The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26: Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

If history has taught us anything, it’s that there’s too much of it. These past 35 years have given us too many “Where were you when” moments that shook us to our core. The advent of 24-hour news and now social media has given us instant, around-the-clock information overload. From space shuttles exploding to skyscrapers imploding, the rise of women speaking out against predators to the outpouring support for same-sex marriage and Black lives. Here are the moments in chronological order.

1. Cocaine for Arms, Arms for Hostages

Iran-Contra Affair

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

See if you can follow along. When President Ronald Reagan’s plan to fund the terrorism-engaging Contras against the Cuban-backed Sandinistas in Nicaragua, which he referred to the former as “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers”, was upended by Congress, he commissioned Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North to secretly find money elsewhere. North proposed selling arms to Iran and to then funnel the proceeds to the Contras. Reagan hoped they’d get hostages returned to them from Lebanon. Then, clandestinely, the Contras trafficked cocaine through Central America into the United States, to North’s knowledge. It was all a big mess.

— Jason Stahl

2. A Benefit Concert Gone Wrong

Live Aid

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is an accurate description of the Live Aid debacle of 1985. That year, some of the biggest names in music came together to perform an intercontinental concert in an effort to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Live Aid took place simultaneously in both Wembley Stadium in London and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. The spectacle, lasting over 16 hours in total, featured such mammoth stars as Madonna, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Queen and Elton John, who helped raise $127 million for the Ethiopian people, on top of which other organizations raised approximately a billion dollars more.

In 1986, SPIN was the first to expose the truth that the Ethiopian people were in a civil war against dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, and that the famine was exacerbated as Mengistu’s planes napalmed fields in the rebel-held territory. But Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof handed the money over to Mengistu, despite being appraised of the actual situation in Ethiopia by organizations in the field. Instead of helping the starving constituents, Mengistu used the money to buy more sophisticated arms from the Russians and the third poorest country in the world had Africa’s largest, best-equipped army, precipitously shifting the balance of the civil war. The monies raised by Live Aid helped fund the brutal resettlement marches and slaughter of over 100,000 Ethiopians, at their government’s hand; a horrific fact that was apparently made repeatedly known to Geldof…and ignored.

— Mary Elisabeth Gibson

 

3. Greed is Not Good

Wall Street crash

Oct. 19, 1987, aka Black Monday, was when the stock market took its largest single-day nosedive plunging 22.6% (more than the 1929 crash, more than after 9/11, more than the 2008 recession, more than during the COVID-19 pandemic). This led to approximately $1 trillion of wealth lost over the course of just six days. That’s a lot of $5 footlongs.

— JS

 

4. Terror On the Airline

Pan Am Flight 103 explodes over Lockerbie, Scotland

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

Just four days before Christmas — Dec. 21, 1988 — Pan Am flight 103 was heading from Frankfurt, Germany to Detroit, Michigan via London and New York. Forty minutes after taking off from London’s Heathrow Airport, a bomb hidden inside a cassette recorder detonated over the cold Lockerbie sky, killing 259 passengers and crew and another 11 on the ground.

— JS

 

5. Fire in the Sky

Chernobyl nuclear explosion

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

What happens when you combine a flawed nuclear reactor with inadequately trained personnel? You get a catastrophe of, well, nuclear proportions. In the overnight hours on April 26, 1986, reactor 4 exploded during a routine maintenance check. Two people died from the explosion, 28 within weeks from radiation, and there have been over 20,000 cases of thyroid cancer directly linked to the emitted radiation. Since then, Chernobyl has blossomed with wildlife and is open to tourists.

— JS

 

6. Failure After Launch

Space shuttle Challenger explodes

The space shuttle Challenger was an extra special mission. Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher from New Hampshire, was going to be the first-ever civilian — and American teacher — to be sent up into space. Millions were tuned in, particularly schools all over the country, along with my second grade class. This was a “where were you when” moment for me.

The night before the launch, Allan McDonald (aka a really smart guy), the director of the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Motor Project for the engineering contractor Morton Thiokol, refused to sign the launch recommendation over safety concerns, stating the below-freezing temperatures would affect the rockets. NASA went ahead with the launch anyway. On Jan. 28, 1986, just 73 seconds into flight, the space shuttle Challenger exploded. The cold temperatures, along with a faulty rocket booster, was the cause. All seven crew members died.

