“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Why Is Bernie Sanders Endorsing Joe Biden—While Staying on the Ballot?
The senator from Vermont is fully behind Joe Biden's candidacy, but that doesn't mean he's abandoned his own agenda.
Joe Biden is a deeply flawed candidate—it would be pointless to deny it.
His unwillingness to embrace increasingly popular progressive policies has made him an unappealing option for younger voters who have more or less shunned him in every primary so far, while his legislative and personal history have the potential to put him in a defensive position as we enter the general election.
He is perhaps correctly viewed as the candidate that the Democratic party defaulted to after a contentious primary season failed to produce the centrist frontrunner that party insiders and donors were hoping for. He is the concept of "anyone-but-Trump" embodied in a hollow, flavorless candidacy who is nonetheless plagued by exactly the kind of scandals that would otherwise make Trump vulnerable to criticism.
While he has secured the Democratic nomination for himself on the basis of an argument for his "electability," many critics have called into question whether he actually meets that standard. But one thing is certain: If Joe Biden is going to beat Donald Trump in November, it won't be without a lot of help from the young progressive movement in this country. That's where Bernie Sanders comes into the play.
Watch Bernie Sanders endorse Joe Bidenwww.youtube.com
On Monday the senator from Vermont and former front runner for the Democratic nomination began the long arduous process of convincing progressive voters and activists to rally around a candidate that they find fundamentally dissatisfying. After suspending his campaign last Wednesday, Sanders came out with a statement calling on his supporters to back Biden in order to "defeat somebody who I believe ... is the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country."
It would be disingenuous for Sanders' endorsement to focus on Biden himself—whose approach to politics Sanders has thoroughly criticized both specifically and in the abstract—but it's far a more important message than claiming, once again, that Biden is his good friend. Sanders is addressing the significant and terrifying threat that our country faces in the form of Donald Trump. He's a man who called a pandemic a hoax when swift action could have saved lives, then used it as an opportunity to reward his loyalists at the expense of the public health, all while promoting dubious cures, undermining important regulation, forcing states into expensive bidding wars, and inciting dangerous xenophobia. He is, in short, a reckless, self-aggrandizing, would-be fascist.
In the three years that Donald Trump has held power, he has made tremendous strides in consolidating power for his party, America's economic elites, and himself. If he manages to get reelected, the problem is going to get worse. Whatever you think of Joe Biden, it's important to acknowledge how much better he would be for this country. It's important for the progressive movement in America to (however grudgingly) put their full force behind Joe Biden and get out the Democratic vote—particularly in swing states. While Biden's VP pick (promising rumors suggest Elizabeth Warren) has a lot of potential to help in that process, Bernie Sanders' endorsement is an important first step. So why is Bernie Sanders staying on the ballot in upcoming races?
The answer is that Bernie Sanders still represents a huge coalition of Democratic voters, and he wants to be able to represent their interests at this year's democratic convention. If he is able to secure a large number of delegates for himself, that will hopefully give him the sway he needs to push the party platform to the left on important issues like Medicare for All and student debt relief.
So while Bernie's endorsement is crucial for inspiring unity in November, voters in states like New York, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania will still have the opportunity to voice their preference for Sanders' policies.
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