On the night of June 4, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was celebrating a California primary victory and seemed to be headed toward a legitimate chance at the presidency. Shortly after midnight on June 5th, he was gunned down by a coward who still lives to this day, rotting in a California prison. Exactly 45 years ago today, on June 6, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy passed away, leaving behind the legacy of a fighter for the poor, a fighter for human rights and a fighter for all Americans. He wasn’t afraid to do the right thing no matter who didn’t like it, a quality most of our politicians have lacked severely ever since.
It’s easy to wonder, “What if?” What if RFK had gone on to victory in the Democratic primaries and beat Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential election? What if RFK had lived to see the 21st century? How would our world be different?
We can’t change the past. We can think about the possibilities of what could have been all we want, but that won’t make things “better.” It won’t change the disastrous years we had under Nixon. It won’t change what happened in Vietnam. It won’t change the decisions that were made which shaped the reality we deal with today.
Instead of thinking about the “what ifs,” I’d prefer to remember what Bobby Kennedy stood for and how we should be honoring his memory today. He served as the closest adviser to his brother John, and helped to shape our world as Attorney General during his presidency. When the Freedom Riders were under attack in Montgomery, Alabama, Bobby sent 500 federal marshals to help protect them. He was instrumental in helping with James Meredith’s admission to the University of Mississippi in 1962. In 1963, when Alabama Governor George Wallace voiced resistance against the integration of the University of Alabama, Bobby confronted him directly, making it clear that he would ensure the law is obeyed by any means necessary. He ruthlessly and successfully tackled organized crime. He provided a voice for the voiceless — a voice that didn’t just contribute to the general noise of society, but actually made an impact for the betterment of our country as a whole.
Bobby Kennedy would have been proud of some of the progress we have made, but I have to believe he would see room for so much more. While outright racism and racially-motivated violence may not currently be at the levels we saw during Bobby’s years in office, it does still exist, and shows itself far too often. Income inequality is at some of the worst levels we’ve ever seen, as the rich continue to hoard billions and disastrous “trickle-down” policies continue to fail. I wonder what Bobby would have to say about how certain politicians treat our poor, our sick and our elderly?
Organized crime still exists, and I would argue it is just as nefarious as it was in the 1960’s — but perhaps in slightly different ways. The main organized crime I’m talking about is the buying and selling of politicians with ease, getting favorable legislation passed no matter whether or not it benefits the majority. I think Senator Bernie Sanders summed it up quite well:
“Billionaires are giving very strong support to elected officials who will do exactly the opposite of what the American people want. I think that’s a pretty pathetic situation. This is how corrupt Washington has become.”
Sure, bribing and corruption have been present to some extent in Washington since the 18th century — this is not news. The problem as I see it is that we still haven’t elected more true fighters in our present day where most of the information on who is truly “bought and paid for” is at our fingertips — and many of us keep electing some of the most corrupt bastards to ever walk the halls of Congress. It speaks to both the ignorance of the electorate and the power of greed (which can overcome the will of “good people” in a position of power).
Bobby Kennedy had an ego, he had a name which he knew carried weight and I’m not going to try to suggest he was a perfect politician who never made a single backroom deal. But he was an honorable man. He knew right from wrong, and he knew that his main motivation couldn’t be his career or bank account — he kept his motivations centered around what was best for the people. Not the corporations, not the millionaires, but the people. All of the people.
We need Bobby Kennedy’s motivations in Washington today just as much as we needed them 45 years ago, before he was senselessly taken from us. We can’t bring him back, but the only thing that’s stopping us from getting his spirit back into Washington is — us. We’re the ones holding us back from reaching our true potential. We’re the ones who continue to elect career politicians who are motivated by nothing other than corporate interests. We’re the ones who get more excited looking at cats on the internet than we get about young people making a difference in our communities. We’re the ones ignoring the present and spitting on the future in favor of apathy and laziness. We’re the ones forgetting our past, and forgetting the legacy of great men such as Bobby Kennedy. Not you, not me but our society as a whole. We’re the ones letting Bobby’s memory and what he stood for fade into a distant memory — but we’re also the ones who can reignite that passion and re-energize our country. It’s up to us, it’s the right thing to do and it’s what Bobby would have wanted.
“Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.” – RFK
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