“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.
The attempted coup that took place at the Capitol building on Wednesday was equal parts terrifying and hilarious.
In times of crisis and chaos, it's important to keep a clear head and stay on top of the facts.
It's important to acknowledge that this was an unprecedented breach of security that could easily have been avoided and that it resulted in the deaths of at least four people.
But once you've processed the horror that entails, it's equally important to allow yourself a break from the tension and anxiety. Now and then it's essential to look at things from a different angle and just laugh at the absurdity.
Wednesday's attack on Capitol Hill was a great reminder of that lesson. Amid images of fascists and white supremacists taking over the Capitol building to disrupt the functioning of the federal government, chase legislators into hiding, and delay the confirmation of Joe Biden's clear victory over Donald Trump — waving the confederate flag, smashing things, stealing things, and generally getting away with it — there was also an abundance of clownish, hilarious behavior.
Some of the absurdity involved people being intentionally funny, while some of it displayed a raw, natural talent for being obliviously laughable. But all of it provided potent relief from the sense of American democracy falling to a movement of delusional bigots led by a petty conman (though that's still a disturbing possibility).
So as we move forward and focus on action to ameliorate the risk of further violence — anti-coup protests, impeachment, the 25th amendment — it's worth looking back at some of the highlights of absurdity that sprouted from Wednesday's waking nightmare.
At any rate, with all this absurdity, you have to laugh...or cry...or both, simultaneously while huddled in your closet.
What's happening in Washington D.C. is beyond comprehension. And yet we should have seen this coming. Many of us did.
Our elected leaders, our democracy, and the very fabric of our nation are being threatened by the current attempted coup in Washington. MAGA protestors have invaded the Capitol Building and threatened the lives of our elected representatives. They are carrying guns, and disrupting democracy. They are terrorists, and they are not being stopped.
January 6 started as a triumphant morning for Democrats. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won their races in Georgia. U.S. representatives gathered in the Capitol to count Electoral College votes. Even Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence renounced Trump's continued attempts to take over democracy. It seemed like a transition of power was going to happen smoothly.
But President Trump's supporters weren't going to let that happen. Their protest started peacefully outside the Capitol, and seemed like another group of Trump supporters making their last stand.
But somehow, MAGA protestors, Proud Boys, and attendees of this so-called "Save America Rally" broke through barricades and forced their way into the Capitol Building.
Stunning scenes from the Capitol https://t.co/DN60udjDyY https://t.co/8OF1Ibi8Wy— New York Magazine (@New York Magazine) 1609965846
Somehow, improbably, the police and security allowed some to break into the building where our government officials — the people carefully and fairly elected to represent us all — were attempting to confirm the election of the next president.
The response to these protestors, and the inaction of the police and the National Guard, is almost unimaginably hypocritical. At Black Lives Matter protests throughout the summer, we saw teeming rows of cops circling protestors, shooting them with rubber bullets and arresting them in droves, often simply for marching.
Today, after destroying government property to break their way in, protestors appear to be walking peacefully around the Capitol, walking on the Senate floor, invading Nancy Pelosi's office, destroying property, striding over the marble floors, carrying machine guns. Members of Congress have been evacuated to secure locations.
If these had been Leftist protestors, if these had been Black and brown protestors, they would be in jail at best, or more likely shot by police.
we got tear gassed and shot at with rubber bullets for literally standing outside the georgia capitol building, lawfully, in June— Hannah Riley (@Hannah Riley) 1609963244
Republicans constantly claim that the Department of Homeland Security and ICE are necessary to preserve the safety of Americans and that the military requires billions to protect America. But where are these people now, as American extremists storm the Capitol?
Imagine if #BlackLivesMatter were the ones who were storming the Capitol building. Thousands of black people layin… https://t.co/F7HEldgdUJ— Van Jones (@Van Jones) 1609960841
What about when our own president goes against the prevailing logic of almost everyone else in positions of power and quite literally incites violence against the government? Where is the military, which is supposed to protect America, today? Where is the National Guard? Where is America?
Lost, certainly. Dead, possibly. It will take an act of magic or a miracle to revive us from this.
