In 2021, we’ve seen barriers broken, limits challenged, expectations defied. We’ve also seen rights stood up for and changes made. We’ve adapted to the ebb and flow of COVID-19 waves, though it hasn’t been easy. And the one word that comes to mind to describe this year is a journey. So let’s take a small trip in retrospection, examining one heartbreaking, day-making, or groundbreaking global event from each of the last 12 months and its impact.
Courtesy of The LA Times
Alrighty, I’m going to cheat right off the bat and include two events in this one. On January 6, a mob of right-wing activists breached the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. Their purpose? To overturn the defeat of Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election by disrupting a joint session of Congress called to count electoral votes. Rioters assaulted law enforcement officers and managed to burst into the Capitol, vandalizing and looting the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress. $30 million of damage was done. The many injuries, obstruction of justice, dozens of rioters with anti-government connections, and bedlam caused by this attack led to the mounting of a commission (eventually approved by the House after being blocked by the Senate) to investigate the events of Jan. 6.
Courtesy of CNN
The second event that month was the swearing-in of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Biden was the oldest inaugurated president at 78, and Harris was the first Vice President of Asian and Black heritage. Since then, Biden has created a diverse cabinet (including Deb Haaland, the first Native American Secretary of the Interior, and Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay man to be confirmed to a US cabinet post as transportation secretary) and signed a $1-trillion infrastructure bill, among many other feats.
Courtesy of AP
On February 1, Myanmar’s President Win Myint and State Counsellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Aung San Suu Kyi were deposed in a military coup. Several other democratically elected members of the National League for Democracy, the ruling party, were deposed and placed under arrest by Myanmar's military. Power has since been violently transferred to Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing. At least 707 civilians, including children, have been killed by military or police forces and at least 3,070 people detained. Local media outlets have been suppressed, and civilians are under strict digital surveillance.
Even after all of these casualties and restrictions, the motive behind the coup is unknown. It is possible the military wanted to maintain its central role in politics, to combat perceived voter fraud, or to distance Myanmar from China (as a spokesman said in an official comment).
The coup triggered widespread protests, including rallies and “cacerolazos”— the striking of pots and pans. The three-finger salute has been adopted as a symbol of the protest. Businesses supporting the military have been boycotted.
Courtesy of BBC
A 400m-long container ship named Ever Given was knocked off its course from China to Rotterdam by strong winds, blocking one of the world’s busiest trade routes: the Suez Canal. Dozens of vessels were delayed, oil prices soared, and markets plummeted. 14 tug boats worked to refloat the ship and crews dredged sand from the canal bank, but it still took days to get it dislodged.
Suez Canal Authority chairman Osama Rabie said that the Canal's revenues were taking a $14-$15 million hit for each day of the blockage. In a separate assessment, the stranded ship was judged to be holding up $9.6 billion of trade along the waterway each day. That equates to $400 million and 3.3 million tonnes of cargo an hour, or $6.7 million a minute. The Suez Canal is a major waterway for trade; therefore, it is deeply inconvenient for ships to have to avoid it. Rerouted vessels added around eight days to their total journeys.
Besides the Egyptian economy, countless businesses, from domestic transport providers to retailers, supermarkets, and manufacturers, were also impacted.
Courtesy of NY Post
Voice actor Hank Azaria apologized for voicing Indian character Apu on "The Simpsons" for 30 years. Azaria – who is white – had played the convenience store owner since 1990 and first announced he was stepping down from voicing Apu in January 2020. The actor claimed that "Part of me feels like I need to go around to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize." The character had been criticized for years for reinforcing racial stereotypes through his accent and appearance.
Azaria says he realized the character’s racist undertones in 2017 after criticism from comedian Hari Kondabolu, but he didn’t want to “make a knee-jerk reaction” and continued voicing the character.
Although he insists the character was created with good intentions all those years ago, he says the show was part of "structural racism."
"I really didn't know any better. I didn't think about it. I was unaware how much relative advantage I had received in this country as a white kid from Queens,” Azaria said.
Apu is currently sidelined, as the show’s creators are looking for a new actor to play the role and seeking opportunities to revise the script in favor of a more equitable portrayal of the Indian population.
