“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.
In New York, Progressive Challengers Battle Incumbents and Potential Voter Suppression
If you have questions or issues with voting, call New York's voter hotline at (866) 687-8683 or the Attorney General at 1-800-771-7755, or contact the NYC DSA at 866-700-5927.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
When Paperboy Prince went to vote for himself in the Democratic primary on June 23rd, 2020, he was surprised to see that he hadn't even received the ballot that was supposed to have his name on it.
THEY ARE CHEATING ALREADY AT THE POLLS!!! I WENT TO MY POLLING LOCATIONS IN NYC AND THEY ONLY HAD OPTIONS FOR PRESI… https://t.co/g02hV2fQd3— Paperboy Prince for Congress Vote June 23rd 🧢❤️ (@Paperboy Prince for Congress Vote June 23rd 🧢❤️) 1592912907.0
People all over New York City are reporting similar stories, saying that they only received their presidential ballots—not their state and congressional ballots. The problem started as early as 6AM, when reports thatsome poll sites weren't giving out the full ballots came to light.
"Poll workers didn't know there were 2 ballot sheets. 30 min of relentless arguing & discussion to convince them to look and find it," wrote one voter. "Oversight not deliberate rather disorganized. Unacceptable. Others denied a proper vote."
Some say they were given incorrect ballots. Bronx Assemblymember Victor Pichardo was given the wrong ballot when he went to vote in his neighborhood.
Went to vote with my family at my polling place at Bailey Senior Center in the Bronx at 20/86 and was initially giv… https://t.co/225nH4kzBP— Victor Pichardo (@Victor Pichardo) 1592923753.0
Others have reported additional disturbing incompetence on the part of the NY Board of Elections. "Voted at 6:30am, in person. very disappointed to find out hours later I wasn't given my full ballot. Only 1 of 2 pages. Didn't vote in presidential- thought courts made it clear I should," wrote a Twitter user.
"Another @BOENYC fiasco in Brooklyn. This Flatbush poll site opened 30 min late, then told dozens of voters waiting that both scanners are broken. After waiting for 2 hours, voters now leaving ballots in lockbox to get scanned later. Volunteers are taking chairs outside for seniors," reported another.
"Also just received a report, also at Russell Sage H.S., that several DEMOCRATIC voters were given REPUBLICAN ballots for the presidential candidates & the presidential delegate candidates. What is going on? Please get to the bottom of this ASAP," wrote yet another.
Election Day in New York is off to a bad start. Here's a running thread of problems voters are experiencing, which… https://t.co/BDQZjHy8D7— Peter F. Martin (@Peter F. Martin) 1592915130.0
Furthermore, many people who requested absentee ballots have found themselves without them. "A vast but unknown number of voters who requested absentee ballots have not received them," write Ben Adler and Rebecca C. Lewis for City and State. "On Sunday, a volunteer for Brooklyn congressional candidate Adem Bunkeddeko told City & State that of the voters she has been calling since Friday, approximately 40% who requested absentee ballots have not received them." Even more disturbingly, the article continues, "As is typically the case with voter disenfranchisement, the failure to send ballots seems to have fallen disproportionately on marginalized communities."
Still, this disenfranchisement is definitely not reserved to any specific groups of people. For better or for worse, anyone can be disenfranchised, stripped of their right to vote by incompetence, mistakes, or—as some propose—direct efforts to challenge progressive candidates.
So why did this happen? Part of it has to do with state lawmakers like Governor Andrew Cuomo who provided little assistance to local boards of elections. "Neither Cuomo nor the state Legislature, which was largely absent following the passage of the state budget in early April, proposed plans to increase funding for boards to handle the additional requests and hire temporary election workers to bulk up small staffs not designed for elections with a large amount of absentee voting," Adler and Lewis continue.
Gothamist reports that anyone looking to complain about voting can contact (866) 687-8683 or report to NY Attorney General Laetitia Jones at 1-800-771-7755. The NYC DSA is also accepting calls and questions about voting today and can be contacted at 866-700-5927.
Progressive Challengers Like Jamaal Bowman Put in the Work—Now Can They Get the Votes?
It's a shame to see such incompetence in NYC, especially during such an important election featuring many vibrant challengers who have worked on these campaigns for years, refusing corporate donations and instead relying on thousands of phonebanks and local canvassers.
One such challenger, Jamaal Bowman, has made headlines for his groundbreaking campaign. A former middle school principal, Bowman is running to unseat Eliot Engel, who has been in Congress since 1989.
"The election on June 23 will thus be a test of whether the energy on American streets translates into votes," writes Michelle Goldberg. "Engel is a 16-term incumbent, the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. If he's dethroned by a political newcomer calling for defunding the police, it could be as politically earthshaking as Ocasio-Cortez's victory two years ago."
"When you look at the impact of concentrated poverty that's been created by bad policy, and the trauma that results from that, and then add on top of it stop-and-frisk policing, zero-tolerance schools, you're dealing with a population of black and Latino students that consistently feel occupied," Bowman said, his experience and energy a stark contrast to Engel's.
Other strong challengers are emerging, bringing extensive experience in community organizing along with varied backgrounds. Jabari Brisport, running for State Senate in District 25, is a queer Black socialist who is also running on a campaign to provide healthcare and housing for all.
While some of these challengers' progressive ideals may have been written off a few months ago, as Bernie Sanders' were, it's clear that we are in a new iteration of America. New forms of unrest and revolutionary sentiments are shaking the nation's streets. With unemployment skyrocketing and healthcare hanging in the balance, ideas like Medicare for All and a Homes Guarantee seem not only plausible—they seem necessary.
It's hard to know whether the tremendous energy currently in the streets for the Black Lives Matter movement will translate into votes. But on the other hand, with so much voter suppression and incompetence at polling sites in NYC, it's hard to know if any of this is fair at all.
Voter Suppression and Disenfranchisement: An American Tradition
Voter suppression is, of course, not reserved to NYC. It has a very long and deeply embedded history in America, dating back to the Jim Crow laws that suppressed poor and non-white voters (like poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses) and continuing to today.
In Kentucky, where Charles Booker is vying to be the Democrat who takes on Mitch McConnell for Senate Majority Leader, talk of voter suppression is everywhere. "Fewer than 200 polling places will be open for voters in Kentucky's primary Tuesday, down from 3,700 in a typical election year," reported the Washington Post.
In Georgia earlier this month, Black voters had to wait up to five hours to cast ballots in some cases. The event was called a "complete meltdown."
Faith in American democracy has continued to erode (if it was ever there), and certainly all this will only add fuel to that fire. Does that mean that insurgent progressive champions have more or less of a chance? We'll have to wait and see, while keeping in mind that election results may be distorted by incompetence, lack of funding, or something as insidious as illegal tampering.
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