The decade of the 2010s began amid the chaotic wake of a global financial crisis and ended with the impeachment of a U.S. president. The growing use of social media fueled mass protest movements, bringing millions of people together around the globe in pursuit of common objectives. Britain saw a new generation of royals emerge, countries around the world passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage, a U.S. president was impeached by the House of Representatives and a beloved baseball team ended a 108-year-long dry spell by winning a World Series.
From politics to culture to sports and beyond, here are 14 events, achievements, tragedies and otherwise memorable moments that stood out during the 2010s.
Politics and World Events
1. Occupy Wall Street
Around 1,000 people marched through the streets of New York City’s Financial District in September 2011 under an “Occupy Wall Street” banner. The protesters condemned income inequality and the influence of money in politics and called for an overhaul of what they saw as a failing financial system. Like the Arab Spring, a wave of populist uprisings against authoritarian regimes in the Middle East that began that same year, the Occupy Wall Street movement spread via social media. Thousands more people showed up to join the sit-in in Zuccotti Park, near the New York Stock Exchange, and similar protests were launched in dozens of cities across the country.
2. Black Lives Matter
In 2013, three black female activists started using the social media hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed an unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, the previous year. Drawing inspiration from the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and Occupy Wall Street, the Black Lives Matter movement gained more attention in 2014 and 2015, when rioting followed the deaths of several black men who were killed by police. The slogan gained prominence throughout the decade and cemented the growing role of social media in modern-day activist movements.
3. 2016 Presidential Election
In November 2016, one of the most bitterly divided political contests in the nation’s history ended when Republican candidate Donald Trump, a businessman and TV personality, won the election to become the 45th president of the United States. With his populist campaign and slogan, “Make America Great Again,” Trump capitalized on widespread discontent among white working-class voters, targeting the Washington establishment, undocumented immigrants and political correctness. Though his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state and the first female presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party, won the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes, Trump captured the electoral vote, 304-227.
In mid-2016, amid a mass refugee crisis in Europe and furious debate over migration, Britons voted roughly 52 to 48 percent in favor of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, a.k.a. Brexit. The deadline for withdrawal was extended several times, as Parliament’s steadfast opposition to a proposed deal led to Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation in mid-2019. Though May’s successor, Boris Johnson, initially planned to force an exit, with or without a deal, opposition to this plan forced him to seek yet another extension, pushing the contentious issue into the next decade.
In the fall of 2019, a complaint by a whistleblower within the White House sparked an impeachment inquiry by the Democrat-dominated House of Representatives. The focus of the investigation was whether Trump threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine until the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden (a Democratic presidential candidate for 2020) and his son Hunter, who had worked for a Ukrainian energy company. Trump became the fourth U.S. president in history—after Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton—to formally face impeachment. After a series of public hearings led by the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, two articles of impeachment were brought against Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. On December 18, the House voted to pass both articles and Trump became the third U.S. president to be impeached. (After a trial, on February 5, 2020, the Senate voted largely along party lines to acquit Trump on both charges.)
Disasters & Violence
6. Haiti Earthquake
The deadliest natural disaster of the decade happened in the first month of 2010, when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the West Indian island of Hispaniola on the afternoon of January 12. Followed by dozens of powerful aftershocks, the quake hit hardest in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, killing an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 people and affecting some 3 million. The disaster drew a worldwide humanitarian response, but the impact of the earthquake was felt throughout the decade, as Haiti and its people continued along the difficult path to recovery.
Several massive hurricanes and tropical storms hit the United States in the 2010s, starting in 2012 with Sandy, which unleashed record-setting gales and storm surges in the Northeast. The storm killed more than 230 people and caused some $70 billion in damages. In 2017, three major hurricanes (Harvey, Irma and Maria) struck Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, respectively, over five devastating weeks. A year later, Michael became the first Category 5 hurricane to hit the contiguous United States since 1992, causing more than 50 deaths and $25 billion in damages on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Some scientists have linked the increasing intensity—if not frequency—of hurricanes to climate change-related developments like rising sea levels and warmer oceans, raising the possibility that the next decade may hold more such mega-storms.
8. Terrorist Attacks
During the second decade following 9/11, the scourge of terrorism continued around the world. There were major attacks at the Boston Marathon; a music venue, cafes and restaurants in Paris, France; on London Bridge and a crowded Barcelona street; a nightclub in Orlando, Florida; and a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, among other places. U.S. Special Operations forces took down two major leaders of Islamic terrorism, 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But terrorism within the United States was on the rise, including an increasing number of attacks driven by racist, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-Muslim and/or anti-Semitic views.
9. Mass Shootings
Horrifying episodes of gun violence against schoolchildren marred the decade, including attacks at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and dozens of others. The horrifying spectacle of semi-automatic weapons used in mass school shootings, as well as in similarly brutal attacks in other public venues—from a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, to a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, to a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada—led to calls for increased gun legislation after each new tragedy.
People & Culture
10. Advances in LGBTQ Rights
The decade saw key advances for LGBTQ people around the world, with the legalization of same-sex marriage in 18 countries, including Argentina, France, Great Britain, Australia, Ireland, Germany and the United States (via the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges). Meanwhile, anti-gay laws passed in Russia and China and there was an ongoing battle in the United States over laws preventing transgender people from using bathrooms matching their gender identity. The Trump administration also reinstated a ban on transgender citizens serving in the U.S. military.
11. New Generation of British Royals
With Queen Elizabeth II in her seventh decade on the throne, a new generation of royals made their mark in the 2010s. Prince William, Prince Charles’s eldest son with Princess Diana, married Catherine Middleton in 2011, and by the decade’s end they had three children, including Prince George, now third in line to the British throne behind his grandfather and father. In 2018, William’s younger brother, Prince Harry, wed the biracial, divorced American actress Meghan Markle in a ceremony watched by some 29.2 million TV viewers. Their son, Archie, was born the following year.
12. #MeToo Movement
Though activist Tarana Burke first coined the phrase #MeToo back in 2006, what’s known as the #MeToo movement exploded in late 2017 after a New York Times article exposed long-rumored accusations of sexual harassment and assault against influential Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein made by dozens of women, including many famous actresses. In the aftermath of these revelations, millions of people came forward to express solidarity with the accusers and shared their own experiences with sexual assault, harassment and sexism in the workplace and beyond. Widespread media coverage of #MeToo led to the resignation or firing of numerous prominent figures accused of misconduct.
13. Chicago Cubs Win the World Series
In 2016, the Chicago Cubs ended the longest drought in baseball by defeating the Cleveland Guardians (then known as the Cleveland Indians) 8-7 in the 10th inning of Game 7 to win the World Series. Before this historic victory, the last time the Cubs won a World Series was in 1908, 108 years earlier. Cleveland, who had taken a 3-1 lead in games before Chicago came back to win three in a row, took over the title of the longest World Series drought among active baseball teams: The Guardians haven’t won a pennant since 1948.
14. Simone Biles Becomes the Most Decorated Gymnast in History
Finally, the 2010s saw the rise of Simone Biles, the jaw-droppingly talented gymnast who won four gold medals, including the individual all-around and team titles, at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, setting a U.S. record for most gold medals in women's gymnastics at a single Games. To close out the decade, Biles won five gold medals at the World Championships held in October 2019, bringing her total to 25 world medals and 19 gold—the most of any gymnast, male or female, in history. Biles will compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo but has said she will retire from gymnastics after that competition.