“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.
Could her Democratic Debate win unseat frontrunner Biden?
The second night of the 2020 Democratic primary debates gave American voters a glimpse into the policies, platforms, histories, and personalities of 10 more candidates, all vying to stand out in a crowded 25-person race to challenge Donald Trump in the next presidential election. Following up a spirited debate the night before, during which Elizabeth Warren ran much of the show, the second showdown featured the party's two frontrunners, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Biden and Sanders, however, were not the brightest shining stars on the stage by the end of the night. For many Americans, Thursday's debate served as a formal introduction to many of the other candidates in the race, some of whom made quite a name for themselves.
The general consensus, at least according to liberal-leaning media outlets, is that California Senator Kamala Harris won the debate. Harris was exceptionally poised and confident throughout the entire night, answering questions directly and succinctly—a refreshing break from the single-note catchphrasing, discursive meandering, and sometimes chaotic squabbling of many of her opponents.
At one point of heightened bickering (of which there were several), while nearly every other candidate was trying to yell over one another, Harris addressed her colleagues and competitors, reminding them that "Americans don't want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we're going to put food on their tables." She then seamlessly shifted the discussion back to the matter at hand: jobs. Although quick-witted and clever, sure, I would posit that this was not merely a quippy soundbite. It demonstrates a seemingly natural proclivity for leadership, as well as an ability to behave with cool diplomacy in the face of contentious disarray—all of which are traits one might call "presidential."
That, however, was not even the most defining moment of the night for Harris. About halfway through the debate, she aired her grievances with Joe Biden's sordid political relationship with civil rights. Harris addressed Biden directly and with candor. Instead of trying to smear the former vice president, she simply informed him that she was personally hurt by recent comments he made regarding his positive working relationships with now-deceased segregationists in the Senate.
"It was hurtful," Harris said to Biden, "to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that—you also worked with them to oppose busing."
She then went on to relay the story of a young girl in California being bused in order to integrate into public schools. "And that little girl was me," Harris concluded, "So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly,"
Even though he probably should have seen this coming, given the public outcry and a call from fellow Democratic primary hopeful, Senator Cory Booker, for an apology, Biden was clearly rattled by Harris' statements.
In short, he fumbled it. Instead of wielding an opportunity to mirror Harris' sincerity and take her concerns seriously, using the debate platform to finally make an apology, he doubled-down and condescendingly lectured (actually, his tone seemed, at least to this writer, to be teetering on the brink of scolding) Harris, stating that his stance on Civil Rights-era busing was about states' rights, not a tepid attitude towards racial equality.
"I did not praise racists," Biden retorted, "That is not true, number one. Number two, if we want to have this campaign litigated on who supports civil rights and whether I did or not, I'm happy to do that." The former vice president, however, still refuses to issue an apology.
In fact, upon hearing Cory Booker's initial call for an apology, he issued a statement outside of a fundraising event in Washington on June 19th, saying, "Apologize for what? Cory should apologize [...] He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body. I've been involved in civil rights my whole career. Period."
Joe Biden, who has been the primary frontrunner for the Democratic primary nomination thus far, appears to be largely impenetrable in the face of criticism and scandal, despite being comparatively conservative among a pool of majority-progressive candidates. Only time will tell whether or not Harris has, indeed, finally found Biden's political Achilles Heel.
Either way, though, the first Democratic debate was all about Kamala Harris and the underdogs. In addition to Harris' impressive performance, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana also stood out as intelligent, composed, and unflinching. And Andrew Yang, best known for his somewhat controversial platform of Universal Basic Income (giving every American citizen a monthly stipend of $1,000), also held his own—offering straightforward, no-nonsense, and logically sound answers, even if seldom few questions were directed at him.
A lot can happen between now and February 3rd when the first Democratic primary caucus is scheduled to take place in Iowa. And there will be plenty of chances for candidates to rise and fall in the meantime. If Thursday's debate is any indication of what's to come, however, it appears as if a paradigm shift may be on the horizon, with Senator Kamala Harris leading the charge.
Over the course of the evening, it became apparent the two frontrunners, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, aren't old dogs with new tricks.
Last night, the second round of Democratic debates came and went. Ten out of the twenty candidates who qualified for the debates were chosen at random to participate in the second half of NBC's nationally televised event. Of course, the goal for the Democratic Party is to take the Oval Office and hopefully the Senate.
Over the course of the evening, it became apparent the two frontrunners, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, are old dogs without any new tricks. Honestly, it'd be difficult to tell the difference between a clip of Senator Sanders debating in 2016 and 2019—maybe this time around, he's a little more tired. Joe Biden was alarming on the stage: He was ill-prepared, stumbled over his words, and leaned heavily on his smile. It's not that Biden had a terrible night' it's that he only had an okay night— which, for a frontrunner, is not a good sign. There were only three people anyone should be excited to hear from: Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and Marianne Williamson.
Between the two debates, candidate Andrew Yang spoke the least by a two-minute margin. During the three minutes he did speak, Yang introduced his Freedom Dividend policy. The Freedom Dividend Policy is a Universal Basic Income plan. All people over the age of eighteen would be eligible to obtain a basic income of a thousand dollars a month. Yang's policy is one of the few proposed that addresses an imminent threat: technology. If corporations like Amazon were heavily taxed, that'd free a lot more money for workers who are displaced due to automated jobs accomplished by AI.
