“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.
Way To Make Your Mother Proud, Supreme Court 🙄
80% of Americans believe abortions should be legal, so it’s time, people - time for us to... Get up, stand up / Stand up for your rights
Less than a week before Mother’s Day, Politico published a leaked draft opinion revealing that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority of justices are ready to strike down two rulings on abortion rights, including Roe V. Wade the 1972 landmark decision that made abortion a federally protected right in the United States.
Since the Roe v. Wade ruling and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling that affirmed the Roe decision, the court has never allowed states to prohibit the termination of pregnancies prior to fetal viability outside the womb – that’s roughly 24 weeks.
The news sent shock waves around the world ...and with good reason. Roe guaranteed women’s right to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. Written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court draft majority opinion shows what could happen if the court overturns Roe v Wade.
Jesse Wegman brilliantly summed up the dire situation in a recent opinion piece in the NYTs: “If the holding in the draft opinion stands, it will mark an astonishing moment in our history: the elimination of an existing constitutional right, one that millions of American women (not to mention the men who impregnated them) have relied on for nearly half a century.”
Though the draft was leaked by a person or persons unknown, the Court has acknowledged that the leak is genuine. Not all Washington conservatives agree with what's assumed to be the Court’s position, but it fits within the Right’s larger policies attacking and penalizing women, the poor, and people of color. Should Roe be overturned, the greatest impact will be felt by minority women.
As journalist Manuella Libardi has written:
“...the reality is that abortion is only illegal for poor women. Women with resources can always interrupt their unwanted pregnancies… Restricting access to safe abortions keeps poor women in poverty, perpetuates the cycle that prevents them from social mobility, and allows wealth to remain in the hands of the rich, particularly white men. Deciding if and when to have a child is essential for a woman’s economic and psychological well-being: it has implications for her education and for entering the workforce.”
The consequences of overturning Roe V. Wade and letting individual states determine their stances on abortion are frightening. No matter what the Court’s decision is, women will still need to have abortions for personal, medical, and legal reasons. It’ll just be harder to arrange – and far more treacherous.
A deputy spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stated that “reproductive health and rights are essential to achieve equality around the world. The secretary‑general has long believed that sexual and reproductive health and rights are the foundation for lives of choice, empowerment, and equality for the world’s women and girls...Without the full participation of 50% of its population, the world would be the biggest loser.”
The drafting of Supreme Court opinions is a fluid and dynamic process, so the document is not the court's final ruling. A work-in-progress, the leaked opinion is marked "first draft" and was dated Feb. 10, 2022. That’s two months – or 8 fetal weeks – after oral arguments were heard in the Mississippi case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.
This is a document that citizens were never supposed to have seen. Following Politico’s publication of the draft, Chief Justice Roberts announced that the Marshal of the Court – its chief operations and security officer – will investigate the source of the leak.
"Court employees have an exemplary and important tradition of respecting the confidentiality of the judicial process and upholding the trust of the Court. This was a singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here," Roberts said.
Just Who's On That Bench?
Liberal Judges: Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer
Conservative Judges: Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and the three Trump-appointed justices Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett
The Court has a blatantly partisan crop of justices who appear prepared to overturn Roe outright. The draft opinion has the support of at least four of Chief Justice Roberts’ colleagues, according to Politico: Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett – the only woman in the majority.
It’s rumored that Roberts – ostensibly committed to the court’s reputation and established precedent – may attempt to convince one of his conservative colleagues to join him in a narrower opinion that would not completely overturn Roe v. Wade.
The State of the States
Abortion is currently legal in all 50 states, but over the past several decades many states have passed laws that limit access – most recently in Oklahoma, Florida, and Texas. Should the Supreme Court rule to overturn Roe, the power to decide abortion access would rest with each state’s elected leaders.
According to the reproductive rights organization The Guttmacher Institute, over half of the nation's 50 states are prepared to ban it. Twenty-one states already have laws on the books that would ban it immediately, with five additional states likely to.
States planning to ban abortion are clustered in specific geographic regions – including the American South – where women will have to travel hundreds of miles at a greater inconvenience and cost. Imagine you’re 15 years old, you're pregnant, and you live in Cyclone, WV, on Tribal Land in Tahlequah, OK, or Belle Glade – one of Florida's poorest cities and only an hour's drive from Mar-a-Lago. The denial of your right to health, education, and selfhood would be insurmountable.
As Langston Hughes challenges: “What happens to a dream deferred?”
Many attempts have been made on both the state and federal levels to overthrow or curtail the right to abortion. And more are sure to be made in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision. If Roe goes away, states can allow it, regulate it, or outlaw it.
And-so. Let’s get down to it – I am sick to death of these men using words as sticks to beat us with. Blithely tossing around terms like trust and betrayal of confidences: LIKE. THEY. CARE one atom about trust, confidence, betrayal.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” Justice Alito’s draft states. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
In a statement issued Wednesday, Chief Justice John Roberts called the leaked draft a "singular and egregious breach" of trust.
I’m particularly struck by these two Justices' use of the word egregious so I dug into its etymological roots:
Originating in the 1530s, egregius comes from the Latin ex = ‘out of’ + grex or greg = ‘flock’ – literally ‘rising above the flock’ – illustrious, distinguished, excellent, extraordinary.
Egregius. What a precise word to define the leaker’s singular and extraordinary act of courage. To rise above the herd and step bravely in front of a butcherous, onrushing train...
Let’s call this for what it is. This is a chronic, concerted attack on gender, race, income equity, our health, and the well-being of our country. We are human beings who grew within, merged and emerged from a body – a body that bore us in blood, torment, and pain. Once. Before we were born, we were one with our mother.
At this moment in America, our bodies (regardless of gender), our body of law, our body of government are in great peril. We are one body – and we need to treat ourselves with the highest regard.
Let’s end this terrifying war on reproductive health, this war on all Americans.
Get up, stand up / Don't give up the fight
Honor Molloy is a novelist and dramatist whose work often addresses reproductive rights. Madame Killer is a Gothic Noir set in 19th Century Manhattan. In 2020, Round Room won Origin First Irish Theatre Festival's Best Play Award.