“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.
Russian ships fired on Ukrainian sailors and illegally detained whole crews over the weekend, escalating Russia-Ukraine tensions.
Ukraine began the week by declaring martial law after six navy sailors were injured when the Russian coast guard open fired on them. Concerningly, three Ukrainian artillery ships were also seized, with their 24 crew members forcibly detained by Russian authorities.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley urged Russia to "immediately cease its unlawful conduct" in the Black Sea off the coast of Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014. "In the name of international peace and security, Russia must immediately cease its unlawful conduct and respect the navigational rights and freedoms of all states," Haley announced at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council late Monday morning.
Russian vessel rams Ukrainian shipBBC
In response to the maritime incident, Ukraine's parliament overwhelmingly voted to impose martial law in the 10 regions bordering Russia. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced that martial law will last for 30 days, concluding in December, at which time he will assess the need for further action.
Poroshenko openly condemned Russia's actions, stating, "We consider it as an act of aggression against our state and a very serious threat," the president said. "Unfortunately, there are no 'red lines' for the Russian Federation." The international community has joined Ukraine in condemning Russia's actions, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pledging "full support for Ukraine's territorial integrity" and stating that Russia had "no justification" for the seizure of Ukraine's ships.
Russian officials dispute the details of the altercation, as the Federal Security Service contends that the skirmish was a justified response to the Ukrainian ships illegally entering territorial waters. Russia's Border Service released a statement over the weekend, stating, "The vessels are carrying out dangerous maneuvers and are disobeying the Russian authorities' demands." Ukraine denies allegations of wrongdoing, citing a 2003 treaty dictating maritime rights and protocol over the Kerch Strait where their ships were detained.
Ultimately, both governments are interpreting the incident as a fabricated aggression in order to discredit the other. Amidst an international backlash over the conflict, an arbitration court in Paris reportedly ruled that Russia owed Ukraine $1.3 billion in damages for the property seized in the annexation of Crimea. Though Russia did not comment on the ruling, they've accused the Ukrainian president of using the situation as a "dangerous provocation" that justifies the imposition of martial law, which grants him the power to manipulate Ukraine's next presidential election, scheduled for March.
It's true that President Poroshenko is currently far behind his political rival in the polls. Oksana Syroid, a deputy speaker in Ukraine's parliament, agreed, "Martial law in Ukraine would present a wonderful chance to manipulate the presidential elections." Aside from increasing the president's power, martial law would ostensibly allow the government to strengthen air defense and prepare a partial mobilization in the event of a Russian incursion. However, it could also restrict Ukrainians' civil liberties. For instance, objectors cite parliament's ambiguous wording in its plans for "strengthening" anti-terrorism measures and "information security." Three former Ukrainian presidents have already publicly opposed martial law, penning a letter that warns that it could be a "threat to democracy" in a country that found its democratic feet less than 30 years ago.
Martial law is set to begin on Wednesday, November 28. Alleged footage of the maritime clash has been leaked across news outlets and Youtube, found below.
Russian vessels fire at and seize Ukrainian shipsyoutu.be