Remembering Bobby Kennedy – And The Ideals He Fought And Died For – All of These 50 Years Later

We Could Sure Use A Robert Kennedy Now

Robert F. Kennedy, assassinated 50 years ago this June 5th while running for U.S. president

“Only those who care to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”   —– Robert (‘Bobby’) F. Kennedy

“The problem of power is how to achieve its responsible use rather than its irresponsible and indulgent use – of how to get people of power to live for the public and not off the public.” – Robert (‘Bobby’) F. Kennedy

By Doug Draper, Niagara At Large

Posted June 5th, 2018 on Niagara At Large

Robert F. Kennedy – one of the most inspiring political figures in my 67 years on this earth – was gunned down 50 years ago – on June 5th, 1968 – and for millions of us growing up at the time, a good deal of the hope for a more just and peaceful  world was gunned down with him.

Senator Robert F. Kennedy with his wife Ethel, just left of him, celebrating with supporters on June 5th, 1968 after winning the key California primary in his race for the presidency. A few moments later he would be shot. The following day he was pronounced dead. Five months later, Richard Nixon was elected president and the country has been on a downward slide ever since.

On June 8th, 1993, on the 25th anniversary of his assassination, I was still working as a full-time environment reporter at The St. Catharines Standard where an article I wrote as a tribute to man so many of us affectionately called “Bobby was published on the newspaper’s editorial page.

With the 50th anniversary of his assassination now upon us, I recently found that article in one of the boxes of  old clippings I keep in my basement and was haunted by how much my take on how much circumstances around us had deteriorated since his passing are still relevant today.

What haunts me even more is a fear that in the United States, in Canada and in too many other countries around the world, the conditions that make for a free, fair and robust democracy have now been weakened and corrupted to a point where a leader as wise and compassionate and principled as Bobby Kennedy may not have the opportunity to emerge again.

It is our responsibility to ourselves and each other, as I’m sure Kennedy would remind us, to make sure that the pillars of a free and open democracy survive.

Senator Edward Kennedy with images of his brothers, the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy, assassinated in 1963, to the left, and Bobby Kennedy to the right.

After my article on Bobby Kennedy was published in The Standard on June 5th, 1993, I decided to send a copy of it, along with a brief letter, to his younger brother, U.S. Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy of Massachusetts, never expecting to receive a reply.

Two months later a reply came in the form of a signed letter from him, apologising for the delay in getting back to me. “Unfortunately, you letter was inadvertently displaced,” he said.

“Your article about my brother was very touching,” Senator Kennedy went on to say in his reply. “Reading it brought back many memories of the 1968 campaign and his efforts to inspire young people to go into public service to help improve the United States of America. I am gratified that this message affected and inspired young people all over the world into improving their communities and countries they live in by serving the public.

“Thank you once again for your letter and your article. It means a great deal to me, and the Kennedy family, to read such tributes to my brother as the one you wrote. I feel honoured that you have kept my brother in your heart for all of these years.

“With my best wishes. Sincerely. Edward M. Kennedy.

How honoured I was to learn that he was touched by the  the tribute I paid to his brother.

And since I might not top it 25 tears later, I am reprising my June 5th, 1993 tribute to Bobby Kennedy immediately below,  on the  50th anniversary of his s assassination.

Here it is –

Youthful hope and idealism suffered a cruel blow 25 years ago today (June, and they have been struggling to recover ever since.

It was on that day – June 5th, 1968 – that a disgruntled little man with a gun forced his way through a crowd and put a bullet through Robert F. Kennedy’s head.

Bobby Kennedy, greeting enthusiastic supporters during his run for U.S. president in the spring of 1968.

I was 17 at the time and like millions of young people, I was caught up in the social and political turbulence happening around me, and captivated by the spirited presidential campaign of a 42-year-old United States senator known to many as “Bobby”.

I’ll never forget waking up to the news that Bobby Kennedy was gunned down as he was leaving a late-night campaign rally in California.

The sunny spring morning outside my family’s Welland home turned pale as I tried coming to terms with this latest in a series of apocalyptic events that turned 1968 into what one American writer later described as “the year the Zeitgeist screamed until it went hoarse.”

There were the violent demonstrations in the cities and on college campuses across the U.S., there was the escalating war in Vietnam, the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King and, now, Bobby Kennedy lay bleeding on the floor of a Los Angeles hotel.

The next day (June 6th, 1968), he was gone.

It may seem hard to believe, given the disdain in which politicians are held today, that people could be so upset over the death of a politician.

But Bobby Kennedy, “ruthless as he may have been as a key player in the administration of his brother, John F. Kennedy (some five a half years earlier), was, by 1968, a beacon for radical change – urging anyone who would listen to join him on a path away from the violence, hatred and injustices still plaguing the world today, and towards peace and humanity.

At the start of his campaign for the White House, he openly accepted his share of the responsibility for the hawkish Vietnam policy pursued by his brother (who, in 1963, was also assassinated), and vowed to put an end to the war that was now engulfing so many lives.

“All men make mistakes. But a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil,” he said, quoting the ancient Greek poet Sophocles. “The only sin is pride.” 

He also became a passionate voice for the poor and dispossessed, decrying the “obscenity” of children growing up hungry in the richest country on earth, and challenging those of means to look beyond their own interests and work to improve the quality of life of others.

Bobby Kennedy’s greatest gift, in my view, was his ability to inspire people – especially young people – to stay true to their ideals and to work hard to turn those ideals into reality.

He was fond of a saying by George Bernard Shaw and repeated it often during the final months of his life.

“Some people see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”

Kennedy was a strong believer in grassroots democracy and the idea that “one person can make a difference.

It is a believe he expressed most eloquently in the following words;

“Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one man or woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation ….”

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or strikes out against injustice or acts to improve the lot of others, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

These words should still strike a chord in anyone who cherishes the principles of a democratic society.

If only there were leaders around today with enough wisdom and moral fibre to say them. If only there were enough people – untainted by apathy and cynicism of the past few decades – to take them to heart.

Twenty five years (now 50 years) after Bobby Kennedy’s passing, it is not the loss of the individual that I mourn the most. It is the loss of the nobler things he was able to draw from within millions of us.

If there were some way of rekindling the beacon that glows so brightly during the last years of Bobby Kennedy’s life, his death would not be so hard to bear.”

         Doug Draper, June 5th, 1993, on the 25th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination.

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“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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