“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.
What's Going On with the USPS?
#SaveTheUSPS? Budget cuts and reforms have made it difficult for the Post Office, a beloved American institution to do its job.
The United States Post Office is under attack.
Direct attacks from the president, COVID-19, government failure to provide aid, and a radical new postmaster general have all contributed to what's shaping up to be a veritable disaster for American mail—one that might have consequences for the upcoming November election.
The Postal Service's Opponents: COVID-19, Trump, DeJoy, and Money
2020 has been extremely difficult for most people and businesses, and the USPS, which reported a $3 billion loss in the last three months, is no difference. Democrats proposed giving the postal service $25 billion in aid as part of their latest coronavirus stimulus package, which stalled to a standstill in Congress due to partisan divides. Without significant aid, the USPS has suffered intensely during the COVID-19 pandemic—and so have its customers.
In addition to the fact that the postal service provides necessary services to millions across America every day–and it is now responsible for delivering vital products to Americans trying to social distance and end this pandemic–it will be responsible for perhaps the most important job ever: carrying the millions of mail-in ballots that are sure to be cast in 2020 to the appropriate destination.
More Americans than ever before are projected to vote by mail in the 2020 election, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some polls have shown that Trump's supporters are more likely to vote in person, whereas Democrats are more likely to vote by mail, while others show that there is no partisan divide between who votes by mail and who does not.
Still, many of Trump's opponents, who fear he is attempting to sabotage the election by shutting down the postal service and forcing people to choose between their health and democracy, are terrified.
The postal service has, therefore, found itself an unwitting political punching bag.
President Donald Trump has never hid his disdain for the Post Office. Recently, he's begun to argue that voting by mail—the safest way to vote during COVID-19—will lead to fraud.
Americans Fight for the Post Office & Obama Speaks Out | The Daily Social Distancing Showwww.youtube.com
This claim has been proven false, but of course Trump doesn't care. Still, it's clear that the postal service could easily manage an election if it was allowed to continue as it had been for over 200 years. "If — and that's a big IF — allowed to do its work, the US Postal Service can easily handle the surge of mail that might result from 150 million Americans choosing to vote by mail this fall rather than vote in person," writes Jesse Jackson for the Chicago Sun Times. The postal service normally handles around 500 million letters per day.
The problem is that the postal service is not being allowed to do its work. COVID-19 was incredibly difficult, but the postal service was able to keep things somewhat under control until Louis DeJoy entered the scene.
Louis DeJoy, Postmaster General
At the center of all this is Louis DeJoy, who was appointed the new postmaster general in June. Notably, DeJoy, a multimillionaire, is a top GOP donor and was the chairman of fundraising for the Republican National Convention last year.
Since he was appointed, DeJoy has made some changes. His "reforms," all imposed without any public consultation or discussion with employees, include cutting hours, reducing overtime, and removing mail processing equipment. The USPS also recently announced that it will not treat ballots as priority mail without first-class postage.
In short, DeJoy's "reforms" are slowing down the mail.
Over the past few months, the Post Office has reported delays in receiving prescription medications and other necessary goods, delays that have increased thanks to DeJoy's new policies.
The Post Office's sudden decline has also already harmed elections, with some voters in Wisconsin and Michigan never receiving the absentee ballots they requested in advance and with New York postal service employees rejecting ballots that did not have the appropriate postage.
Postal service employees themselves are extremely confused by the "reforms." "If you asked me a month ago [if] the postal service handle an influx of mail-in ballots, I would have said, 'We've been through two world wars and a depression, we've been doing this for more than 200 years,'" said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers' Union, to The Guardian. "Now, I'm not so sure."
Trump's administration has already announced that they want to privatize the Post Office, selling it off to private companies. DeJoy—who has million-dollar investments in competitors to the Post Office—has a reason to support these plans.
Democrats are attempting to take action. Nancy Pelosi recently called lawmakers back to the House to vote on legislation dedicated to protecting the postal service. They're currently voting on the Delivering America Act, which bans changes to the post office implemented after January 1st, 2020.
Democratic leaders are also calling on DeJoy to testify in court, demanding an explanation for the "sweeping and dangerous operational changes at the Postal Service that are slowing the mail and jeopardizing the integrity of the election."
What Can We Do?
With #SaveTheUSPS and #SaveThePostOffice trending on Twitter recently, the hashtag needs to become a movement.
"Citizens should be mobilizing pressure across the country, with demonstrations at Post Offices in support of the service, with calls to legislators demanding action, with pressure on state and local election officials to provide the resources needed for more drop-off boxes, more hours of early voting, more polling places," continues Jackson.
It's a great time to stage protests and call legislators, who need to know the people's opinions. While civilian contributions alone won't save the Post Office (only government stimulus packages or pocket change from Jeff Bezos could do that), concerned citizens can still do our part to show the postal service that we stand with them by buying Post Office merchandise, sending letters, and rallying to support our democracy by fighting voter suppression.