“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.
Miners Invade Indigenous Land and Murder Community Leader In Brazil
This was an act of terror, and should be widely condemned.
Emyra Wajãpi was a leader of the Wajãpi indigenous community, a group located in the north of Brazil—until he was murdered this week by a group of armed miners, who stabbed him to death and threw his body into a river.
On Saturday, Wajãpi community leaders issued a cry for help to the Brazilian government, stating that they were being invaded by troops bearing rifles and weapons and requesting the assistance of the army. Though a police force was en route, they did not arrive in time, and the community was forced to flee.
The invasion comes as a shock but not a surprise. In recent months, Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has explicitly encouraged loggers, miners, and farmers to invade protected areas and land occupied by indigenous communities, arguing that the Brazilian government has the right to develop and profit off of any and all of its national territories. Under Bolsonaro, deforestation in the Amazon has skyrocketed, though he has repeatedly denied the validity of studies that reveal just how much land has been lost during his reign.
"The president is responsible for this death," said Brazilian lawmaker Rodolfe Rodrigues to the The New York Times. Bolsonaro has a history of making racist comments about indigenous people and is currently telling the public that the murder did not happen.
The Wajãpi people united in protest against invadersImage via survivalinternational.org
In March 2019, Bolsonaro met with U.S. President Donald Trump, and they signed a letter of intent promising the "sustainable development of the Amazon" (read: the ravaging of indigenous lands). Bolsonaro has also drafted plans that would legalize artisanal mining in protected lands, and that—to add insult to injury—would encourage indigenous communities to mine their own lands.
His priorities are crystal clear. "Brazil lives from commodities," Bolsonaro said in a recent speech. "What do we have here in addition to commodities? Do people not remember this? If the [commodities] business fails, it will be a disaster." These comments come at a time when mining and pollution present unparalleled threats to the planet's well-being and when indigenous ways of life present one of the best models of combating climate change and developing sustainable infrastructure.
The killing of Emyra Wajãpi should be viewed as a serious act of domestic terror among international communities. The U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has decried the death, calling it "a disturbing symptom of the growing problem of encroachment on indigenous land – especially forests – by miners, loggers and farmers in Brazil." World leaders should follow suit in denouncing these actions and reaffirming their commitment to conserving protected lands.
Wajãpi Indigenous TribeImage via Victor Moriyama
If they do not, a genocide could ensue. "This government is massacring our rights and our indigenous peoples," said a Wajãpi leader to NBC News. "They are already starting, killing the indigenous peoples."
Indigenous communities of the Americas have endured relentless persecution since the arrival of Europeans in the 1400s. The Wajãpi did not receive protected land until 1996, after a 21-year period of brutal military rule. In the 1970s, their community was almost completely wiped out by disease—brought by invading gold miners.
#Brazil: Effective measures should be taken to save lives & physical integrity of the #Waiãpi people. I urge Gov to… https://t.co/7VvPSCAxVg— UN Human Rights (@UN Human Rights) 1564428776.0
Paris on Fire: French Police Tear Gas Protesters in the Streets
A third swell of protests over hikes in gas prices erupts in violent riots and public outcry over France's social inequality.
In the heart of Paris, the Champs-Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe were scaled by protesters and graffitied on Saturday. Police fired tear gas, stun grenades, and water cannons at masked citizens donning bright yellow vests as they (the citizens) set fire to buildings and hurled crude projectiles in the streets.
Recent hikes in gas prices under President Emmanuel Macron have driven people to form a leaderless movement on social media and take to the streets.The most recent announcement of another tax increase set to begin on News Years Day initiated the first wave of demonstrations in mid-November. The price hike will add to an existing 23% rise in diesel costs that's occurred during Macron's first year as president.
In France, all drivers must keep reflective yellow vests in their vehicles under a 2008 policy; the "gilet jaunes" or "Yellow Vest" movement represents motorists' protest of the added tax burden on fuel and government officials' blindness to civilian struggles.
The 36,000 demonstrators created the most violent display of civil disobedience to take place in the capital in more than a decade. The protests left 3 dead, 100 injured (including members of the French police), and nearly 400 arrests. The third wave of protests in as many weeks turned into "urban warfare" and "the worst riots in a generation," according to witnesses of flaming cars, vandalized buildings, and clashes between the French police and a faction of criminals who are said to have joined the protest solely to wreak havoc.
