As the year comes to a close, we can (probably) agree on one thing: 2016 will not soon be forgotten. The world lost legends like David Bowie and Muhammad Ali, watched as athletes made history on the field and off, and put democracy under all the microscopes. But perhaps most notably, this year sent a message: Prepare to have some hard conversations.
In 2016, Medium became more than a platform — it became a place where people turned when it was time to have those hard conversations (okay, and some easy ones). Writers shared authentic, personal stories. Readers created tight-knit communities and challenged each other’s world views. Are conversations enough to bridge the cultural divides that reached a fever pitch in 2016? Probably not. But we have to start somewhere. And we’re grateful that more and more of you are starting those conversations on Medium.
Since the new year is a time to reflect, we wanted to highlight a small portion of the stories, moments, and ideas you rallied behind in 2016. We hope you enjoy revisiting them as much as we did.
2016 birthed a new plague: death by a thousand campaign slogans. With modern classics like “I’m With Her,” “Make America Great Again,” and “Please Clap,” we thought this year’s political climate deserved a slogan all its own: Anything can happen. Literally.
The slogan originated in June, when the UK voted to leave the EU and foreshadowed America’s own looming populist movement. In the wake of Brexit, you ruminated on the rise of the city-state, broke down Brexit in maps, and suggested that Britain’s shocking decision to leave the EU was… not all that shocking.
Meanwhile, back in America…
Hillary Clinton expounded on her campaign promises to young women, while America Ferrera debunked the myth of the unenthusiastic Hillary voter. Erick Erickson called out his fellow Evangelicals for shrugging off Trump’s sins, and Glenn Beck wondered what the hell is wrong with us. (All of us.)
Then the polls closed. Donald Trump the nominee became Donald Trump, President-Elect. Here’s what happened next:
“Fake news” and “filter bubbles” fought in an alley for the title of Merriam-Webster’s Overused Words of the Year, while Ned Resnikoff dropped a truth-bomb on the power of lies. Bernie Sanders finger-wagged at Trump’s promise to drain the swamp, while George Takei shared his heartbreaking account of a childhood spent in internment. And although it’s almost 2017, Beth Martinez’s informed case for a recount is yet another sign this election cryogenically froze itself and plans to live forever.
It was… a lot. Enough to make you wanna Marty McFly it back to the 90s. And for a few brief months, millions of us did.
In 2016, Pokémon caught a second wind and got people talking. To each other. In real life! (When we weren’t looking at our phones, anyway.) It fed our nostalgia, fulfilled our escapist fantasies. But it wasn’t all fun and Growlithes — as Omari Akil pointed out, hunting Pokémon could be a death sentence for a black man. That is, if you could manage to get the app to load. Still, some good times were had — like when Washington Post’s Pulitzer-winning critic Philip Kennicott spent a week playing GO at DC’s finest bookstores, museums, and national monuments. (We’re still waiting for Noah Baumbach to option the rights for that one.)
And of course, there were other games. You may not recall, since this year felt like the longest ever — rumor has it 2016 was actually ten miniature years standing on top of each other’s shoulders and wearing a trench coat — but Rio hosted the Olympics this summer. And in true 2016 fashion, it left us with a lot to reflect on: the Ugly Americanness of Ryan Lochte, the sexism that led to Brazilian diver Ingrid Oliveira’s quiet exit from the competition, and the joy and guilt of watching Monica Puig win Puerto Rico’s first gold medal, for example.
Athletes continued to make headlines well after the gold rush. The Cubs put an end to their 108-year curse, while quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a stance against police brutality by sitting through the National Anthem — an act that inspired derision in some and respect in others, like the veterans who penned this open letter of support to echo his message: Black Lives Matter.
In 2016, the high-profile police shootings of unarmed black men and women dominated headlines, and many of you channeled your pain, anger, and exhaustion into action. During one particularly violent week in July, Cameron Clarke wrote about the unnecessary pain of watching yet another video of black death, while EricaJoy explained the importance of being able to call in black to work. And when a gunman opened fire on five cops in Dallas later that week, a retired officer tried to make sense of how deeply divided we’ve become.
There was no shortage of reasons to mourn this summer. On June 12, a gunman opened fire at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others — a vast majority of them belonging to the Latinx LGBTQ community. It was the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter — and the deadliest hate crime against LGBTQ Americans — in U.S. history. Jenny Boylan considered the origins of the shooter’s hatred, while John P. Sundholm had some ideas on where to stick your “hopes and prayers.” And from her prison cell, Chelsea Manning urged us to heal and unite.
Divided as we were in 2016, we did have several opportunities to come together in mourning. This year, we lost legends like Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder, Elie Wiesel, and Arnold Palmer. Keith Olbermann shared personal memories of the legendary Muhammad Ali, Anil Dash penned more than one touching tribute to Prince, and Mike “DJ” Pizzo published a stunning visual homage to David Bowie. Losing Prince and Bowie in rapid succession was a blow to those of us who found community through their music, but it was also a chance to remember what connects us in a year that was defined by division. It was a chance to choose love.
So we tried. We’re still trying.
But love is complicated. It’s a feeling, it’s an action, it’s a pulsing cartoon heart designed to distract you from a potential ticking time bomb. Ian MacKenzie’s honest account of his failed marriage illustrates the difficulty of reconciling love with commitment, while Ankur’s story of an online spark gone extinguished shows us that sometimes, even the heart doesn’t know what the heart wants. But before you dust off your copy of Microwave for One, read Meg Furey’s “Notes on love days before marriage”: a sober, but warm, reminder that occasionally, the heart freaking nails it.
Maybe you found love in 2016, maybe you didn’t. All we know is, as unprecedented and occasionally unbearable as this year was, life went on. Sometimes it was fun: like when Alex J. Mann’s uncle sent him yet another box of trash for his birthday. Or when Sunil Rajaraman imagined your life in Silicon Valley. How about the time Steve Mnich climbed the Golden Gate Bridge and showed us the view? Or when Amanda Rosenberg channeled every terrible CEO ever?
But sometimes, it was just… life. Kristi Coulter opened up about being sober in a culture where “Vinyasa and Vino” night is a thing. Jennifer Coates explained why she’s not coming out of the trans closet. Your Fat Friend described the pain of flying while fat, and Liz Morgan turned a mundane commute into a powerful portrait of black fatigue.
On a daily basis, your stories provided this community with the opportunity to talk to and learn from each other. So thank you. This may be the end of 2016, but the conversation’s just beginning.