June 1968. My friends and I were excited to attend our very first political rally on Friday that week. West Warwick, RI was a mill town, predominately Catholic, and only a few miles from Providence. We would gather and rally for Bobby Kennedy. We were 15 years old, our eyes bright with the promise that our world was going somewhere wonderful.
He was our hope. We were not old enough to vote but we were old enough to see slightly older friends going off to war. Some of us had already lost relatives and friends in Vietnam. Bobby spoke up and told the truth. Our mighty military could not win the war his own brother helped to escalate.
He was "Bobby." He said things that resonated with us. He drew us into the world of adults and encouraged our young voices.
Bobby was the most dominant figure of his time not to be elected president. He shaped events during the most turbulent years since the Civil War. He stood in center stage during the McCarthy hearings, the Teamsters investigation, the rise of the New Frontier, the Cuban missile crisis. He held us up after his brother’s assassination. He understood the emerging Vietnam War protests. He believed in the civil rights movement and mourned the killing of Dr. King.
Then there is his own remarkable run for president with the tragic ending that still makes hearts ache.
It was 50 years ago that someone decided that the dreams of our generation did not matter, that our bright and shining moment was never going to come. We never got the chance to see where this remarkable man could take us.
My friends and I heard that someone shot Bobby in a hotel in California. The plans for that Friday's rally became a plan for a prayer vigil. We never held that vigil although we did stand and hold candles and each other tightly. If I close my eyes, I can smell the vanilla of the candles, taste the tears on my lips, and hear the strains of "Let There Be Peace On Earth" on the summer air in Providence.
Bobby had a great desire to unite working people of all backgrounds. He cared for the people too often ignored and worked hard to unify us. He also had the wisdom to understand that the first idea that came into his head was not always the best. He was willing to learn and to grow.A Bobby Kennedy is the antidote we need today to counteract the confusion, the hatred, the intolerance around every corner.
Since we can't have him we may find a spark of hope in the words of his grandson Joseph P. Kennedy III. He spoke out today about the Supreme Court ruling: "Allowing exemptions to our civil rights ignores the painful lessons of our nation's past. #MasterpieceCakeshop ruling sends a dangerous signal to those across the country who wish to use religious freedom as a sword rather than a shield." And this : "I believe that our country was built on a simple promise: that each of us deserves a fair shot."
Maybe our spark of hope does live on. Let's fan it and see.
Peace is personal, not social. It will only thrive when we each decide, moment to moment, to choose peace over violence/judgement/anger/hate. Sing along with the Harlem Boys’ Choir: Let There Be Peace On Earth.