Seventeen years later, over the big blue skies of Texas, the space shuttle Columbia, which was just 16 minutes from landing, disintegrated upon reentry, killing seven crew members, including Israel’s first astronaut, and sending debris as far away as Shreveport, Louisiana.

— JS

 

7. The Gipper Finally Gets It

President Reagan acknowledges the existence of AIDS

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

AIDS was rampant in the 1980s. Cases began to spring up nationwide of gay men exhibiting weakened immune systems, and even as the search began to explain the new syndrome, fatalities rapidly accumulated. Becoming an epidemic before it was even properly named, social stigma and a lack of government support towards the research and treatment of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and its frequent resultant Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) made it a struggle to control in the early years.

President Ronald Reagan initially addressed the AIDS epidemic in 1985 as a “top priority”, but it was not until May 31, 1987 that he finally addressed the public to speak on the issue. In his first speech devoted exclusively to AIDS, Reagan spoke at a benefit dinner sponsored by the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Celebrating the achievements of doctors and promising funds towards research and education, Reagan’s speech — which has been described as a “carefully worded compromise” — attempted to strike a balance between two anxious factions, one looking to instate mandatory testing, another looking to restrict testing to only the most vulnerable populations.

Before a public mortified by the often-fatal virus, Reagan’s speech was at the very least a turning point. A month later a commission dedicated to the disease was created via executive order, and that same year the United Nations came together to discuss tactics towards combating the AIDS crisis.

— Tomas Pacheco

 

8. Not Just Another Brick in The Wall

The fall of the Berlin Wall

Most baby boomers were actually born before the Berlin Wall went up on one night in mid-August 1961, but most of us growing up never knew a time when it wasn’t there, splitting Germany in half like a butterflied shrimp, separating east from west, free Europe from the Communist Bloc, light from dark. It was Ground Zero of the Cold War, implacable, essentially unbreachable. Over time the wall solidified and became higher and thicker and longer, and in all senses darker. But at only 28 miles long it was more symbolic than an effective border across Germany, although there was a very effective border across the rest of the country and crossing it was usually fatal, in either direction.

President Kennedy gave a famous speech in front of it, in which, in an attempt to say, in the tinderbox geopolitical climate of the early ’60s, that he too was a Berliner, he in fact called himself a donut. In the ’80s, President Reagan, under its grim shadow, famously exhorted Soviet Premier Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”, a wonderful, enduring photo opp and video clip that has led to the misperception that Reagan had anything to do with it ultimately coming down. He didn’t. But on a freezing cold Nov. 9, 1989 evening, the Wall did open, and thousands of East Germans, once they realized they were free to leave, streamed through into a shocked but deliriously celebratory West Berlin. The East German Border guard in charge of the crossing point had misunderstood a directive from Gorbachev and thought he was being ordered to allow passage into the West. And Gorbachev, when informed what had happened, didn’t order it closed back. And that began the end of the Cold War.

Glorious trivia note: the Red Hot Chili Peppers were on the Wall, chipping bits of it off with thousands of West Berliners who came with small hammers and picks, on Nov. 9. Communist regimes fell like dominoes in the weeks and months following, including the Soviet Union, which cracked and fell apart, officially dissolving the day after Christmas 1991.

— Bob Guccione Jr.

 

9. The Standoff

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square

When Chinese officials sent tanks to Tiananmen Square to shoot and kill pro-democracy demonstrators on June 5, 1989, a man, simply dressed in a white shirt, dark pants and carrying a shopping bag, boldy stood in front of the cavalcade, holding up his hand getting them to stop. When the tanks moved, he continued blocking their path. Nobody knows what happened to this man — it is presumed by intelligence officials he was executed — or who he was. Over 30 years later, this brave individual is just known as “Tank Man”.

— JS

 

10. Breakin’ Up Was Hard To Do

Soviet Union collapses

After nearly 70 years in power, and growing unrest in the 1980s (and let’s not forget Rocky defeated Ivan Drago), the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) dissolved Dec. 26, 1991. And after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution — when the communists were forced out of Czechoslovakia — the collapse was somewhat inevitable.

The Soviet Union involved 15 republics. Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia had all declared their independence before the breakup, but when the Soviet Union was no longer, all of these republics, along with Kazakhstan, became independent from communist reign.