If you look into Yang, he's a contender thanks to his reasonably successful grassroots campaign. Last night, Yang turned his campaign into the trending hashtag #LetYangSpeak. According to the candidate, his mic had been turned off multiple times throughout the evening. The only evidence available is footage of Yang attempting to get a word in but to no avail.
#LetYangSpeak Here’s proof that @AndrewYang was attempting to speak, but his mic was cut off. Coincidences don’t ex… https://t.co/cRhdujENfD— AVWilhite20 (@AVWilhite20) 1561733609.0
In the video, he's speaking, loud enough for Joe Biden to hear him. Beyond that clip, there is no other evidence. If that were, in fact, true, then NBC would have a lot to answer for ah regarding their meddling in a primary debate.
Marianne Williamson, Be Still My Heart
Marianne Williamson sure made a name for herself last night. Her dramatic and chaotic delivery was a delight for many. Yet, she did not come to play games; she came to bring up points of contention and big ideas we need to tackle. According to her, "It's really nice if we've got all these plans, but if you think we're going to beat Donald Trump by just having all these plans, you've got another thing coming. He didn't win by saying he had a plan. He won by simply saying 'Make America Great Again.'" She's right, like she was right about a lot of things: Williamson thoughtfully addressed the need for reparations, slammed ageist rhetoric, and exclaimed of love over hate.
Although her delivery was off-kilter to many, Williamson should not be underestimated for her flowery language; she explained:
"I have had a career not making the political plans, but I have had a career harnessing the inspiration and the motivation and the excitement of people. Masses of people. When we know that when we say we are going to turn from a dirty economy to a clean economy, we're going to have a Green New Deal, we're going to create millions of jobs, we're going to do this within the next 12 years, because I'm not interested in just winning the next election, we are interested in our grandchildren. Then it will happen."
Many Americans never imagined Donald Trump would be our president, but here we are. Williamson's bold statements and captivating delivery about her hopes and dreams for this country have the potential to capture the American imagination. Sure, she may give off the spiritual energy of a wine mom who likes crystals, but why does that discredit her abilities? Remember, the hippies of our nation began revolutions.
Marianne Williamson: I Will 'Harness Love' To Defeat President Donald Trump | NBC Newswww.youtube.com
Yes, We Just Witnessed a Murder
Kamala Harris came prepared last night. Over all the ruckus, Harris reprimanded her fellow candidates with her rehearsed one-liner: "America does not want to witness a food fight; they want to know how we're going to put food on their table."
She continued to command the evening by confronting Joe Biden on his record. Harris challenged the former VP, asserting:
"I'm going to now direct this at Vice President Biden, I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But I also believe, and it's personal— and I was actually very—it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.
"And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me."
Kamala Harris Confronts Joe Biden On Race | TIMEwww.youtube.com
Biden, who was once a spirited debater, floundered in his response. He clarified that he supported busing, but on the state level. Harris clapped back, recounting how in her hometown of Berkeley, California, busing was not enforced. She utilized the anecdote to explain why The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were crucial to this country, which is why we need to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Biden was given thirty seconds to respond. He vouched for his record, reasserting that he always supported Civil Rights, before cutting himself off, saying, "— anyway, my time is up. I'm sorry." Biden caused the most damage to himself, as he failed to successfully defend himself.
Sometimes, You Just Can't Get it Done
Pete Buttigieg was another candidate with a breakout performance. The South Bend, Indiana Mayor may be young, but he's had skin in the game for seventeen years. Buttigieg is a veteran, a politician, a polyglot, and a gifted orator. He also made history last night as the first openly gay candidate to participate in a primary debate.
On the topic of immigration, he broke down the hypocrisy of the Christian-aligning Republican Party. Buttigieg did not hold back, proclaiming:
"The Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion. We should call hypocrisy, and for a party that associates with Christianity to say it is okay to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages has lost all claim to ever use religion language again."
The South Bend native also candidly addressed his failure to diversify his city's police force, noting, "I couldn't get it done." He went on to explain the pain his city is experiencing due to the devastating death of a local black man, Eric Logan. Logan was shot and killed by a white police officer. The officer did not have his body camera on at the time of the incident. Buttigieg unpacked how he could not take a position on the matter until the investigation is complete.
The mayor's transparency was received favorably and for a good reason. We need a president who doesn't spread fake news.
Stop Name Dropping
Joe Biden name-dropped Obama almost as frequently as he did Trump. Biden's attempts to piggy-back off the former President's accomplishments highlighted the reason Biden why was only able to make it into the Oval Office as a running mate instead of president: He is not our future. While Biden is a respected Washington staple, his vision for our country is dated and boring. It doesn't capture the America we live in today. After Harris' takedown, it's apparent that Biden cannot justify his unfavorable past.
Maybe California Senator Eric Swalwell was right when he told Biden to finally "pass the torch" to the next generation. Biden slyly smiled and said, "Not yet." However, if last night proved anything, it's that he should've let go of it a long time ago.