“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.
China Cracks Down on Student Activism for Workers' Rights
At least 10 vocal activists have been "kidnapped" after stirring unrest about labor reform in the Communist Party.
Authorities in China have intensified their suppression of human rights, with their latest government crackdown targeting student activists at Peking University.
Last Friday, an alumnus of China's prestigious—and idiosyncratically liberal—University was reportedly "kidnapped" on campus property for drawing attention to labor reform. Zhang Shengye was forced into a car by a small group of unidentified men wearing black jackets. An anonymous witness noted, "They hit him hard and quickly got Zhang under control."
University officials had to spin the widely publicized arrest in a series of memos sent to students, claiming to have discovered an "illegal organization" within the university's own Marxist Society. The messages alleged that individuals had infiltrated the campus in order to subvert the government and sow dissent against the Communist Party. One memo warned that students would "bear consequences" if they became associated with the organization or the activism it encouraged.
Student protesters commemorate Tiananmen Square anniversary Daily Mail
Several vocal activists, including other graduates from Peking University, have disappeared recently. According to CNN, at least nine other labor protesters are known to have been detained in five other cities. Despite touting Marxist ideologies, the Communist Party has long outlawed labor unions and opposed workers' rights. The government has been amplifying efforts to suppress activism since the summer, when the government denied a group of workers' demand to establish a trade union in southern China's Shenzhen's Jasic Technology company, stirring public dissent over labor laws.
"It's ironic to see how the students who have been studying and believing in Marxism are rounded up by the Chinese authorities for supporting workers, the fundamental value of Marxism," said Patrick Poon, a researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. "The students are simply exercising their freedom of expression and showing their solidarity to the workers. They should be immediately released."
While students at Peking University are urged to study the tenets of Marxism and the power of the proletariat, China's Communist Party now has to suppress the empowered students who have not only noticed but resisted the government's hypocritical denigration of the working class. Cornell professor Eli Friedman notes, "Now that they've taken it to heart, the government is cracking down quite significantly. In some ways, this is the government's own making.
In response, Peking University's committee within the ruling Communist Party announced the implementation of an office focused on "internal control and management" of campus life, including inspections and patrol of campus grounds. Another new addition to campus is Qiu Suiping, the new Communist Party chief stationed at the university after serving as the top state security official in Beijing from 2013 to 2014.Qiu's appointment and the rise of student activism both speak to the growing unrest in China for fairer and more humanitarian living conditions for workers. The average work schedule for a young professional in China is commonly referred to as "996": work from 9 AM to 9 PM, six days a week. For factory laborers, schedules can extend to grueling 16- or even 18-hour-day
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