Editor’s Note: For another viewpoint, see Point: An Honest Review of the Policy Blockbusters and Bombs of 2021.


Nearly two years into a global pandemic and a year past a deadly coup attempt, it’s easy to feel worn down by the churn of news. But if you know where to look, there’s also a lot to be hopeful about too.

Here are a few villains that shaped 2021 for the worse — and a few heroes worth rooting for.

Villain: The Republican Party

On January 6, right-wing insurrectionists — with the support of the Trump White House and a few members of Congress — stormed the Capitol with the goal of overturning the 2020 presidential election.

Rather than reject this violent fringe, the Republican Party embraced their extremist values, ostracizing party leaders who refused to fall in line and purging election officials all over the country. This has resulted in a party that runs on xenophobia, disinformation and racism.

In Congress, meanwhile, Republicans have unanimously opposed paid leave, universal pre-K, immigration reform, and fairer prescription drug pricing, among other proposals that would benefit working families.

Villain: Corporate Democrats

Republicans aren’t the only ones standing in the way of Biden’s promise to “build back better.” A few corporate Democrats — namely Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — are also to blame.

Whether it’s Manchin denouncing Medicaid expansion from the aft of his $250,000 houseboat or Sinema fighting to preserve a beloved tax loophole favored by her hedge fund donors, some corporate Democrats are working just as hard as Republicans to block policies that would help ordinary people.

Villain: Billionaires

In another year marked by a global pandemic and deepening inequality, one group has made out like gangbusters: Billionaires.

According to my colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies, the $2.1 trillion wealth gain enjoyed by U.S. billionaires during the pandemic could pay for 60 percent of Biden’s original $3.5 trillion Build Back Better agenda.

Who’s the largest pandemic profiteer? TIME magazine’s very own Person of the Year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Musk’s personal wealth has increased by a staggering 700 percent since March 2020, even as he’s flouted pandemic restrictions and endangered his own workers.

Feeling discouraged? Here are some heroes who made 2021 a bit brighter.

Hero: Poor People’s Campaign

Politicians standing in the way of popular policies need to be held accountable, and that’s where the Poor People’s Campaign comes in.

Throughout 2021, this nationwide movement of poor, low-wage workers has staged “Moral Mondays,” bringing directly affected people from Manchin’s home state of West Virginia to Washington, D.C., where dozens have been arrested for civil disobedience. They’re demanding that members of Congress listen to the voices of the people, not lobbyists.

As the Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said in December: “For too long we have heard promises during campaigns that sound like they’re going to lift up the people, and then once people get elected they disappear … because somebody, somewhere has got some deep pockets and says it’s not possible. Well, we refuse to accept the crisis of possibility.”

Hero: Workers

As Striketober turned into Strikesgiving, we now find ourselves in the midst of Strikemas.

While politicians in Washington bickered over infrastructure, jobs, and the social safety net, thousands of unionized workers across the heartland went on strike in 2021 to get their fair share directly.

From John Deere workers in Kansas to steelworkers in Ohio and graduate students in New York, workers are rising up against greedy bosses, poverty wages, long hours, and dangerous working conditions.

The pandemic — and the strike wave it inspired — has created a ripple effect of new union organizing as well. Most notably, workers at Starbucks locations in Buffalo, N. Y., recently voted to unionize the first location in the company’s history.

Hero: People’s Vaccine Alliance

To finally end this pandemic and prevent future variants, we have to make sure every human being on earth has the chance to get vaccinated.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance has fought bravely to put global public health, not pharmaceutical profits, at the center of the global response to COVID-19. Pressure like this got the Biden administration to support a waiver for vaccine patents, which could make affordable generic vaccines available, and to send hundreds of millions of doses overseas.

Who knows what trials the year to come will bring? But whenever you feel overwhelmed by bad news, take a deep breath, remember these heroes, and find your own part to play.