“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.
Because the American people deserve to know
With less than a month left until the Iowa caucuses officially kick off primary season, it seems like we've spent the last decade slowly whittling away at an endless list of candidates.
Many voters have already seen their favorite contenders drop out of the race. Others have yet to figure out which person on a crowded debate stage best represents their interests. Obviously there are a number of axes on which you can compare the candidates, and countless articles that can help you navigate their differing economic policies, their stances on health care, or their various approaches to foreign policy. If those are the factors by which you judge a candidate, you should have no problem finding what you need to make up your mind. People like me are not so lucky.
I have always been a single issue voter—consistently casting my ballot for the best dancer. In 2008 and 2012, I had an easy time of it. Barack Obama's blend of smooth and corny dance moves struck a perfect balance for my sensibilities, easily winning out over Mitt Romney's "Gangnam Style" convulsions, or John McCain's high-intensity robot. 2016 presented a more difficult choice. I nearly didn't vote at all, but ultimately decided that Hillary Clinton's stiff Whip and Nae Nae represented the lesser of two evils when considered against Donald Trump's apocalyptic rendition of "Hotline Bling."
Sadly, some 60 million voters didn't see what I did, and made the wrong call. I won't let that happen again. The American people deserve to see every candidate dance before they go to the polls. Until the DNC finally listens to wisdom and converts one of their debates to a dance off, I've compiled this list so that you can make an informed decision.
Warren dancing at her rally tonight 💃🏼 https://t.co/c2QBzPGsH1— Behind 2020 (@Behind 2020) 1578458031.0
We'll get the top-tier candidates out of the way first. Senator Elizabeth Warren has nothing to hide. She has been the most upfront, transparent candidate when it comes to her big, structural dancing. And while it may not be everyone's first choice in style, you can not fault her fun-aunt-at-a-wedding energy. The latest example of her eclectic blend of fist pumping and hula dancing comes from last night's Brooklyn rally with—recent dropout and competent dancer in his own right—Julian Castro. She probably just needs a couple more glasses of zinfendel from the open bar before she really loosens up.
Bernie Sanders is surprisingly spry. You might not expect a man in his 70s with heart problems to cut a rug, but Bernie is not your average senior citizen. He has the energy of a man half his age, and the timeless consistency of his dancing allows him to keep up with his young supporters.
Former vice president Joe Biden dances exactly as you'd expect—slow, old fashioned, and "sweet" in a way that's uncomfortably intimate.
"Not left. Not right. Forward!" - @AndrewYang #YangGang #Yang2020 https://t.co/7UcY9OG9to— Will🔥🛍️YangGang Pink🧢🔥 (@Will🔥🛍️YangGang Pink🧢🔥) 1565920883.0
Silicon Valley entrepreneur Andrew Yang has more than enough spring in his step to keep up with any roomful of middle-aged women on the dance floor. His universal basic dance moves aim to remind us that we all share one dance floor.
Congressional representative for Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard doesn't exactly dance—she dance-fights. Just as with her approach to debates or to the war on terror, her Capoeira moves may be a bit more aggressive than some voters want.
#BREAKING: Amy Klobuchar performs ancient, centrist war-dance to stoke fear in the hearts of her more radical oppo… https://t.co/EFEoA3JXOE— MSDNC (@MSDNC) 1569102792.0
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is known for her no-nonsense pragmatism. She strives not to make any promises she can't keep, so she will appear to be the adult in the room...but her dancing tells a different story. Klobuchar dances with the energy of a happy toddler who could enter full-blown tantrum mode at any moment.
You may be surprised to find that spiritual guru Marianne Williamson is still in the race, but once you see her dance moves, you'll be surprised she isn't the front runner. She is as one with the music as she is with the vibrations of the universe.
Over the course of two hours, ten candidates employed Trump's name for applause and support a total of 35 times.
The first round of Democratic debates are underway. Ten out of the twenty candidates who qualified for the debates were chosen at random to participate in the first half of NBC's debate last night. The goal for the Democratic Party is obviously to take the Oval Office and hopefully the Senate, but for most of the candidates, last night seemed more like a bid for positions in Elizabeth Warren's cabinet. Straight from the get-go, Warren stood strong like she had nothing to prove and answered every question directed at her with poise and eloquence. Consequently, she may have won the evening. Although, a couple of lesser-known candidates also made their marks, most notably Julian Castro and Jay Inslee.
We Get it, You Speak Spanish
Beto O'Rourke, former representative for Texas, spoke in Spanish during his first response of the evening. Evidently, neither Cory Booker or Elizabeth Warren could maintain their poker faces during the surprising moment. Booker and Warren appeared humored and stunned by the skinny white guy's pandering.
Oh, y'all thought I was just making a meme?!?!?! Here it is in its glorious video form: https://t.co/rdjSi7kbbY— Jason Howerton (@Jason Howerton) 1561606757.0
To compete, Booker whipped out his Spanish, as well. Notably, the only Latinx candidate on stage, Julian Castro, did not speak in his family's native tongue until his closing comment, where he used his bilingual skills to celebrate the opportunity to represent his people.
