We didn’t see this year coming, but we heard it from all sides. In Signal & Noise 2016, you’ll find the way we made sense out of all of that sound.
2016 has been an eventful year for social justice. On one hand, we’ve seen courts uphold the rights of trans people and strike down restrictive anti-abortion laws; on the other, we’re facing a deeply conservative administration that could roll back many hard-won victories. There’s an overwhelming sense of uncertainty about the future right now, but there’s one thing we can be sure of: The fight for equality will continue. Hundreds of groups are still working to protect people, resources, and liberties, and they’re not going away — no matter who’s in power.
Here’s an unranked Top 10 list of organizations playing critical roles in securing the rights and safety of millions of Americans. Whether you’ve only recently become involved with social justice or are an experienced activist looking to build bridges, these groups are a great place to turn to keep the march toward justice moving.
1. Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100)
What They Do: BYP 100 holds trainings, protests, and social media campaigns for LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and the decriminalization of black youth. BYP 100 is often involved in efforts to end systemic oppression, such as police brutality and economic decline in black communities. At its core, the organization builds and follows the leadership of young black people.
Notable Work in 2016: BYP 100 kicked off the year with its Agenda to Build Black Futures, a plan aimed at economic investment in African-American communities. Much like the policy platform released this year by the Movement for Black Lives, the agenda calls for people to take action and change public policy to improve the quality of life for black people in America. BYP 100 has also been busy leading campaigns for racial justice and supporting other organizations doing similar work.
What You Can Do: Make a donation to and/or sign up to be a member of a chapter near you. Members are expected to spend at least three hours a week helping BYP 100 and to participate in the leadership of the organization at the local or national level. If you’re young, black, and want to be a leader for positive change, you should check out BYP 100.
2. Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR)
What They Do: CRR advocates for all people to have access to healthy reproductive choices. The organization defends reproductive rights both here in the States and around the world, often through the court system. Right now, CRR is rallying to uphold Roe v. Wade in case President-elect Trump’s administration attempts to overturn the most important reproductive rights case in our country’s history.
Notable Work in 2016: CRR filed a lawsuit on behalf of five Texas abortion clinics in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which challenged a law requiring clinics to have admitting privileges at hospitals in order to operate. On March 2, CRR and several other repro rights organizations rallied outside the Supreme Court as arguments were heard in the case. In June, the court ruled in favor of Whole Woman’s Health — a historic win against restrictive laws aimed at shutting down abortion clinics.
What You Can Do: Making a donation is the easiest way to help, but it isn’t the only way to get involved with CRR. The website regularly posts calls to action, such as signing petitions and contacting legislators.
3. Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN)
What They Do: RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE) and works with over 1,000 other organizations to support victims of sexual assault. Prevention efforts include educating the public, lobbying for more effective prosecution of sexual assault cases, and helping institutions like colleges better address rape culture on campus. RAINN is inclusive of all genders and identities in its work, understanding that sexual assault survivors come from a wide range of backgrounds.
Notable Work in 2016: RAINN helped the most people in its 22-year-history by providing services to over 202,000 survivors of sexual assault in 2016. The organization has also helped get new legislation passed — like the Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016, which expands the use of DNA evidence in sexual assault cases. All of this work is made possible by the people who support, volunteer, and work for RAINN.
What You Can Do: RAINN is always looking for volunteers for the National Sexual Assault Hotline, survivors who can share their story in online campaigns, and student advocates. The organization’s Social Media Action Center also makes it easy to share info about RAINN and its resources.
What They Do: The Task Force is the oldest national LGBTQ advocacy group in the country, operating since 1973. Petitions, lobbying, research, activism training — the Task Force damn near does it all. The organization also stands out for centering the concerns of LGBTQ immigrants and queer people of color, and for elevating trans leadership.
Notable Work in 2016: The National LGBTQ Task Force and the True Colors Fund released important research examining the needs of homeless LGBTQ youth, titled “At the Intersections.” The report is a follow-up to a 2006 study the Task Force conducted to assess the conditions of queer young people living on the streets. A reflection of both progress and the urgent need for more work to be done, “At the Intersections” shines a much-needed light on this issue.
What You Can Do: Sign up for advocacy trainings from the National LGBTQ Task Force online or in person. Check the website for other actions you can take, like signing petitions. And you can, of course, offer financial support by making a donation.
5. Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV)
What They Do: Muslims for Progressive Values works to build compassion and understanding for Muslim communities while supporting social activism. The organization advocates for LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and human rights in general, and regularly participates in global advocacy projects with the U.N. MPV works on these issues both within the Muslim community and in our society as a whole.