While prices of oil have risen worldwide over the past year, the French government has added its own taxes to the burden as part of their environmental policies. Macron's administration defends the new taxes as efforts to lower carbon emissions and encourage people to purchase more energy efficient cars–but the expectation that French citizens can alter their lifestyles and modes of transportation at the government's behest is out of touch with reality. Furthermore, increasing fuel prices places an unbalanced burden on working people who can't afford to reside in major cities and who rely on their cars to commute from and around rural and suburban areas.
But in many ways, the tax hike is only a capstone of social inequality that has frustrated citizens for too long. Florence, a 55-year-old demonstrator who works for a freight company outside Paris, expressed his motivations to The Guardian:
"We are here to protest against the government because of the rise in taxes [in general], not just petrol taxes, which is the straw that broke the camel's back. We've had enough. We have low salaries and pay too much tax and the combination is creating more and more poverty."
In response to public dissent, President Macron called an emergency security meeting on Sunday. His official statements have condemned the use of violence and defacement of national monuments. He said, "No cause justifies that authorities are attacked, that businesses are plundered, that passers-by or journalists are threatened or that the Arc du Triomphe is defiled." He also praised the emergency responders and French police, whom are seen below firing tear gas and water cannons at protesters, saying they've "showed unrelenting bravery throughout the day and evening."
French police fire teargas at 'gilets jaunes' protesters in Parisyoutu.be
Outside of France, Parisians' actions against inequality seem to have inspired copycat riots in Belgium. Famke Krumbmuller, head of a Paris-based political consultancy, noted the protests touched a familiar chord and sent reverberations throughout Western Europe. She told CNBC, "I guess what's specific to this movement is that it is relatively apolitical, so they (the protesters) are not from just one party on the left or right. They're white, middle-class people that are squeezed by the welfare state. They pay a lot of taxes but they don't get a lot of benefits in return."
Looking ahead, President Macron's asked Prime Minister Edouard Philippe to hold a meeting with leaders of France's political parties and representatives from the "Yellow Vest" movement in order to negotiate a return to peace. However, according to the French paper Le Télégramme, some members of the "collective" oppose a meeting, claiming, "The government is only looking for a communication plan and we do not want to be a puppet." Another representative of the group, Christophe Chalençon, actually looks forward to the meeting, where he plans on asking the Prime Minister to resign.
Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.
Experts Urge "Unprecedented Changes" to Prevent Environmental Disaster
A U.N. panel recommends "rapid, far-reaching" overhauls to prevent global catastrophe by 2030.
When responding to a disaster, the last phase is containment. The latest report from the world's leading experts on global warming is urging world leaders and policy-makers that that time is now. In order to prevent the earth's temperature from rising any more than another .5 ˚Celsius over the next 12 years, "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society" are necessary.
The report is the latest from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which draws from thousands of publications and reviews of data on climate changes to assess and measure "increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level." In the past five reports, the IPCC has gone from investigating if and to what degree global warming was taking place to finding it "unequivocal" that global warming was an ongoing disaster with a 5% chance of being caused by natural climate change and a 90% probability that society's emissions of greenhouse gases were perpetuating the damage.
Environment and Human Being
Now, the IPCC is no longer concerned with spreading awareness or recommending practices to prevent damage from global warming, but to contain the coming destruction. The latest report cites that global temperatures are already 1 ˚C higher than in pre-industrial times; if temperatures rise more than 1.5 ˚C, environmental damages will put hundreds of millions of human lives at risk.
Furthermore, Earth's temperatures are expected to rise to the catastrophic 1.5 ˚C as early as 2030, unless "unprecedented changes" in transportation, agriculture, and energy are implemented. The IPCC's report verifies that carbon dioxide emissions have not been hampered by existing environmental policies, or lack thereof, recommending "rapid and far-reaching transitions" in society that leave some doubtful of its feasibility.
Skeptics include Glen Peters, research director of the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, who stated, "Even if it is technically possible, without aligning the technical, political and social aspects of feasibility, it is not going to happen. To limit warming below 1.5 ˚C, or 2 ˚C for that matter, requires all countries and all sectors to act."
The rhetoric of environmentalism has been deemed alarmist and even fear-mongering in the past, but one reason skeptics remain unmoved could be due to a history of sanitized language. Phil Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center, doubts not only the IPCC's radical changes but their words: "If you're expecting IPCC to jump up and down and wave red flags, you're going to be disappointed. They're going to do what they always do, which is to release very cautious reports in extremely dispassionate language."
Scientists involved in the IPCC hope that the newest report will counteract that history of apathetic fatalism, urging that the present risk should merit the global, united response it will take to scale back potential disaster. "It's a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now," affirmed Dr. Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC's working group on climate impacts. "This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilizes people and dents the mood of complacency."
Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.