Like waking up from a horrible nightmare only to realize you're living in an even more terrible reality, 2017 was the year we mentally rapped ourselves for believing, nay hoping, that 2016 would the worst thing that ever happened to us. If last year was the frying pan, these past 12 months have felt like being thrown into a burning blaze of horrible presidential tweets, an endless Russia investigation and the dreadful epiphany that all your fears of human suffering have materialized – and they come with memes!
If President Trump has accomplished anything as head of the executive branch, it's the fact that he's succeeded in slowly chipping away at the block that is our democracy. The only inevitable outcome, at least from what we can predict of our 45th commander-in-chief: If he has his way, that same block will eventually look like a statue of himself, coated in fool's gold.
The only light through this dark-ass tunnel is that we've made it to the end of another year, somewhat in shambles, but hey – at least we're together. (Sort of.)
We started the year on the wrong foot when we swore into the presidency a racist xenophobe who boasted, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." In a rosy-hued, pussy-hatted rebuke to the campaign rhetoric of President Donald Trump, an admitted sexual predator, millions of women across the nation and world organized demonstrations in support of the Women's March on Washington on Inauguration Day, which was reportedly the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. In Orlando, thousands marched around Lake Eola in support of women's rights, racial equality, immigration reform, LGBTQ rights and other marginalized groups. Hear us roar, America.
The Trump administration's refugee ban became a reality on Jan. 27, just a week after he took the presidential oath. Even with that, the true outrage over the executive order that banned citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entry to the U.S. for 90 days – didn't set in until the following month. And as the fervor grew, the protests followed President Trump to Florida – more specifically, to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, where more than 1,000 protesters gathered along the bridge that separates West Palm Beach from the posh island. They beat drums, rang bells and carried freedom's empty casket. It was the nation's first nod to the onset of a presidency with no honeymoon
Newly elected Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala threw Gov. Rick Scott into a tizzy after she announced her administration wouldn't pursue the death penalty for first-degree murder cases, including in the case of Markeith Loyd, who stands accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police lieutenant. Florida's death penalty statutes were not in a constitutional place, per se, and Ayala cited a number of valid reasons for ending the practice. Scott pretty much ignored that and used his executive authority to remove Ayala from 30 capital cases, saying Ayala, the state's first African-American prosecutor, would not fight for justice. Someone sent Ayala a noose, and Republican lawmakers even took it out on her by removing more than $1 million from her budget. After losing the showdown in the Florida Supreme Court to Scott, Ayala assembled a panel of prosecutors to determine which cases deserved the death penalty. Still, this public feud doesn't look like it will die any
Although critics suggested that a change in how "stand your ground" self-defense cases are defended could allow individuals to more easily get away with murder, Florida's Republican lawmakers already had their hearts set on it. The original law, passed in 2005, says people can use deadly force and do not have a duty to retreat if they deem it necessary in order to prevent death or harm. That law, however, was used to defend George Zimmerman in 2012, after the neighborhood watchman shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford. Zimmerman's attorney claimed he "reasonably" believed his life was in immediate danger, and it was enough to get him off. Although April marked the heart of the most recent debate, in June, the law was indeed changed so that the burden of proof for such claims is placed on prosecutors, and Gov. Rick Scott's signed it soon after. The following month, a Miami judge ruled the law unconstitutional.
After lording it over downtown Orlando for over a century, the "Johnny Reb" Confederate statue at Lake Eola Park was ordered removed by Mayor Buddy Dyer. Commissioned by a local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1911, the monument was the concrete embodiment of a revisionist myth that paints the Confederate cause in the Civil War as noble instead of what it was – a defense of the institutions of slavery and white supremacy that powered the nation's economy. Spearheaded by former Orlando Sentinel
journalist David Porter and Organize Now, a group of local activists called on the city to remove the Confederate statue in May. Despite the dozens of protesters who flooded Orlando City Hall with Confederate battle flags and got into screaming matches with activists, the majority of city commissioners agreed with the mayor's plan to take down the statue and reassemble it in the Confederate section of Greenwood Cemetery.
The year after the Pulse massacre felt like a long extension of that hot day on June 12, 2016. The shock of a gunman walking into a local gay nightclub, mowing down a dancing crowd and murdering 49 people, all with their own hopes and dreams, was hard to explain that next morning. In the grief-filled days, weeks and months after, it didn't get any easier. One day at a time, Pulse survivors found the courage to reassemble the shattered pieces of their lives by leaving the hospital, going to counseling, learning to use a wheelchair and adjusting to their new normal. On the one-year mark of Orlando's mass shooting, we paid tribute to the lives that were taken with candlelight
vigils and honored survivors, victims' families and community members whose lives were irrevocably changed.
2017 robbed us of more joy when it took Billy Manes. The former Orlando Weekly
columnist and Watermark
editor-in-chief died at the age of 45 from complications related to severe pneumonia surrounded by friends, family and his husband, Tony Mauss. More legend than man, Manes had a larger-than-life influence on the Orlando community despite his tiny frame. He wrote the cheeky political column "Happytown™" and the "Daily Weekly Reader," investigated local crooks, ran as Orlando's first openly gay mayoral candidate and always, always championed the underdogs. After the Pulse massacre, he became the voice of a grieving community, openly pouring his heart out in his last columns for Watermark
and appearing on MSNBC and NPR. We miss you, Billy.