— Quinn Hodge

 

11. The War on Drugs Begins

America’s crack epidemic

Crack, that scintillating crystallized version of powdered cocaine, skyrocketed in popularity in America in the ‘80s starting in Miami, and spreading quickly to every major city in the country. Crack was easier to make and sell compared to powdered cocaine, so the business of selling crack boomed, especially in inner cities. People realized they could make just as much money selling crack as at a 9-5 job, so many became entrepreneurs, setting up their own independent businesses as street pharmacists. This led to more violence as small-time drug dealers would attempt to keep their customers and mark their territory. Crime rates surged for manslaughter, robberies and assault.

President Reagan instituted the “war on drugs” which created harsher penalties for drug possession, selling and usage. The police cracked down especially on the smaller drug dealers in the inner city, who were mostly young black men. This began the disproportionate number of black Americans in the prison system and by 1989, 1 in every 4 black Americans were either incarcerated or on parole.

— MEG

 

12. Crack is One Helluva Drug

Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry gets caught smoking crack

https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/e1e35f00-7336-11e4-95a8-fe0b46e8751a

What can be considered the world’s first viral video, Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was captured on an FBI undercover video smoking crack cocaine with a former girlfriend inside room 727 of the Vista International Hotel on January 18, 1990. Barry felt he was set up and was subsequently charged for drug possession. Despite this, he was re-elected and started a long string of when politicians gone bad.

— JS

 

13. Let Freedom Ring

Nelson Mandela released from jail and the end of apartheid

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

Sentenced to life in prison for trying to overthrow the government in 1962, Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years. On February 11, 1990, Mandela walked out of Victor Verster prison in Cape Town a free man; President F. W. de Klerk feared the start of a racial civil war. Blacks celebrated nationwide. In his speech in front of tens of thousands of supporters outside City Hall, Mandela said, “I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.”

Mandela’s release was a key event in ending apartheid and racial oppression in South Africa and led to the 1994 multiracial general election where Mandela, perhaps the most famous political prisoner, won and became South Africa’s first black president.

— Brianna Vacca

 

14. Bombs Over Baghdad

Gulf War

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

One hundred thousand Iraqi troops invaded its rich, but militarily weak, neighbor Kuwait on August 2, 1990, because they wouldn’t erase the debts owed to them by Iraq for protecting them in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980–1988. This led to embargo and sanctions against Iraq. Five months later, on January 16, 1991, a U.S.-led coalition went in to take down Saddam Hussein and his regime by air and by land. The initial aerial assault featured the infamous Scud missile, a long-range tactical missile, that lit up the skies over Iraq and leveling Baghdad causing unimaginable damage. Once the U.S. began their ground assault as part of Operation Desert Storm, they defeated Iraq within days, with a full retreat on February 28, 1991.

— QH

 

15. The First Post-modern Black Life That Mattered

Rodney King beating

After being pulled over for speeding along the Los Angeles freeway, Rodney King — who was on probation and admitted to having been drinking — was pulled out of his car, thrown to the ground where he was beaten with batons and shot at with Tasers by four white Los Angeles police officers. The incident was caught on camera by George Holliday, making this the first “viral” video of police brutality. When the four officers were acquitted a year later, the City of Angels turned into hell. Riots and looting and fires devastated L.A., and more than 60 people died over the five-day uproar.

— JS

 

16. A Texas Tete-a-tete

Branch Davidians standoff in Waco

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

The FBI believed a cult in central Texas had a massive cache of weapons and it all went haywire from there. The Branch Davidians were “students of the Bible” and were led by David Koresh, a man who believed he could speak to God and declared the end of the world. He converted and convinced over 100 people to join his cause at his secluded 77-acre compound near Waco, Texas.

On Feb. 28, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted to arrest Koresh and raid the complex. An ensuing shootout, which the Branch Davidians claim the FBI started, killed six cult members and four federal agents. This led to an epic 51-day standoff with the compound surrounded by tanks and 600 federal agents. It all ended on April 19, 1993 when a fire engulfed the complex. Only nine people inside survived; 75 people were found dead in the aftermath of the fire, including Koresh.

Nobody knows who started the fire, with each side blaming the other, and reports also say those dead inside — including a 3-year-old — were found with gunshot wounds to the head, chest and face, leading many to believe the FBI started this whole massacre, and to America having less faith in the federal government.