Ok, when John Delaney, the Maryland Congressman, began speaking before the camera panned to him, did it sound to anyone else like Jimmy Kimmel was on stage? Unfortunately, Delaney is not as charismatic as the Jimmy Kimmel Live! host. He rubbed many the wrong way with his countless attempts to get a word in.
While it's crucial for the lesser-known candidates to elbow their way into the debate, Delaney came off as pathetic. At the end of the discussion about the separation of families at the border, Delaney tried to butt in a personal anecdote, disclosing, "My grandfather was actually separated from his family when he came to this country." Lester Holt rightfully moved on from the comment and switched to another pressing issue.
2020 Democratic Candidates Debate - Separated Grandfatherwww.youtube.com
Finally, when asked whether or not any of the candidates would choose to prosecute Trump after the Mueller Report, Delaney was indifferent. Out of all the references to Trump last night, this was the most important, because Trump could become the first president to be indicted after his term. Delaney claimed that everyday citizens don't care about Donald Trump breaking the law because it doesn't affect them. Although Delaney supports justice being served to criminals, he hypocritically proposed that Trump's indictment isn't a big enough concern to take up his time if he were president.
Yes, Women Care Too
While Washington Governor Jay Inslee had an overall good showing, his one big fumble occurred when he claimed to be the only one on stage to pass a reproductive rights act. Minnesota's Senator Klobuchar spoke for everyone when she interrupted Inslee, saying, "I just want to say there are three women up here that have fought pretty hard for a woman's right to choose, I'll start with that." The crowd gave Klobuchar resounding and deserved applause.
Recognition for the Trans Community
Early in the debate, San Antonio's finest, Julian Castro, highlighted an overlooked population that's affected by abortion restrictions: trans people. It was a standout moment for the former mayor.
Later on, Cory Booker piggybacked off Castro's sentiment. When Hawaii Representative, Tulsi Gabbard, was asked about her former dismissal of the LGBTQ community, she highlighted the work she's done for gay men and women since. Booker retorted that it's not enough:
"Look, civil rights is someplace to begin, but in the African-American civil right community, another place to focus was to stop the lynching of African-Americans. We do not talk enough about trans-Americans, especially African-American trans-Americans and the incredibly high rates of murder now."
Just like climate change is a national emergency and should be treated as such, so should the murder rates of trans people, especially POC trans people. Booker, as the only African-American candidate on stage, brought attention to historically under-represented issues.
Tulsi Gabbard Dunks on Tim Ryan
Army veteran Tusli Gabbard was the most googled candidate last night for good reason.
While she was one of the candidate who spoke the least, overall, she corrected and challenged Ohio Representative Tim Ryan when he asserted the troops should stay in Afghanistan longer to keep an eye on the Taliban.
Tusli Gabbard rips Tim Ryan over foreign policywww.youtube.com
Gabbard draws from her military experience to inform her non-interventionist position, and she memorably reminded Ryan that families want their children to finally come home, saying, "The Taliban was there long before we came in and will be there long before we leave. We cannot keep U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan thinking that we are going to somehow squash this Taliban."
Ryan gustily clapped back, saying, "I didn't say squash them. When we weren't in there, they started flying planes into our buildings."
Gabbard corrected Ryan's outlandish error, notifying the Congressman, "The Taliban didn't attack us on 9/11. Al Qaeda did." While that should be common knowledge, Gabbard came out on top and successfully relayed her position on foreign policy, diplomacy, and war.
Castro Annihilates Beto
Besides Ryan and Delaney, Beto took the biggest L of the evening.
Throughout the night, O'Rourke failed to answer questions in an informed or committed fashion. For example, when discussion about immigration policies arose, Castro called out Beto for not supporting decriminalization of border crossing:
"Let's be very clear: The reason that they're separating these little children from their families is that they're using Section 1325 of that act, which criminalizes coming across the border, to incarcerate the parents and then separate them. Some of us on this stage have called to end that section, to terminate it. Some, like Congressman O'Rourke, have not."
Beto attempted to defend himself by explaining that he supports a complete rewrite of the bill, instead of just repealing Section 1325. He then tried to pivot by readdressing his support of asylum seekers. But asylum seekers are only a small portion of the immigrants affected (and now imprisoned) for attempting to cross the border.
Castro did not take the bait, putting an end to the exchange by suggesting, "You should do your homework on this issue."
Among the ten candidates last night, eight referenced Trump in a total of thirty-five times. Over the course of two hours, candidates employed Trump's name for applause and support of their anti-Trump Democratic position.
The two candidates who refrained from name-dropping were Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren. The two remained measured and composed throughout the evening, respectfully sticking to their ideas, raising concerns, and focusing on change.
While Elizabeth Warren did not have any quippy moments, she stood out as the strongest candidate, never wavering from her beliefs, policy ideas, or promises. Her comprehensive vision for America involves restructuring broken systems that don't work for the majority of citizens.
Although Warren shined, it's possible that the absence of other frontrunners, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, contributed to this. Only time will tell how the three will stack up agaisnt one another, but tonight we'll see how Biden and Sanders fare among hopefuls like Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg.