINJA Media)

In the capital city of Brasília, demonstrators take to the roof of the National Congress on June 17 during the largest mass demonstration in Brazil’s history.
(NINJA Media)

Activists experienced some big wins in 2013 — from the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act to the ruling against stop-and-frisk in New York City to the revelations uncovered by NSA whisteblower Edward Snowden to an averted U.S. war with Syria. It’s not hard to find mention of these big stories on most year-end news lists. So rather than re-hash them here, we present you with a list of overlooked activist victories from the past year.

People power continues to win in the Philippines

In February, Filipino President Benigno Aquino III — whose father was assassinated by the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1983 — signed a law that will take more than $220 million from Marcos-controlled Swiss bank accounts to compensate people who were tortured, raped and jailed under the U.S.-backed dictatorship. Although the sum represents only a tiny fraction of the billions believed to have been stolen and then hidden by Marcos in international banks, Waging Nonviolence columnist Ken Butigan described the law as “a significant step toward healing and restorative justice,” as well as “a reminder that nonviolent action doesn’t end when the last demonstrator goes home. ”

A big win against Big Coal in the Pacific Northwest

Grassroots climate and anti-extraction activists in the Pacific Northwest scored a victory over the coal industry back in May when plans for a large coal export terminal on the Columbia River were scrapped by energy giant Kinder Morgan. Waging Nonviolence contributor Nick Engelfried called the victory “a good case study for how communities have been able to beat back the coal industry.” It was the third of six proposed coal export terminals to have been cancelled or indefinitely stalled, as part of a larger plan to offset lagging U.S. coal consumption with growing energy markets in China and South Korea. Nevertheless, activists won’t stop until all six have been defeated.

A sleeping giant wakes up in Brazil

Thousands of Brazilians took to the streets in June to protest a hike in public transportation fares in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. As the protests quickly spread across the country, the government responded by cancelling the hikes. Calls for other reforms then followed, but as Waging Nonviolence contributor Vanessa Zettler noted, “the question remains of how the breadth of discontent in Brazil will be channeled by those in the streets and those with access to the media.” Nevertheless, many saw the fare hike protests as as a beginning of a new era in Brazil, saying, “The giant woke up.”

A victory for millions of indigenous people in Mexico

Mexican political prisoner Alberto Patishtan Gomez was set free after 13 years of unjust imprisonment on October 31 by decree of a special pardon passed in the Mexican senate. Supporters from across Mexico and from around the world had been organizing for his release ever since he was arrested and convicted of murdering police officers in a trial that was filled with flaws and corruption. Patishtan made the most of his time behind bars, however, becoming one of the country’s leading voices protesting the unjust imprisonment of indigenous people and organizing for their liberation. Waging Nonviolence correspondent Marta Molina called Patishtan’s release “a victory for the millions of indigenous people in Mexico, who continue to face discrimination in the media and the judicial system.”

Online activists gain political clout in China

In September, a court in Beijing sentenced Li Tianyi — the son of two Chinese celebrities — to 10 years in prison for his leading role in the gang rape of a woman. Typically such an elite member of Chinese society would have received a far lesser sentence. But the outrage expressed on social media was believed to have pressured the court into levying the maximum sentence in order to uphold its image. This is just one of several cases that Waging Nonviolence contributor Michael Caster described as “a surge of cyber activism [in China] aimed at exposing and protesting [corruption and elite impunity] in the digital sphere — often producing, as in the case of Tianyi’s trial, surprisingly powerful results.”

What overlooked 2013 activist victories are we overlooking? Share your own list with us in the comments.