What we are witnessing is a collapse of massive proportions, an attempted coup that reveals the fragility of our democracy and the way Donald Trump has torn us all apart.
Currently, protestors are on the Senate floor. Members of Congress are cowering inside, calling their family members and assuring them they're alright.
A woman has been carried out on a stretcher, drenched in blood.
People are calling on the president — that insecure, unstable man — but his only responses have included tweets that demand the protestors to stay peaceful and respect the cops.
I call on President Trump to go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution by deman… https://t.co/0EtvVBfAkX— Joe Biden (@Joe Biden) 1609968000
Perhaps some of Trump's supporters' delusions that he is remotely competent or sane are finally collapsing, but it is too little too late.
Let us never forget that the President urged protestors to fight. There is no logic here except the logic of a coup, except the logic of violence, except the logic of extreme greed and insanity that has always defined Trump but that has now exploded out of the woodwork and infected the minds of thousands of Americans.
There is no logic here, just the abstract soundscape of collapse. Yet no one should really be surprised. We knew that the Proud Boys were planning a boogaloo, a Civil War. The threads and the comments and the threats were all there. Time and time again, we ignored them.
We know that Trump supporters subsist on lies own media outlets. We know that they are being inundated with lies — disproven by countless lawsuits — that our election was fraudulent. We know that many of our own Republican leaders sowed these seeds, continuing to support Donald Trump as he built up his firestorm of lies and insanity.
We know that there are so many factors to blame here, a buildup in tensions from the pandemic to Black Lives Matter to Democratic victories that has exploded here today. We know that Americans are suffering and afraid, all of us.
And yet never — not in the whole summer of protests, not ever in recent American history — have we seen an unobstructed invasion like this.
On the news, the scene is horrifyingly mellow. White supremacists are walking around the Capitol, guns flying, without opposition, without election, without fact to sustain them. Everyone else is absent or cowering in fear. These people are, unforgivably, not being punished; they are being allowed to walk free.
Just to be completely clear today, pointed questions like "Where is the teargas?" or "Why don't we see more choke s… https://t.co/XIZrEdwi8b— tj usiyan (@tj usiyan) 1609961116
How do we even comprehend this? For now, some of us can at the very least hold fast to the fact that when Republicans criticize the "radical Left" for "violent" protests (AKA looting and damaging of empty buildings, at the most extreme), we will be able to remind them of the time when the more radical sect of their party — led by their beloved president — quite literally committed terrorism and infiltrated the Capitol and threatened our elected representatives' lives.
If we get through this, we know that we have a Democratic Congress. We must hope that in addition to addressing the pandemic, these bodies of government somehow figure out how to stop this from happening ever again.
I believe the Republican members of Congress who have incited this domestic terror attack through their attempts to… https://t.co/ZYHEboSa1i— Congresswoman Cori Bush (@Congresswoman Cori Bush) 1609967177
It's getting dark soon. Stay safe, stay strong, Americans. Realize that this is white supremacy knowing that it is losing power and lashing out in the way it always has — with violence, intrusion, and destruction.
Facebook, Twitter, Fox News, and rightwing talk radio have enabled this. And the mainstream media has retreated beh… https://t.co/XNcovTn4jD— Robert Reich (@Robert Reich) 1609966899
Realize that this is in America's blood and we are in the process of draining it out, but it won't go quietly.
Realize this is the spirit of American violence — colonialism and racism and all of their aftereffects — rearing its many ugly heads and, like a hydra, refusing to die, just growing back.
"[Trump] has never tried to put distance between him and the most violent fringe because he views their violence as… https://t.co/YX0HGZqB8B— Guernica Magazine (@Guernica Magazine) 1604689319
Realize that there are terrorists in America, wearing familiar faces — faces we have been taught to respect but also faces that are willing to corner our democratically elected representatives, faces that are allowed to do so and, as I write this, are still doing so.
We are somehow closer and further than ever before from actualizing the dream of America, a world where everyone can be equal.
We are on the edge of Rome burning. We are both a promise of the best of humanity and a collage of the very worst of it. We can only hope that the truth will prevail in the end.