— JS

 

17. Shhhhh… There Are Gays in the Military

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” signed into law

Since World War II, the United States military has banned openly homosexuals from serving in the ranks. In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed a law that tried to help mitigate the ban, but ultimately just set up another ban. This law, called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said officers could not ask about a soldier’s sexuality, and if soldiers are lesbian or gay, they aren’t allowed to talk about it. The law did little to change the discrimination against homosexuals as more than 12,000 officers had been released from the military for their sexuality by the time the law was repealed in 2011.

— MEG

 

18. The Verdict Heard Around the World

O.J. Simpson acquitted on murder charges

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

Thanks to the advent of 24-hour news channels, the Trial of the Century — People of the State of California vs. football legend O.J. Simpson, who was charged with murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her “friend” Ronald Goldman, June 12, 1994 — was the greatest soap opera. After nine months of testimony that included such highlights as the glove that didn’t fit, Mark Fuhrman’s racial slurs and Judge Ito’s well-groomed beard, it was time to hear the jury’s decision. On October 3, 1995, an estimated 140 million people (the most watched Super Bowl was 114.4 million) tensely tuned in to hear the jury’s decision. At 10:07 a.m. local time, Orenthal James Simpson was found not guilty on two murder charges. Simpson mouthed to the jury, “Thank you” and in a statement from Simpson read to the media by his son, stated he was committed to finding the murderer. All of these years later, apparently, the real killer is still out there…

— JS

 

19. The Anarchist Cookbook’s Most Explosive Recipe

Oklahoma City bombing

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

At the time, Timothy McVeigh executed the worst act of homegrown terrorism on U.S. soil. On April 19, 1995, McVeigh, an ex-Army soldier, parked a rented Ryder truck filled with explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. At 9:02 a.m. McVeigh walked towards his getaway car and detonated the bomb, turning a third of the building into rubble, and killing 168 people including 19 children in a daycare. The authorities caught up to McVeigh within hours. He was executed by lethal injection in 2001.

— JS

 

20. Death of the People’s Princess

Princess Diana killed

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

Just more than a year after she was divorced from Prince Charles, Princess Diana, one of the most revered people on the planet, died in a car crash in Paris, August 31, 1997. The world stopped. After leaving the Ritz Hotel just after midnight, Diana, along with her boyfriend Dodi Fayed and bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, was being driven by Henri Paul, who was drunk and on antidepressants. Paul was escaping from paparazzi photographers and crashed the Mercedes S-280 into a pillar in a tunnel. Diana, who, along with Fayed, was not wearing a seatbelt, died from her injuries in a nearby hospital. Fayed and Paul died at the scene; Rees-Jones survived.

Despite the countless conspiracy theories from MI6 being involved to Diana’s own family calling for the hit, it was both the paparazzi and Paul who were at fault. An estimated 2.5 billion people watched the princess’ funeral at Westminster Abbey on television. She was only 36.

— JS

 

21. High School Massacre

Columbine school shooting

Dressed in dark trench coats and carrying an arsenal of guns (two shotguns, one handgun, one rifle) and a duffel bag with 30 homemade bombs, 12th-grade students Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris walked into Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 and killed 12 students and 1 teacher, wounding another 20. At the time this was the worst school shooting in U.S. history. Klebold and Harris killed themselves with gunshots to the head in the school’s library.

The deadly Columbine High School massacre unwholesomely became a blueprint for future school and non-school mass shootings, creating a whole new sense of fear in American homes. Shooters admired the actions of Harris and Klebold and thought of them as noble and brave; other shooters pledged allegiance to terrorist organizations and admitted to being sociopathic white supremacists. Since the Columbine school shooting, there has been a staggering amount of mass shootings in the United States. During the 2010s, there were 180 school shootings; in 2019, there was a mass shooting one every 15 days and a school shooting once a week.

The five biggest mass shootings in this country all occurred between 2007-2017:

58 killed – Oct. 1, 2017: Sixty-four-year-old Stephen Paddock fired upon a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and injuring almost 700. Paddock was found dead in his hotel room.

49 killed – June 12, 2016: Inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, 29-year-old Omar Saddiqui Mateen opened fire killing 49, another 50 are injured. Mateen is shot and killed by police while he was holding hostages inside the club.

32 killed – April 16, 2007: A 23-year-old student at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, shoots up the campus, killing 32 people. He died by suicide.

27 killed – Dec. 14, 2012: Adam Lanza, 20, enters Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut where he kills 20 children and six adults, then turns the gun on himself. Earlier in the day he killed his own mother, Nancy Lanza.

