Thursday, June 6, 2013

Robert F. Kennedy (1925- 1968)

When was the last time you remember an aura of profound hope for our country? Most of us will recall the last few months of the 2008 presidential campaign. And it's true, those days spoke to a need to see America differently. A need to realize the greater potential of the democracy's promise as it became ever more clear that we could - we would - elect our country's first black president.

Of course, those heady, euphoric days yielded to the realities of governance and revealed the unseemly underbelly of the nation's racism and a growing ugliness in our politics that we are still struggling to overcome.

But the weeks and months that preceded the 2008 election were reminders of an earlier time; a time which seemed more uncertain, if that's possible. In 1968 it wasn't a financial collapse that citizens feared, it was unraveling of the very political and social fabric of our country. Five years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, just about two months after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the announcement by the besieged President Lyndon Johnson that he would not seek re-election (mainly because of incredible and continually surmounting civil unrest because of the Viet Nam War), Senator Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, after winning the California primary.

No presidential candidate other than his brother almost ten years before and Barack Obama 40 years later, so captured the imagination of this country. Robert Kennedy arrested the need of Americans to believe in America again. He not only spoke of the country with an eloquence that few politicians have ever been able to muster, he spoke in a way which touched the collective heart of Americans and made them yearn for a future more peaceful, more harmonious, than probably even the Founding Fathers dared to imagine.

It was due in part because of the unfulfilled hopes invested in the unfinished presidency of his brother. It was a weariness, frustration and hatred of a seemingly interminable war, in which victory could not be defined and the lost and broken lives of young servicemen and women, made our nation's future ever more precarious. And then the death of Martin Luther King, which showed how deep and pervasive the strain of hatred ran in our country. RFK became the embodiment of those hopes and dreams for a better day.

Kennedy focused America's attention on the poverty among us. Not just as a campaign platform, but he allowed himself - a wealthy man by inheritance - to be viewed by the country being visibly moved by the plight of the abject poverty of whites in Appalachia, of blacks in the Deep South and migrant farm workers in California. He spoke of the profound sense of surprise he had and shame we all must feel to have allowed poverty to exist in a land as prosperous as ours. He spoke of the injustice of racism and projected the idea of an America bigger than her bigotry and although an early supporter of the Viet Nam war, he was able to publicly wrestle with his past decision and admit that he had been wrong.

I was 11 years old when Kennedy was assassinated. I vaguely remember watching his victory speech that night before I went to bed. I can't remember whether I learned of the shooting that night or the next day and barely remember the announcement of his death. I remember however, how lost and hopeless everyone seemed afterward. There was little, if any doubt in the minds of adults in my world, that America had lost it's best President, before he could even be chosen as his country's standard bearer.

Every age looks for 'The One'. Every now and then, in sober moments, we realize that 'One' comes from among us - and that more often than not, someone has to decide to be 'The One'.
Perhaps, as we commemorate the 45th anniversary of Robert Kennedy's assassination or the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, or as the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination, we will allow ourselves to consider the fact that maybe we might actually be 'the next One'. Maybe in a smaller, more limited sense, but 'the One' in our sphere of influence which prods our peers and family to a finer more noble place. If that isn't true, then these men and the many who dreamed and served and worked with them, may have lived and died in vain.

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