Ten powerful words in 2013

books ten words

I'll start the countdown in opposite order, beginning with:

10. Drought

Arid skies and population pressure have accelerated the need for secure sources of clean, inexpensive water.  Drought damages ecosystems and underlies territorial conflicts.  Knowing where the problems exist is but the first step in building a grassroots, yet global, advocacy for the ultimate consumer group: every living thing. 

The World Resources Institute released a study, complete with an interactive map, which points out that 37 percent of countries contend with high water stress-and the problem afflicts both affluent and impoverished regions.

9.  Whistleblower

Drone and surveillance are two other powerful words impacting our lives, as each represents ways in which our supposedly democratic country continues to infringe on personal liberties both at home and abroad.  However, I chose the word "whistleblower" because there are still truth-tellers willing to let the public know what's going on.  In January of 2013, CIA agent John Kiriaku was sentenced to 30 months in prison for revealing details about his agency's use of waterboarding, a tactic he honestly described as torture. 

8.  Obamacare

When President Obama's modest health care reforms met with conservative-driven deadlocks, it underscored the fact that even a slight improvement in basic living standards sparks fierce opposition from the well-financed business community.

7.  Ownership

There's a growing trend in business to control their product past point of sale, and to buy and sell information about consumers.  It hurts farmers faced with overly restrictive rules on using patented seeds.  Tech users face barriers when wanting to unlock their cell phone and tablets.

Even a book purchaser isn't an owner if her book is in electronic form, since there are restrictions on resale.  An Internet user's personal information is folded into a corporate database, then subject to reuse without his permission.  These developments treat a person as a virtual commodity and make their belongings not truly their own.

6. Shooting

Trayvon Martin died essentially of walking while black.  The court case this past summer that absolved his shooter, George Zimmerman, of any responsibility, was but one of many stories that dotted the national news in 2013.  It was a rare week when somebody wasn't killing schoolchildren, or shotgun-blasting an injured driver for the "crime" of seeking help, but the violence wasn't restricted to workplaces, schools, and front porches.  As Mark Follman noted in his article in Mother Jones, at least 194 children were shot to death in 2013-most of them at home.

5. Affluenza

In December, Texas judge Jean Boyd sentenced teenager Ethan Couch, a repeat offender, to therapy and probation because he was suffering from "affluenza", which is another way of saying that his parent-bestowed life of privilege left him with no understanding of accountability.  He was not held responsible for killing four people while driving his truck with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit.

Earlier, Judge Boyd sentenced a 14-year-old black teenager to up to 10 years in prison for punching a man who later died as a result of his injuries.

Sioux chief Sitting Bull said back in 1877 about the European invasion, "They make many laws which the rich may break but the poor may not, and the love of possession is a disease with them." 

The disease of affluenza, if such there be, has a cure: social justice, which has been sadly lacking in these and many other cases in the American system of crime and punishment.

4. Madiba

Madiba is the Xhosa clan name of Nelson Mandela, father of a democratic South Africa, who died Dec 5 of this year.  As a young Christian lawyer, he became radicalized by the apartheid regime's reliance on massacres and torture of prisoners to try and contain what had been to that point a largely peaceful movement.  Imprisoned for decades, Mandela emerged as a leader and advocate for reconciliation.  He remains an inspiration to activists of all ages.

3.  Gap

Wage stagnation, the dearth of living-wage jobs, distorted laws and taxation that favors the already wealthy-these factors and more have led to the increasing power of this word.  You can't fix what you don't see.  Young people, through their participation in political activism and street-level protest, proved more than ever this year that they recognize the wide gulf between mainstream media's rhetoric of consumerist plenty and the injustice within their own lives.

2.  Movement

The movement of people across borders, whether legal or illegal, underscores the stress caused by a system often dubbed global yet in practice can be painfully personal.  Within our country, the organized movement of people and ideas can lead to greater visibility for poor and working-class people, and a vibrant alternative to the status quo.

1.  Strike

The labor movement's renewed growth can be seen in strikes that recurred throughout 2013 within the minimum-wage fast-food industry and big-box merchants.  Whether a fry cook at McDonald's or a Walmart stocker, those with the smallest pay checks and the least amount of job security raised their voices this year.  Many Americans who work don't make a living wage.  This was the year their voices began to be heard.

Photo: jovike/flickr/cc

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