Since the year is drawing to a close, it’s worth taking some time to reflect on the past twelve months and all that has been accomplished for human liberty. It’s easy to focus on the negatives– police brutality, countless military entanglements abroad, hyperinflation around the world, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, mass surveillance by the NSA, and on and on.
However, each day there are more and more stories of human courage and collaboration between disparate groups who are joining together to fight government abuse in the name of freedom. Below are ten events (in no particular order) that we think qualify as some of the biggest libertarian moments of 2014, plus a couple of honorable mentions. Granted, our list is very skewed towards the United States so if you think you have a more comprehensive list, we encourage you to send it to us as a guest submission and we might publish it on the SFL blog!
1. Wave of drug policy reform: Voters in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, D.C. took a stand for personal choice this year by legalizing marijuana for adults 21 and older. State legislatures in Maryland, Minnesota, and New York also passed medical marijuana laws in 2014 and Missouri replaced possible jail time with fines for possession. As the Marijuana Policy Project states, 57 percent of Americans now live in states with reformed marijuana laws. To top it all off, Guam’s voters also approved medical cannabis. Drug reform wasn’t just limited to marijuana, however. Five states this year (Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, and Missouri) also passed “right to try” statutes, laws that allow terminally ill patients access to drugs that have not been approved by the government.
2. The sharing economy went mainstream: Although state, local, and federal governments have cracked down on major players in the sharing economy such as Airbnb, and Uber, peer to peer services gained unprecedented ground in the global economy and in our daily lives in 2014. Uber is now valued at more than $41 billion and Airbnb will soon be worth more than all but three of America’s largest hotel chains with a projected valuation of $10 billion. Dozens of other collaborative companies have also proliferated this year, such as Instacart, TaskRabbit, Getaround, Eatwith, and perhaps the most comprehensive up and coming platform, WunWun.
3. Snowden and Greenwald kept the spotlight on the NSA: In July, The Washington Post released documents from Snowden containing “roughly 160,000 intercepted e-mail and instant-message conversations, some of them hundreds of pages long, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts.” These documents revealed that when it comes to the information collected by the NSA, ordinary Web users’s data far outnumbers that of foreigners and suspected terrorists. These revelations struck a chord with Americans across the country by proving that the types of intimately personal photos, stories, and correspondences being collected are far from relevant to national security interests. By staggering the release of Snowden’s findings, Glenn Greenwald and the other journalists responsible for overseeing the publication of the documents ensured that the international conversation about internet privacy and mass surveillance is here to stay, at least for a while.
4. Unprecedented victories for same-sex marriage: Two countries and an astounding 19 US states legalized same-sex marriage this year. In June, the Luxembourg government approved a bill to extend the freedom to marry to gay couples by an overwhelming vote of 56 to 4. Less than two weeks ago, the Finnish parliament approved an amendment to legalize gay marriage, making Finland the twelfth European state to do so. A huge wave of state legalization in the US this year brought the total number of states that have granted same-sex couples the freedom to marry up to 35, with over 64% of Americans living in a state issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. In 10 other states, judges have issued rulings in favor of gay marriage, many of which are proceeding to appellate courts.
5. Protests in Venezuela, Ukraine, and Hong Kong: This year saw significant mass protests against authoritarianism around the world that are worth noting, even if some of the factions and demands were far from libertarian. During the first six months of 2014, over 6,000 mass demonstrations took place in Venezuela in response to political corruption, hyperinflation, economic shortages, and shady elections. The Ukrainian revolution in February swelled to as many as 50,000 protesters at times, demonstrating their discontent with the status quo of corruption, currency devaluation, and poor economic conditions. In both countries, many peaceful anti-government protests were met with indiscriminate violence by state authorities and the resulting counter-protests attracted international awareness about the oppressive regimes and the need for change in both countries. Later in the year, over 80,000 people joined demonstrations in Hong Kong after students started a protest to demand the ability to choose their own leaders without interference from Beijing. The Hong Kong protests have mostly died out by now, but they will continue to serve as a shining example of how to prevent protest movements from being derailed by destructive forces.
6. Sentencing reform approved in California: On November 4th, California’s Prop 47, the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative, was approved by voters. This initiative reduced the classification of most “nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes” such as minor shoplifting, forgery, fraud, and personal use of most illegal drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor. Additionally, about 10,000 inmates will be eligible for resentencing. This victory for freedom in one of America’s least free states will serve as a model going forward for future sentencing reform battles.
7. Big wins for free speech on college campuses: This year, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education launched a new Stand Up for Speech Litigation Project which has already scored three major victories regarding free speech zones on campus at Modesto Junior College, the University of Hawaii, and California Citrus College. All three cases were launched in response to egregious violations of students’ right to free speech (in two cases, students were prevented from passing out Constitutions on campus and in the third, a student was forbidden from circulating a petition outside of the designated free speech zone). FIRE has four additional cases in court right now.
8. Big tax cuts across the US: Supported by research and analysis from Tax Foundation and its national and state allies, the list of states that have cut and reformed their tax system this year is large and diverse. North Carolina simplified and reduced its whole system, Indiana and Michigan cut investment taxes, New York reformed its entire corporate tax system, and even Rhode Island and the District of Columbia enacted tax reductions. Additionally, voters defeated tax increase proposals in Colorado and Nevada, and in the spring a big tax increase proposal in Illinois failed. Maine raised its sales tax, the only tax increase at the state level in 2014.
9. Minnesota passes civil asset forfeiture reform: In August, Minnesota became the second state in the country to require a criminal conviction before property or assets can be taken by the police through a civil procedure. This reform will prevent the government from auctioning off seized property to boost state revenue. This issue has resonated with both progressives and conservatives and legislation to carry out similar reforms is already in the works in Georgia, Utah, and Wyoming with the help of the ACLU and the Institute for Justice.
10. Police brutality protests: Since August, the United States has been embroiled in a conversation about race, the militarization of the police, and police brutality, sparked by the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. While the country was adamantly divided on the specifics of the Ferguson case, the conversation has shifted in the last few weeks towards the broader systemic problems of the police state as people have focused their attention on other cases like the death of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, uniting people across the political spectrum and spurring government action which is predicted to lead to some minor improvements. With protests still growing strong, it’s hard to predict what lies ahead but at least for the first time in a long time, libertarians and other more radical groups aren’t the only ones talking about the systemic problems in law enforcement.
Estonia offers e-residency: As Max Borders and Jeffrey Tucker have written over at FEE, “Estonia was once an unwilling satellite of the Soviet socialist empire. Today, the country is leading the way toward the breakdown of nation-based political organization, especially with its new e-resident program. Anyone can become a resident for $61. What can you do with that? Well, you get a cool card, and there might be some business and banking benefits. No one knows for sure, not even those who champion the program. But it’s a step in the right direction. Digital residency might mean more than physical residency in the world of the future.”
Concealed carry now legal everywhere in the US: While there were many setbacks for gun rights advocates this year such as the new controls passed in the midterm election in Washington state, there are also victories to celebrate. As of 2014, it is now legal to carry a concealed firearm in public everywhere in the United States, with restrictions. The last holdout, Washington D.C., voted to approve concealed carry for residents and visitors this September. The next big fight is loosening restrictions across the country. Just this week, the Ohio Senate passed legislation reducing training requirements and expanding recognition of out-of-state licenses. In November, the California court ruled that bureaucrats can no longer decide who “needs” to carry a firearm.
Like what you read here? You can sign up for a weekly digest of the SFL blog and subscribe for a weekly update on SFL’s events, leadership programs, and resources here. Have a rebuttal or a blog post you’d like published on the SFL blog? Good news, we take guest submissions!