Belafonte: A New Awakening In America
April 03, 2006
It's fair to say that non-Latino political and activist organizations were completely surprised by the size and the energy of the recent marches to protest punitive immigration policies. As far as I can tell, the big liberal groups and usual defenders of social justice have been MIA from this cause. Early on, mainstream civil rights organizations were criticized as well for being noticeably absent from the debate. Last week in Washington, D.C., one of the heroes of the 1960s civil rights movement broke that silence.
Entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte spoke at a luncheon last Friday sponsored by the Transafrica Forum —the organization he co-founded to bring "justice to the African diaspora." Belafonte's colleagues on Transafrica's board, who include Danny Glover, gave him an award for his humanitarian career, praising him for recognizing the "centrality of culture as a weapon in the struggle for social justice."
In his remarks, Belafonte had harsh words for George W. Bush's reign of brutality, yet reaffirmed his commitment to the experiment of America. And he pointed to the recent surge in activism on behalf of immigrant rights as a sign of things to come. America is on the brink of "a new awakening" in political consciousness, he said, not unlike the struggles of the 1960s.
Belafonte showed the leadership for which he was being honored by making a very pointed appeal to the audience on immigrants' rights. Speaking as both a child of "illegal" immigrants—who he remembered as "always looking over their shoulders" in fear of the government—and as a champion of civil rights for African Americans, Belafonte called for support of the people now taking to the streets to defend their rights:
Now is the time for the old-guard civil rights groups—along with the array of liberal activist groups—to join Belafonte in taking a public stand in defense of immigrant rights. Many Democrats, to their credit, have lambasted the nativism and xenophobia on display recently in Capitol Hill debates over immigration policy. But the American people may need some nudging to fully embrace the humane treatment of undocumented immigrants. Two new polls show Americans closely divided on immigration policies. One hopeful note from the new Time poll is the finding that only 1 in 4 respondents supported the proposal to make illegal immigration a felony. And an AP-Ipsos poll showed that a majority of respondents do not support building a fence along the entire border. Yet, the margins are narrow. Which is where inspired political leadership comes in. And for those who don't have a bully pulpit from which to show your support for immigrants' rights, you can lend your warm body to the demonstrations around the country being planned for April 10th.