25 and an unborn child killed – Nov. 5, 2017: Devin Patrick Kelley goes on a shooting spree at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 25 and an unborn child; another 20 are wounded.

— BV

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

22. The Biggest Non-Event of the last 35 Years

Y2K

Um, wasn’t the Y2K computer bug supposed to cause the end of the world? (Or at least revert us back to 1900?) Our bank accounts were going to be wiped out. Airplanes would drop out of the sky. Our computers were going to turn on us. Dogs and cats living together. All because computers didn’t know it was a new millennium. What a tease. Come talk to us in 2999.

— JS

 

23. America Under Attack

9/11

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

On the sunny blue-sky morning of September 11, 2001, 19 men linked to the al Qaeda terrorist group hijacked four U.S. airplanes.
– 8:46 a.m. ET – American Airlines Flight 11 (traveling from Boston to Los Angeles) crashes into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
– 9:03 a.m. ET – United Airlines Flight 175 (traveling from Boston to Los Angeles) crashes into the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
– 9:37 a.m. ET – American Airlines Flight 77 (traveling from Dulles, Virginia, to Los Angeles) crashes into the Pentagon Building in Washington, D.C.
– 9:59 a.m. ET – South tower of WTC collapses in approximately 10 seconds.
– 10:03 a.m. ET – United Airlines Flight 93 (traveling from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco) crashes in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. After the plane was hijacked the passengers and crew attempted to retake control of the flight deck
– 10:28 a.m. ET – North tower of WTC collapses.

The World Trade Center site became Ground Zero. Every available police officer, firefighter, EMT and other heroes rushed to the scene, putting their lives on the line to search and rescue any survivors and finding those that perished. Almost 20 years later, they, and people who worked and lived in the area, are still dying from diseases contracted from the toxin-filled dust. Eventually those numbers will exceed the total number of lives lost on 9/11.

A total of 2,977 people died on 9/11: 2,753 at the WTC site; 184 at the Pentagon; 40 aboard United Flight 93, making this the worst act of terrorism in the United States.

Eight years earlier, the World Trade Center was the scene of another terrorist attack, when on February 26, 1993 a small cell of Islamic terrorists led by Ramzi Yousef detonated a bomb in a parking garage underneath the World Trade Center, rocking lower Manhattan. The eruption created a nearly 100-foot-wide crater five stories deep.

— JS

 

24. The Freedom to Same Sex Marry

Massachusetts becomes first state to legalize same-sex marriage

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

History was made when Tanya McCloskey and Marcia Kadish walked into Cambridge, Massachusetts City Hall on the morning of May 17, 2004. The couple said “I do” to become the first same-sex couple to get legally married in the United States. Hundreds of same-sex couples were married across the state that day, including Julie and Hillary Goodridge, who were the plaintiffs in the landmark case – Goodridge v. Department of Public Health – that brought same-sex marriage to Massachusetts.

Since 2008, couples from out of state have been allowed to get married in the Commonwealth. And in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

— JS

 

25. When the Levees Break

Hurricane Katrina

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

New Orleans and the surrounding region saw devastation up close and personal on August 29, 2005, when tropical storm Katrina morphed into a Category 5 hurricane that made landfall and took over 1,800 lives. It created approximately $125 billion dollars in damage. Katrina’s storm surge caused damage to 53 flood barriers in and around New Orleans and over 80% of the city was underwater.

The aftermath was just as devastating. The Superdome became shelter for those in dire straits, but quickly became an absolute shithole. The list of unsanitary conditions included blood stains throughout the building, crack vials in the bathroom and people sleeping in pools of urine. The federal government’s response was even more piss-poor. FEMA arrived to bail out the city and made things worse. They lacked leadership and control over the situation and the 7,000 troops deployed were not given any law enforcement powers. Eventually, FEMA director Michael Brown was forced to resign due to his lack of leadership during the crisis.

— BV

 

26. Another Senseless School Shooting

Sandy Hook

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

On Dec. 14, 2012, a lone gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut with an AR-15 and killed 26 people before shooting himself. Of those 26, 20 were second-grade students and six were teachers and faculty of the school. Prior to storming into the school, gunman Adam Lanza shot and killed his own mother at her home. As this news swept the nation, it renewed the discussion around Second Amendment rights and current gun laws, especially related to public access to AR-15s.

