The bright lights of 2022

In the biggest news stories this year – Ukraine, Iran, and China – one unifying symbol was light, and its literal or metaphorical power to liberate.

Camping lights and candles illuminate a market fruit stall during a power outage in Kyiv, Ukraine, Nov. 9.

End-of-the-year picks for “best person of 2022” are rolling in – Time magazine chose Ukraine’s president – but something other than a person may signify the year in history. It is a unifying symbol seen in the most headline-grabbing events – the war in Ukraine and mass protests in Iran and China.

It is the use of light, a metaphor for freedom, to remind the oppressed that darkness is not a predetermined reality.

In Ukraine, where Russian missiles have knocked out power for millions, lighted candles have become the beacon of a victorious future. Ukrainians have also taken to writing poems, many with a theme of light. “The Russians can turn out the lights in our cities, but, right now, every person in Ukraine is a light,” Oleksandr Usyk, famed heavyweight boxer, told The Independent.

“We are like candles burning in the darkness,” Mr. Usyk said. He is part of a donation campaign to buy 1,000 power generators for hospitals. 

In China, protests against strict “zero-COVID” policies and the grim rule of Xi Jinping took off in November during candlelight vigils for the victims of a lethal fire – one that was left to blaze because of an enforced lockdown.

Mourning for the fire’s victims led to large-scale demonstrations against censorship and other types of oppression. Fueled by a desire for “spiritual freedom,” one Chinese protester told CNN, “I feel like I can see a glimmer of light coming through ahead.” (Another protest symbol is a blank piece of white paper, held aloft during protests to signify that everyone knows what the censors try to suppress.)

In Iran, a common sight during the protests has been the light of street bonfires, in which women burn their hijabs. The most popular protest song, “Baraye” (For), winds up its list of complaints with these uplifting words: “For the feeling of serenity and peace / For the sun after a long night.”

By its own light, truth has shone brightly during these big events of 2022. The use of light is inclusive and connective among people, banishing despair. For many in the countries of Ukraine, Iran, and China, to see the light is to be the light.

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