“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.
And Their Jobs Owe Them Money for It.
Election day is here.
Not the big one that the whole county is obsessed with—that's still a year away. This is the little one in which your voice can actually make a difference.
All across the country, on Tuesday November 5th, local elections and special elections give a voice to the tiny fraction of voters who will actually show up. Historically speaking, these are likely to be aging voters who no longer work or have the luxury to set their own schedules. Historically speaking, young people have allowed the local government to be ruled by this privileged and aberrant minority of voters, even as their interests and agendas have drifted further from the cultural center. Historically speaking, we've thrown our power away—and not just our power, we've been throwing away paid time off work!
This is not like us. Aren't we the generation of entitled slackers who use any excuse to skip work? Is that just a myth created by baby boomers to make us sound way cooler—and therefore more threatening—than we actually are? In almost every state in the US, your boss is legally required to give you time off on election day to go vote! And in most states, that time off is paid!
In New York, any employee scheduled to work on Election Day is allowed three hours paid time off. In California, it's two hours. So why would you give away your labor? Find out where your polling place is, and figure out how long it takes to get there. If it's less than the time you're getting paid for, have you considered walking? If there's one thing better than a lovely Autumn stroll in the afternoon sun, it's getting your boss to pay for it.
What getting paid could look like on TuesdayShutterstock
Along with the countless municipal elections that will otherwise be decided by retirees, there are a number of state-level races worth watching, from the Virginia state legislature elections, which could flip both houses, to the effort to reinstate affirmative action measures in Washington state. In New York, several ballot measures have been getting attention, in particular the issue of ranked-choice voting, which will go into effect in 2021 if the voters choose it tomorrow.
Would you rather that decision be made by people who might not live to see it take effect? Or would you rather you and all your friends get a half-day to go vote? Remember how much you love half-days? So, take one! Spend ten minutes on ballotpedia, then take three hours off work.
Even if you think electoralism is a joke, and you devote your life to activism that will tear down the state and rebuild it from scratch, elections can build enthusiasm and political engagement. If anything, show up and write in "voting is for chumps." Maybe a surprising turnout of young people will get some more people to start the long process of waking up to to political realities. Maybe some candidates will notice the demographics and start shifting their politics to appeal to people like you. It could happen!
Or maybe you'll just get a paid afternoon off, and watch your boss try—and fail—to argue with the law. Win-win.