— MEG

 

27. Yes He Did

Barack Obama becomes the first Black president of the U.S.

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years


After a nearly two-year campaign, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama made history on Nov. 4, 2008, defeating Arizona Sen. John McCain to become not just the 44th president, but the first Black president of the United States. At 10 p.m. central time, CNN declared Obama the winner. On an unseasonably warm 58-degree night in Chicago, the then 47-year-old gave his acceptance speech in front of 240,000 cheering and crying voters inside Grant Park (there were another 125,00 people surrounding the park), who were most certainly “Fired up and ready to go!” They chanted in unison, “Yes We Can!” 
Obama’s unprecedented victory was a strike against hundreds of years of racism, segregation and slavery, giving hope to the entire Black community that America can be united. 

Through President Obama’s two terms, he brought the country out of great economic hardship and left the country better than he found it. He made great advancements for the U.S. for healthcare, the fair treatment of all Americans and marriage equality. If only he can run for a third term… Come back, Barack!

— QH

 

28. The King is Dead

Michael Jackson dies

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

Scandal hounded Michael Jackson to his grave, and maybe hastened him into it. The King of Pop (although he died more or less broke) overdosed on propofol and benzodiazepine, allegedly over-administered by his shady house doctor, on June 25, 2009. But maybe he just abdicated his life, worn down by the relentless accusations and hardening conviction that he was a pedophile. To be fair, those accusations were never proven, and he didn’t live long enough to refute the recent claims of young men that they were sexually abused by him as boys. But the allegations were convincing, and his obsession with having other people’s small children around him, including parents’ sanctioned sleepovers at his Neverland ranch, was incomprehensible.

When news broke of Jackson dying, it was instantaneous as it spread to people’s phones via texts, then still a relatively new way for people to share events. People remember where they were, and the shock — he seemed perpetually adolescent (he was actually 50) and therefore not due to die. He was the biggest pop star and perhaps the most famous person in the world, but he wasn’t the best singer, or songwriter, or even performer. He was very good at all those things, but not the best. What he was was that great and amorphous entity, The Entertainer. He was the greatest at that, until, rightly or wrongly, he lost his sun-bright luster.

— BGJ

 

29. Waves of Terror

Japan earthquake and tsunami

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

On March 11, 2011, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tohoku, Japan, triggered a massive tsunami with waves of up to 128 feet high and moving as fast as 400 mph and reaching six miles into Japan’s mainland. Residents of Tokyo had just a one-minute warning to evacuate. More than 20,000 people were killed by the devastation, with thousands more missing and displaced; hundreds of square miles became flooded. The next day Japan felt a 6.2 magnitude aftershock causing a cooling system failure at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, leading to a nuclear meltdown. The earthquake was so strong it shifted the earth on its axis and even moved the island of Honshu eight feet!

— TP

 

31. Paris is Burning

Charlie Hebdo attacks

Over the course of three days, Paris was an absolute bloodbath. The carnage started at 11:30 a.m. January 7, 2015, when masked gunmen forced their way into Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people during the publication’s weekly editorial meeting. They were allegedly avenging the satirical magazine’s raunchy cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed. The people of Paris and all of France, and the world, showed their support for freedom of speech and freedom of the press by posting signs saying, Je suis Charlie (“I am Charlie).

The next day, one of the gunmen killed a policewoman in Montrouge, a suburb south of Paris. The day after, the same gunman killed four more people after taking hostages at a kosher supermarket. Eventually, all three gunmen were killed by police.

— JS

 

32. The Don of a New Era

Donald Trump elected president

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

A presidential bid that started out with a reality TV personality trashing Mexico and Mexicans with promises of building a wall to keep them out, which he claimed they would pay for, ended with the most polarizing person in the White House, creating a new sense of reality. The entire United States was at the edge of their seats on election night 2016. With each passing hour and with each state reporting their results, we were all saying, whether we voted for Trump or not, “Is this really happening?” Trump even appeared stunned. His victory caused a visceral response from both sides of the political aisle, and all corners of the country with a revolt of its citizens standing up for what they believe in because of facts and empathy, or because of ignorance.

— JS

 

33. A Win for Women

The rise of #MeToo

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

The phrase “Me Too” was coined by sexual assault survivor Tarana Burke in 2006, but it took a tweet from Alyssa Milano on Oct. 15, 2017, that initiated the formation of the namesake hashtag (#MeToo), to thrust this movement forward.