Notable Work in 2016: After the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, many Muslim Americans responded with compassion for LGBTQ and Latino communities affected by the violence. MPV called out homophobia and offered support for the families of the victims. At a time when an entire community is regularly blamed for the horrific actions of a few people, it’s important to remember that people like the members of MPV are also out there doing tremendous good.
What You Can Do: You can join one of several chapters from Atlanta, Georgia, to Tunisia; attend events put on by MPV; donate; or check out one of the many organizations it partners with to support its vision.
What They Do: Fight for $15 believes that no one who is employed full-time should have to struggle to meet their basic needs, and advocates for everyone to have a living wage. Led by fast-food employees demanding a life above the poverty line, the movement also includes childcare providers, educators, and workers from many other industries.
Notable Work in 2016: Fight For $15 won at the ballot box this year in four states: Washington voted for a $13.50 minimum wage, while Colorado, Maine, and Arizona chose a $12 minimum wage. Each of these states will adjust for cost of living after 2020 due to provisions in their new wage laws. The Democratic Party also adopted a call for raising the minimum wage to $15 over the next several years. None of this would be possible without the tireless efforts of the members of Fight for $15 across hundreds of cities.
What You Can Do: You can sign up and take action right at the Fight for $15 website. Look for chapters in your state and city to see how you can get on the front lines for a living wage.
7. Transgender Law Center (TLC)
What They Do: The Transgender Law Center defends the rights of trans people in court, advocates for gender-affirming legislative policy, and works to raise public support for transgender people. The organization also provides legal advice for trans and gender nonconforming people fighting discrimination.
Notable Work in 2016: Ashton Whitaker, a trans student in Wisconsin, was represented by the Transgender Law Center when he challenged his school for forcing him to use a restroom separate from other students. With TLC’s help, Ashton won the right to have his gender recognized by the school. Cases like this are setting a precedent of acknowledging, honoring, and protecting the rights of transgender people in every facet of their lives.
What You Can Do: TLC has many programs you can support, from ending the abuse of trans people in prison to amplifying the voices of trans people by sharing their stories. Check out the full list of programs to see where you might be able to plug in. Donations are also welcome.
8. National Organization for Women (NOW)
What They Do: Since 1966, the National Organization for Women has been the leading grassroots organization for women’s rights. By centering the leadership of women from all walks of life, including trans women and women of color, NOW has grown to include hundreds of chapters across all 50 states. NOW organizes protests, lobbying, advocacy, and volunteer efforts to further the rights and safety of women.
Notable Work in 2016: NOW PAC selectively endorses candidates for office who adhere to feminist values. While Hillary Clinton did not win the presidency, NOW reminds us that 93 of the 153 federal candidates they endorsed did win. By closing out the year with strong calls to keep fighting for feminism, NOW’s most critical work this year may have been reminding us of the ways we have already won, and will continue to win.
What You Can Do: Find your nearest NOW chapter and get involved; there are literally hundreds to choose from. On the off chance that there isn’t a chapter near you, consider starting one with the women in your area.
9. Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM)
What They Do: The Fair Immigration Reform Movement is a nationwide coalition of immigrant rights organizations that push for compassionate immigration laws. The core values of FIRM include more accessible paths to citizenship, addressing the root causes of migration, and ending the mass incarceration of immigrants.
Notable Work in 2016: This spring, FIRM joined with artists and filmmakers to launch “The Faces of DAPA and DACA+ Exhibition,” a campaign created to highlight families that could be separated without the protection of DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Last January, 26 Republican governors sued to block DAPA and the expansion of DACA; supporters of the policies lost before the Supreme Court in a 4–4 split decision, but this exhibit uses storytelling and photographs to remind us of what is at stake for immigrant families.
What You Can Do: Look into the campaigns that FIRM is working on. They offer ways to build up local efforts to support immigrant communities and advocate on the federal level. Keep up with FIRM on Facebook for current calls to action and events.
10. Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN)
What They Do: The Indigenous Environmental Network organizes with native communities to fight for the rights of the people and the land. They are involved with protests against oil pipelines and fracking, as well as calls to address climate change. Led by and centered around indigenous people, IEN brings the values of those cultures to the work for environmental justice.
Notable Work in 2016: IEN has been on the ground at Standing Rock since the early days of protest against the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline. One way IEN has helped is by making sure that regular updates, pictures, and videos have been getting out to the public from the camps. This is one of many groups supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as they protect their water and people from pollution.
What You Can Do: IEN works on a number of issues, from food sovereignty to ending oil dependency. Check the IEN website for current calls to action, to sign up for the newsletter, and to make a donation if you can.
Check out more from the year in music, culture, politics, and style in Signal & Noise 2016.