Courtesy of CBC
After tennis player Naomi Osaka won her first match in straight sets at the French Open and did not hold a press conference, she was fined $15,000 and threatened with rising levels of fines and expulsion. The following day, Osaka withdrew from the tournament, citing mental health issues. She said she has faced “long bouts of depression” and anxiety since she won the US Open in 2018. In a piece for TIME Magazine, Osaka wrote that she does “not love all press conferences” but “love[s] the press.”
“I also do not want to have to engage in scrutiny of my personal medical history ever again. So I ask the press for some level of privacy and empathy next time we meet,” she said. “I always try to answer genuinely and from the heart. I’ve never been media-trained, so what you see is what you get. The way I see it, the reliance and respect from athlete to press is reciprocal.”
Many fellow athletes and sponsors have voiced support for Osaka; Simone Biles cited Osaka as a major inspiration for her decision to withdraw from the Olympics.
On June 17, 2021, Osaka's agent announced that she would not participate in the upcoming Wimbledon Championships but would take part in the Olympic Games in Tokyo. In her post-match press conference, Osaka announced another break from the sport "for a while", revealing that winning does not make her happy anymore.
Courtesy of ABC News
Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd, was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison. Chauvin will serve two-thirds of his sentence in custody, after which he will be eligible for “supervised release.” Judge Peter Cahill’s sentence exceeded the Minnesota sentencing guidelines, which recommended up to 15 years for Chauvin, but justified his ruling by citing Chauvin’s “[abuse] of his position of trust or authority” and treatment of Floyd with “particular cruelty.”
The sentencing is a small victory along the road to greater change. It has aided several legislative efforts, including Congress’ push for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to “ban the police’s use of chokeholds, impose restrictions on deadly force and make it easier to prosecute officers for wrongdoing.”
The bill passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on a mostly party-line vote of 220-212 but was blocked in the divided Senate amid opposition from Republicans. Negotiations between Republican and Democratic senators on a reform bill fell silent in September 2021.
Courtesy of Economic Times
Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Danish Siddiqui was killed on July 16 while covering a clash between Afghan special forces and Taliban insurgents in the Spin Boldak district of Kandahar Province. Caught in the crossfire, it is reported that he was killed by a Taliban militant alongside a senior Afghan official.
Siddiqui, age 38, used to serve as the head of the India-wide Reuters Multimedia team. He was the first Indian, alongside fellow New Delhi native Adnan Abidi and five Reuters team members, to win the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. He was awarded the Prize for documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh, which were some of his most powerful pieces; images captured include an exhausted refugee woman touching the shore after crossing to Bangladesh and a refugee man pulling a child as they wade through thigh-deep water in the Bay of Bengal.
Siddiqui’s last Tweets, including videos and photos, show that sporadic machine gunfire was a sound he grew used to and that the Humvee he was traveling in was targeted by at least 3 RPG rounds and other weapons. “I was lucky to be safe and capture the visual of one of the rockets hitting the armour plate overhead,” he wrote on July 13. Earlier on Friday, Siddiqui reported to his editors that his arm was wounded by shrapnel during a clash at Spin Boldak, but that he had been treated for the injury and was on the mend; later, while he was interviewing some shopkeepers, the Taliban attacked again, as an Afghan commander informed Reuters.
Courtesy of Glamour
The XXXII Summer Olympic Games officially closed at the Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan on August 9, 2021. There were noticeably fewer athletes and officials at this closing, with many having left Japan within 48 hours of their last event, in accordance with COVID regulations. The Olympic Games were marked with several unique events, including the withdrawal of Simone Biles and the controversy surrounding Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya.
Biles experienced the “twisties,” a mental block affecting physical performance, in her events. According to the BBC, the twisties, which can happen to anyone, even the most experienced gymnast, can cause someone to lose their sense of space and dimension as they’re in the air. This leads to a loss of control over the body and may be the result of anxiety, worry, or stress. Along with recurrent mental health issues Biles had been experiencing, this led her to withdraw from the competition.
