“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.
We're here, and we're growing in numbers.
Everybody knows that young people have the lowest voting turnout rates of any demographic. It's a statistic that's often used against us to support allegations that we're lazy, self-involved, and too apathetic to care about the future of politics. For some of us, that's true. But within that 18-29 year-old demographic, there's a community that's too often overlooked.
A recent estimate from Pew Research Center finds that naturalized citizens will comprise about 10% of the eligible voters in the 2020 election–that's about 23 million people, a 93% increase since 2000. That's right: We're here, and we're growing.
The power of naturalized citizen voters shouldn't be underestimated. Generally speaking, voting turnout rates of naturalized citizens are higher than natural citizens. According to Pew, 34% of naturalized citizen voters are Latinx and 31% identify as Asian; in each of those communities, more foreign-born immigrants show up to vote than non-immigrants. Where are these voters located? 56% of U.S. immigrants reside in the country's four most populated states. Of course, these are also the states with the most members of the electoral college: California (55), New York (29), Texas (38), and Florida (29).
It's no wonder why naturalized voter turnout would be high. Even as a naturalized citizen since I was one and a half years old, I can't take my right to vote for granted. Not even my jaded attitude as an academic or an irony-poisoned millennial can make me forget that 55 years ago, people like me were barely allowed into this country, thanks to immigration quotas and plain discrimination. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated the quota system, and while the new immigration policy still favored northern and western Europeans, the law allowed increased flow of immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Amidst today's immigration crisis under the Trump administration, a growing number of voters are immigrants or the children of immigrants and shouldn't be ignored or dismissed. Even if immigration trends stay the same (rather than increase, as they are more likely to), then today's 10% of voters who are naturalized citizens will become at least 20% by 2040, with immigrants predicted to be the driving force of population growth in the U.S. in coming years.
These numbers impact the turnout of young voters like me and young people's investment in the policies and overall political system, which has turned away people who looked like me and which may turn away those people in the future if policies aren't changed. I'm a naturalized citizen, so I vote.
We live in a divided nation—but there some things will always bind us together.
Very few people seem to be getting along in America right now. Countless relationships have ended, and families have broken apart because of political and ideological differences, which have only grown more extreme following the 2016 election. The divide between Democrats and Republicans, pro-lifers and pro-choicers, climate-change deniers and believers, and many more have become unfathomably vast.
Image via the Seattle Times
But amidst all the chaos, violence and noise, there are just some issues that are decidedly non-partisan; some topics that are so unanimously agreed on that for a moment, it almost seems like we're all only human. In a time of rage, here are the few points of commonality we have.
1. Robocalls Should Stop Forever
There are so many contentious issues being debated in Congress today—from the Green New Deal to bathrooms to anything even remotely connected to the president; it's safe to say that there are very few things everyone in the House and Senate agree upon. But recently, two bills were introduced in the spirit of stopping robocalls—those awful telemarketer messages that constantly interrupt our day with health insurance scams or calls from the Chinese consulate—forever. One is the proposal Stopping Bad Robocalls, from Senator Frank Pallone of New Jersey. The other is Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey's Telephone Robocall Criminal Abuse Enforcement and Deterrence Act. Both of these proposals will make it much harder for telemarketers to call and force their wills upon unsuspecting constituents. According to Markey, "If this bill can't pass, no bill can pass."
AI support centreImage via Ars Technica
2. Voting is Important
Now, though the issue of who to vote for is one of the easiest ways to turn an ordinary Thanksgiving dinner into a full-on screamfest, most Americans do agree that as citizens of this country, we are responsible for performing our civic duty and making our political opinions heard. Starting way back with the Founding Fathers, this has been an American ideal that nobody except for the staunchest anarchists or most apathetic among us is resistant to. Even so, only around 58.1% of America's voting-eligible population voted in 2016, although 67% of Americans believe that not voting is a huge problem, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. Maybe the disparity lies in the fact that the people who do not believe in voting also probably wouldn't be too likely to respond to a random political survey.
3. The News Is Fake
No matter where you prefer to get your news, most Americans agree that the media has serious issues—namely the abundance of falsified information plaguing and distorting everything from our elections to our dating lives. The issue isn't only a problem among journalists; politicians themselves are also widely distrusted, and for a good reason. In 2010, Senator Jim McMinn proclaimed that 94% of bills in Congress are passed without issue (it was found to be about 27.4%—although who knows if that statistic is true, though it did come from a Pulitzer-prize-winning political fact-checking organization). Since then, things have spiraled more and more out of control. There's no legitimate way to check how much fake news is out there, but according to one survey, most viewers were suspicious of 80% of the news they saw on social media and 60% of what they saw online overall. Though if you're like the majority of Americans, you won't be taking this article's word for it.
Image via Vox
4. We Should Have Healthcare
Although there is certainly not a clear consensus, most Americans do support healthcare for all. According to a 2018 poll, 6 out of 10 Americans believe that the government should provide healthcare for everyone; another survey from The Hill found that 70% of Americans support Medicare for all, and even a small majority of Republicans are in favor of the idea.
5. The Nation Is Divided
We can all agree on one thing: disagreeing. 81% of Americans believe that we are more divided than at any other time in our nation's history, according to Time. (Remember, there was this thing called the Civil War). Americans can't even agree on what exactly the nation's most significant points of disagreement are: most Democrats believe gun control is a huge issue while most Republicans consider it unimportant; same with climate change and income equality, according to surveys from the Pew Institute.
Although contention and chaos might be the laws of the day, at least we'll always have a shared hatred of telemarketers to bind us all together.
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City.