This #MeToo movement was founded to empower women to share their stories of sexual abuse, especially by men in power. The sheer magnitude of women who joined the #MeToo movement was astounding, and very eye-opening to a prevalent problem in the nation, and especially Hollywood. Suddenly men who seemed great on camera were being revealed as monsters behind them.

The two biggest names to be accused of sexual misconduct are film producer Harvey Weinstein and “America’s Dad” Bill Cosby. Weinstein had decades of abuse revealed. Out of the five counts of sexual assault and rape brought against him, Weinstein was convicted in New York on committing a first-degree criminal sexual act and third-degree rape, resulting in a 23-year prison sentence. He still faces additional criminal charges for rape and sexual assault in Los Angeles.

Bill Cosby had his salacious actions brought to light as women came forward with their stories of drugging, sexual assault and rape at his hand dating back to the 1960s. He was convicted in 2018 and is currently serving a 3-10-year sentence in a Pennsylvania state prison.

Other powerful men that have been accused of sexual assault and misbehavior include former Today show host Matt Lauer, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, actor Morgan Freeman, artist R. Kelly and celebrity chef Mario Batali. This movement has been instrumental in allowing victims of sexual assault a space to share their stories.

— MEG

 

34. A Virus That Can’t Be Put On Lockdown

COVID-19

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

We saw it coming but just didn’t believe its ferocity. On Dec. 31, 2019, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus was reported in Wuhan, China. Many in the United States thought it would never make it overseas. It did, crossing across America like a steamroller.

In the U.S., it was Friday, March 13th (yeah, unlucky right?) when President Donald Trump finally declared a state of emergency. Since then, it has been revealed that President Trump knew back in February the severity of this virus but decided to play it down as to not instill panic into America. His lack of empathy and transparency just led to more ridicule of his mishandling of this most dire situation. Throughout the pandemic, he refused to wear a mask, he continued to hold rallies, he ridiculed the experts, he blabbered about dangerous drug cocktails, only to finally succumb to his own hypocrisy. He — along with the first lady and several members of his administration — contracted COVID-19, but not before possibly infecting hundreds more when he attended a fundraiser already knowing he had the virus.

We’ve all been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 60 million people have filed for unemployment. Small businesses are shuttering at a breakneck pace. College students were sent home. Working in an office now means glitchy Zoom meetings from makeshift home offices. Parents are now taking on the role of teachers and teachers are taking on the role of healthcare professionals and children are dealing with distance learning, resulting in being under-educated. This virus has tested the mettle of every single one of us on what we can adapt to from being quarantined at home to wearing masks, constantly sanitizing and not being able to see our families, if we’re lucky to still have family members still alive.

Worldwide, there have been over 54 million cases reported and over 1.3 million deaths (as of 11/16/20), with the U.S. sadly leading the charge with 11 million cases and over 240,000 deaths.

— QH

 

35. A New Meaning for Memorial Day

George Floyd murdered

The 35 Most Important Moments in the Last 35 Years

 

On May 25, 2020, Memorial Day, Minneapolis police officers arrested a 46-year-old Black man for allegedly buying cigarettes with counterfeit money. The suspect George Floyd was pinned to the ground by a white police officer. Floyd said he couldn’t breathe, lost consciousness and subsequently died. Video footage shows officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, even after he was unconscious, and for another minute after paramedics arrived. Chauvin was charged with murder and manslaughter.

George Floyd’s murder was the straw that broke the camel’s back, inciting the Black Lives Matter movement and worldwide protests, both peaceful and hostile, including the burning of Minneapolis’ 3rd Precinct. These protests brought the violence faced by Black people in America into plain view, raising discussions around the defunding of police, systemic racism and intersectionality. However, even as signs of solidarity emerge, many continue to attempt to discredit and undermine the movement.

Floyd’s death by the hands of police is not the first, just the latest. Eric Garner’s death at the hands of the NYPD in July 2014 initiated the outrage of police treatment of African Americans. A month later, an unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot six times by police leading to civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. In Cleveland, Ohio, Tamir Rice was only 12; Walter Scott was shot in the back in North Charleston, South Carolina; in Louisville, Breonna Taylor was murdered in a wrongly targeted police raid by officers who went on to arrest her boyfriend.

— TP

IMPACT

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