Huck's People of the Year: The real unsung heroes of 2016

Huck's People of the Year: The real unsung heroes of 2016

  • Text by HUCK HQ
Fighting for change — As TIME Magazine announces Donald Trump as 'Person of the Year', with a shortlist including Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin, Huck presents our selection of real game-changing heroes from the past twelve months, not people starting wars and spreading hate.

If we weren’t disheartened enough by the political events that have shaped 2016 so far, TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year shortlist has swooped in to cement this year as the most absurd and alarming in living memory. It’s a pretty hard read.

Although TIME does feature inspiring people like U.S. olympic gymnast Simone Biles, and Beyoncé Knowles for her music and activism in the last twelve months, their presence is somewhat overshadowed by the political figures picked for this year’s competition.

Lead Brexiteer Nigel Farage gets a place on the shortlist, a man who’s spread hate and xenophobia for years in the UK and is now eyeing up Donald Trump’s racist credentials across the pond. Vladimir Putin also shows his face, in a year when he’s been dropping bombs on civilian heads in Syria and beyond. And to add insult to injury, Trump himself tops the list. It might just be a publicity stunt by the mag, but it leaves a bitter taste.

Granted, 2016 might have felt like the year the world collectively lost the plot, and there’s no denying these figures have been ‘influential’, but scratch beneath the surface and this year has also provided us with some true heroes – real influencers worth celebrating. These are people not content to watch on as fear and loathing reigns, but instead are actively pushing to make life more bearable for us all.

Kurdish Female fighters

YPJ fighters during their daily drills in Shilan Camp, in the border region of Andivar, Rojava. © Newsha Tavakolian / Magnum Photos

YPJ fighters during their daily drills in Shilan Camp, in the border region of Andivar, Rojava. © Newsha Tavakolian / Magnum Photos

In eastern Syria, the war against ISIS is being waged by a feminist army. The ordinary young women who have rallied around the YPJ (Women’s Defence Unit) – an offshoot of the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party) which has waged a war for Kurdish independence from Turkey since 1984, and been labelled a terrorist organisation in the process – have taken it upon themselves to push ISIS out of their backyards.

“We are fighting for the freedom of all women in the world,” says Farashin Mehriva, 21. “ISIS and many other anti-women groups want to wipe women off the Earth. But YPJ won’t allow that.”

Zachos Varfis


Photo: Alex King

In the wake of debt crisis and deepening austerity, Greek architect Zachos Varfis is fuelling a creative revolution in Athens by transforming dead spaces into skateboarding utopias, breathing life back into the city.

“It’s not like we’re living here thinking, ‘What can we do about the crisis?’” Zachos explains. “It was more like, ‘What do we want to do? We have these problems – so how do we work around them?’ There’s slim chance of local funding and making a living from the arts is virtually impossible, so to be creative here you have to think outside the box.”

Sisters Uncut


Photo: Theo McInnes

These radical young women and non-binary campaigners are shaking up activism in Britain, using innovative tactics to force issues such as the domestic violence crisis and police brutality onto the political agenda.

“Direct action is about more than fighting powers that seek to oppress and hurt us. It is about coming together, to care, to build strength and community. It is about lifting each other up and honouring each other.”

Patrisse Cullors


Photo: Jonathan Hanson

Since 2013, #BlackLivesMatter has proven how potent a movement can be when it eschews the hierarchy of traditional organisations by being fully decentralised and effectively leaderless. But there are still strong voices at its core – namely in the form of co-founder Patrice Cullors. This year, as #BlackLivesMatter protests unfolded in the UK and parallels were drawn between the killing of unarmed black men at the hands of police, US activists came together with their UK counterparts to share lessons learned. And through it all Patrisse has been tirelessly leading the charge.

“Those of us in the States, especially black Americans, must make more of a concerted effort to deepen our analysis and practice when it pertains to globalised anti-black racism and resistance,” says Patrisse. “Movements become global when organisers of the world unite and make clear parallels about our issues.”

Mackenzie Peck


Photo: Jonathan Hanson

The pioneering feminist porn producer (and Editor of Math magazine) is plotting a sexual revolution against Trump that includes women of all colours, classes, sizes and sexual persuasions.

“Trump’s sexist language and his personal attacks on women disgusted me,” she says. “But what’s most tragic is the lack of accountability for his statements and his actions against women. I can understand how somebody like Trump exists, but the fact that America doesn’t hold him accountable, that’s the real issue. We need to redirect our rage toward changing the ecosystem in which Trump came to power.”

Mykki Blanco

This HIV-positive, black, trans rapper, performance artist, poet and activist is calling out the bullshit on hip-hop and society at large. During a year when being young, black or queer has meant being the target of a rapidly rising far-right, Mykki is staying proud and visible.

“When you’ve been called a faggot every single day since you were six years old, there comes a point where you stop crying and you become quite hard,” Mykki told The Guardian.

Shiny Tiny

Hadeel Al-Hubaishi – aka ‘Shiny Tiny’ – is a 22-year old Yemeni business student and fearless co-founder of Roller Derby Beirut, the first crew to take root in the Middle East. Together with her team-mates, Hadeel is inspiring a generation of young women to take hold of their future by embracing the present, amid the ruins of war.

“I link what happens to me in roller derby a lot to my life,” says Hadeel. “If you made a mistake, just do it right next time, or at least try. No matter how bad the fall is, just get up and keep going. You’ll laugh about the next one.”

Daisy-May Hudson


Photo: Shannon Jensen

Filmmaker Daisy-May Hudson brought Britain’s ‘dirty little secret’ out into the light with a brave and moving documentary that follows her own family’s descent into homelessness. It’s called Half Way: watch it.

“Ultimately, the housing crisis is a giant mess of power play between developers, councils after profit, and people in desperate situations,” says Daisy. “Truth is, the government already know how to solve it, but there’s too many people making money from it, exactly the way it is.

Dark Phantom – The Metal band defying ISIS

Dark Phantom - Kirkuk Death Metal

Photo: Cengiz Yar

Iraqi metal band Dark Phantom are determined to keep producing the music they love in the conflict-ridden city of Kirkuk, despite the constant threat of ISIS sleeper cells.

“Every underground band dreams of playing on the big stage,” says Murad Khalid. “Money is not my dream. My dream is to play some place in Europe or the US. Why not?”

The young female activists leading Standing Rock to victory

Photo: Annabelle Marcovici

Photo: Annabelle Marcovici

Young indigenous activists like Lauren Howland and Jasilyn Charger are fighting hard to preserve the land and water supply in Standing Rock, North Dakota, which is under threat from the Dakota Access Pipeline. They seem to have won the battle for now – following an announcement by the Department of the Army that permits would effectively be denied – but as Trump’s administration looms, there are fears that this decision may not be the end of the battle.

“We really needed a voice,” Jasilyn says. “The future needs to speak for itself. We need to stand together as a generation and really unite, because adults are going to destroy our future before we even have one.”

Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez

HUCK_Xiuhtezcatl001 copy

Photo: Andrew White

This 15-year old environmental activist is suing the U.S. government to protect future generations from the devastating effects of climate change, and his government’s abject failure to stop it.

“We’re so blindly consuming that it’s become a human culture to destroy the planet, he says. “And we’re destroying it almost subconsciously.”

Shafik Suleyman

Shafik Suleyman

Photo: Matthew Aslett

A former factory owner from Aleppo, Shafik Suleyman opened the largest free-school for Syrian refugees in Istanbul, in an attempt to create a better life for a generation of displaced Syrian children.

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