“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.
Ecoterrorism is the world's biggest threat.
Extinction Rebellion and other activist groups have been making headlines for disrupting traffic and confronting politicians about the environmental crisis that our planet is facing.
But environmental protests are not new. For a long time, vicious environmental activists have been committing evil actions like standing outside of their governors' offices and hanging banners from tall buildings, asking that someone take action to ensure a livable future. These unforgivable terrorists must be stopped instantly and preferably locked up for life.
It is believed that the term "ecoterrorism" was first coined in 1983, in an article by Ron Arnold that defined it as "a crime committed to save nature." Around the 1990s, a group known as the Earth Liberation Front popularized eco-terrorism and became noteworthy for their aggressive crimes. Though most of the fears about ecoterrorism never materialized, and not one person was ever killed in an ecoterrorism protest, the FBI still cracked down on the cause.
There are a lot of problems with the term "ecoterrorism," which was mostly created to give environmentalists a bad name. Every movement has its radicals, and most environmental activists don't believe in violent crimes. In fact, most of them would rather be growing plants and doing the kind of stuff they'd truly love to be doing if it weren't for the fact that our planet is dying. In fact, law enforcement poses a much larger threat to environmental activists than the other way around: While environmental activism has killed no one, 83 climate activists were killed in 2018, and nearly 200 activists were killed in 2017, with most of the deaths occurring in Brazil and the Philippines.
Recently—especially as humanity's future grows more dire and natural disasters ravage the world—the question of ecoterrorism has come back into the conversation. More than anything, it's a moral concern: How far are we willing to go in the present to determine our future?
While certainly we should all be taking action to combat climate change, almost no activist groups encourage violent crimes. That said, in the past, people have taken things a little too far. Here are five terrifying, violent, unforgivable acts of ecoterrorism, which you should not emulate. Wink.
Let's get this out of the way: While it's relatively rare, especially in terms of climate actions, some acts of ecoterrorism really are destructive in nature (and most of them surround animal rights, not the climate movement, though of course they are connected but are not the same thing).
It appears that in terms of violent ecoterrorism, arson is the most popular choice. In 1987, ALF activists firebombed a University of California-Davis veterinary laboratory, causing damages of $3.5 million. The Earth Liberation Front committed an act of arson in 1992 that cost $12 million in damages and effectively militarized the entire FBI against them. They burned down a ski resort in Vail, Colorado, kicking off a wave of copycat crimes. Most environmental activists don't advocate for this type of work, and in fact, some of these more militant-leaning organizations actually have disturbing connections to white supremacy.
2. The Great Animal Break-in
Now that we've gotten past that, let's get into the truly despicable crimes. One of the most famous and vicious ecoterrorism groups ever, the Animal Liberation Front, is dedicated to ensuring that all animals are safe and not abused or tortured. It is believed that the ALF's first act of ecoterrorism happened in 1979, when vandals broke into New York University and released five imprisoned animals.
2. Whaling in Japan
In 2017, ecoterrorism has taken flight in Japan, and one particularly aggressive group, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, recently rammed a Japanese whaling ship into an iceberg. (The whaling ship was fine). Apparently, other whalers in Japan have complained that activists are "harassing" them, filming their activities with cameras and giving them weird looks.
3. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz Does Her Job
In 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines tried to label UN staffer Victoria Tauli-Corputz a terrorist. Tauli-Corpuz's job is to look into abuses against indigenous peoples and present her findings to the UN, and she's also spoken out extensively about climate change. In response, President Duterte filed a petition that attempted to label 600 people (including Tauli-Corpuz) terrorists because of their purported connections to the Communist Party.
4. Activists Try to Go to Poland
At the 2018 Cop24 United Nations climate talks in Poland this past year, more than two dozen activists were denied entrance to the country on the basis that they posed national security threats. Poland faced controversy for its anti-terrorism legislation, with many fearing that Poland's national authorities had created a "blacklist" of activists.
5. The Valve Turners
In 2016, protests erupted at the North Dakota land where the Dakota Access Pipeline was to be built. In October, a group of five demonstrators broke into the pipeline's flow stations, cutting through padlocks and ultimately shutting off the pipeline's valves. Two of the protesters were convicted of felonies, and two await trial (the third was convicted of second-degree burglary). Nevermind the fact that the pipeline has already spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil, effectively poisoning the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's water supply and harming thousands of lives. Cutting those valves was the unforgivable offense.
Standing Rock inspired a generation, failed to stop the pipeline, and kicked off a wave of massive U.S. government panic and military action. Nevermind the fact that gun violence and white supremacy-motivated crimes have killed and harmed far, far more people than any of these environmental actions. Nevermind the fact that wildfires and mudslides have killed hundreds in California, or that climate change is already leading to deaths across the world and could wipe out entire countries. Certainly, it's the ecoterrorists we should be afraid of.