“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.
There's a Green New Deal on the Horizon, and It Just Might Be Our Only Hope
This week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey will be proposing the most ambitious plan to fight climate change yet.
Recycle. Take shorter showers. Turn the lights off.
Over the past several decades, most of us have heard these diatribes repeated over and over, and have perhaps become numbed to these mantras, which promise that tiny droplets of collective action could potentially save the planet from environmental ruination.
It's true that small changes are important, and that each person contributes to the growing levels of waste and pollution that are killing our ecosystems and raising the planet's temperatures so dramatically that Manhattan-size gaps are forming in Antarctic ice. But it's also true that 71% of carbon emissions come from just 100 companies. It's also true that the scale of the crisis has grown unmanageable, and poses an unprecedented threat to human life.
That's where the Green New Deal comes in.
Image via The Intercept
"It's the only plan that matches the scale of the crisis," said Naomi Klein of the proposal, speaking on livestream yesterday night to thousands of activists tuning in across America. The livestream was hosted by the Sunrise Movement, a millennial-founded organization dedicated to supporting and fortifying the Green New Deal, especially as it's proposed in Congress in the coming week. Klein is the author of This Changes Everything, a book that argues that impending climate catastrophe actually presents an extraordinary opportunity to revamp the world's economic systems for the better. "I believe we were born for this moment," she told viewers.
Named after FDR's New Deal—which revolutionized the entire country on a tremendous scale, planting three billion trees and establishing hundreds of national forests in addition to catalyzing widespread economic, agricultural, and social reforms—the Green New Deal seeks to implant reforms on an equivalent scale in a time when it seems like there is no other option.
Image via Vice News
The plan has gone through several phases, but the one that's being proposed in Congress this week focuses on several fundamental points. First: achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, and transition to renewable energy on a huge scale through initiatives like the creation of a nationwide electrical grid. Second: institute a living wage for all, in tandem with the creation of unlimited numbers of green jobs. These are the plan's main tenets, but its ideological aspirations stretch much further. It hopes to generate thousands of jobs in the form of start-ups and maintenance, and to start a wave of international trade in the renewable energy sector.
The original plan focused on a switch to 100% renewable energy by 2030, but a recent five-page draft obtained today by Bloomberg didn't mention this point, perhaps as a nod to moderates, though the omission is still subject to change. The draft proposes large-scale investment in green technology, the restoration of threatened lands, waste removal, and "massive growth in clean U.S. manufacturing, removing pollution byproducts and greenhouse gas emissions from that sector as much as technologically feasible."
The term "Green New Deal" is not a new one, though it has been going through different iterations since its inception. It was coined in a 2007 column by Thomas Friedman, and Barack Obama included it in his 2008 platform. Britain also took note, but a surge of Republican/Tory victories stymied its momentum.
Image via theintercept.com
The GND has found new life in Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Bronx electorate whose rise to political success has been accompanied by widespread social media fame. Ocasio-Cortez showed up in person to support a Sunrise Movement sit-in in Nancy Pelosi's office, demanding the creation of a committee dedicated to developing and pushing the GND, and since then she has become one of its biggest proponents. Now she will be proposing it in Congress this week, alongside Massachusetts senator Ed Markey. The plan has also garnered support from Rep. Ayanna Pressley, as well as 2020 presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders.
The Sunrise Movement began in 2015, when it was founded by climate activists Sara Blazevic and Varsini Prakash, and quickly gained momentum, taking notes from the heady drive of the 1963 civil rights protests of Birmingham, Alabama. Its founders gathered activists, reached out to politicians, and pulled together the finer points of the Sanders campaign and other recent social movements; the successful Pelosi sit-in was the product of months of organizing.
The movement is appealing in a narrative sense: the vision of young people fighting against bloated fossil fuel behemoths has a definite draw to it. There's also the fact that science says the fate of the entire world requires unprecedented global change over the next few years, otherwise catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy and the California wildfires will become the stuff of the everyday.
Image via theinsurgent.com
But the GND is still just an idea, and it could remain that way. Its lack of specific policy has been subject to criticism, though an official draft has yet to be unveiled, and conservative news sources have labeled it as a hoax, an amorphous idea without policy to back it.
While the GND might seem like an impossibly ambitious proposition, humans have revamped and reshaped the world before a hundred times over, and we are nothing if not creative and adaptive. We've created technologies that connect the globe and turned empty landscapes to highway-lined cities in a matter of years. Now—unless you like the idea of joining Elon Musk's exclusive Mars colony—it's time to turn all of our collective energies towards the future of the home we share.
70 leading Democrats have signed on in support so far, and momentum is building for its official proposition. The Sunrise Movement is planning on facilitating office visits to congress people across the country this week, as well as a rally in Washington on February 26th.
In an age of doomsday threats and constant headlines about plastic oceans and refugee crises facilitated by environmental droughts, the idea of a Green New Deal—something that could actually, genuinely make a difference that touches every aspect of life—seems like a light at the end of the tunnel. Now it's just a matter of getting there.
Image via radioopensource.org
Environmental crisis affects the poor and vulnerable at disproportionate levels; it catalyzes mental and physical illness, economic decline, and overall devastation. Irreparable damage has already been done—but the fight is not quite over yet, though time is running out.
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @edenarielmusic.
- If Ocasio-Cortez's 'Green New Deal' succeeds in 2019 it will be the ... ›
- What Is This Green New Deal Anyway? | Sierra Club ›
- Opinion | The Green New Deal Rises Again - The New York Times ›
- Green New Deal Report — Data For Progress ›
- Green New Deal — Sunrise Movement ›
- The Trouble With the 'Green New Deal' - POLITICO Magazine ›
- Green New Deal - Wikipedia ›
- Green New Deal - www.gp.org ›
- Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal Is a Winning Climate Strategy ... ›
- The Green New Deal, explained - Vox ›