Tsimanouskaya was removed from the competition after posting an Instagram video criticizing officials from the Belarus Olympic Committee and their decision to enter her in the 4 × 400 m relay race, a distance she had never contested, without her consent. On 1 August 2021, Belarusian media reported the attempt to forcibly return Tsimanouskaya to Belarus. Tsimanouskaya was granted a humanitarian visa and asylum by Poland, as she expressed her fear of returning home. Belarusian activists too took her side, saying that the country’s government would likely imprison or repressively surveil her upon return. Though most of western Europe had offered her protection, she reportedly chose to seek asylum in Poland as the Polish Olympic Committee had expressly offered her the opportunity to continue competing.
Courtesy of CNBC
In September 2021, sitting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party called a snap election in an attempt to win a majority, up from his previous minority government. Trudeau said the election was an opportunity for the Canadian public to choose which government leads them through the country’s pandemic recovery stage. However, this move was criticized, as the nation was battling a fourth wave of COVID. Following the election, Trudeau managed to remain Prime Minister but failed to win a majority government.
Early voting and postal voting were more popular than in-person poll voting, with about 1 million postal voters and 5.8 million early voters. Despite the fact that this election had the lowest turnout in a decade, it is still reasonably high when considering the context of the election. The new Parliament looks much like the previous one, as seat counts remain mostly unchanged and the Liberal Party rules a minority government
Courtesy of CNN
On October 13, William Shatner became the oldest person to reach space, traveling aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket on a 10-minute flight. To sum up space travel, Shatner used three words: “You go fast.”
On the flight as well were Chris Boshuizen, Glen de Vries, and Audrey Powers. Aged 90 years, 6 months and 22 days, Shatner surpassed Wally Funk’s age record. Funk flew on Blue Origin's first human spaceflight aged 82 in July of 2021.
In a televised post-flight conversation with Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, Shatner articulated experiencing the overview effect, or a deep awareness of the fragility of planet Earth and its relatively thin atmosphere. He expressed a feeling of on-and-off fright that struck him while in flight.
William Shatner‘s trip was documented on the new Amazon special “Shatner in Space,” which premiered on December 15 in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.
“My time in space was the most profound experience I could have ever imagined,” said Shatner in a statement. “This special documenting my journey gives a dramatic view of that experience, and my hope is that it inspires the world to see we must go to space to save Earth.”
Courtesy of NPR
#FreeBritney has run rampant across social media platforms and activist circles for the past few years, but as of November, it finally became a reality. The conservatorship (granted to individuals who are unable to make their own decisions) that controlled singer Britney Spears' finances, personal life, and medical decisions since 2008 was terminated in a Los Angeles courtroom on November 12. Judge Brenda Penny said the conservatorship of Spears' person and her estate is "no longer required, effective immediately,” removing Spears’ father Jamie from his position.
Under the conservatorship, Spears expressed that she was masking her true feelings about the situation, but she began speaking out publicly this past summer, asking for the legal arrangement to be terminated.
Jamie Spears had been suspended as conservator of her estate in late September after Britney accused him of exploiting her, replaced by John Zabel, a certified public accountant who will help transfer all assets into her trust. Since 2019, the conservator of Britney Spears' person had been a licensed personal fiduciary and care professional named Jodi Montgomery.
Courtesy of Getty Images
Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old left-wing congressman and former student movement leader, was elected President of Chile after defeating far-right candidate Jose Antonio Kast by more than 11 percentage points.
Voter turnout, especially high among women and young Chileans, was greater than in any election since mandatory voting was scrapped in the South American nation in 2012. When he officially takes up the presidency in March, Boric will be Chile’s youngest-ever president.
A social democrat, Boric promised better pension, universal healthcare, tax reform, and increased attention paid to human rights and climate change. He promised to end neoliberalism and shift fiscal focus away from Chile’s capital markets.
Because Boric has openly expressed his intent to replace the 1980 Pinochet dictatorship-era constitution, in the first six months of his presidency, he plans to oversee a referendum on a new constitution, which is currently being written up by elected citizen representatives (50% men, 50% women).
What comes of his presidency remains to be seen in 2022.
It has been quite a remarkable year, and we have lots to look forward to in 2022. For example, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics have been causing quite a stir. It will be interesting to see what the coming year brings politically, socially, and economically as we continue to recover from the pandemic while battling the Omicron variant. Here’s to more success, justice, and determination. Onwards and upwards!