News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

Bobby and Barack

Remembering the past as we look toward the future.
 
 
Share
 
 
 
 

From Tom Hayden:

For one who has experienced both eras, the current movement for Barack Obama has achieved a living remembrance of Bobby Kennedy's campaign in the week when RFK's murder is painfully remembered.

On June 4, 1968, I watched from a New York townhouse the murder of a second Kennedy in five years. Martin Luther King already was gone, Vietnam and our cities were burning. I was in the midst of chaotic planning for anti-war demonstrations at the Democratic Convention coming in August.

I drifted off with friends to St. Patrick's Cathedral where Kennedy staffers let us through the doors late at night. After sitting a while in silence, I found myself as a member of a makeshift honor guard standing next to his simple coffin. I was wearing a green Cuban hat and weeping. The last political hope of the Sixties vision -- a movement-driven progressive government -- was finished, whether by chance or plot, it mattered little. The violence I had resisted under white racism in the South was seeping into my veins. Like many who took their rage even farther, I was hardening, and never dared again to recover my young idealism.

"Dad, don't you recognize anything of yourself in this movement?", asked an angry email from my son Troy, nearly forty years later. He was working 24/7 with his [now] wife Simone, for Barack Obama, spreading the boundless energy of the young and an artist's flair for silk-screens. How could I share your giddy utopianism, I wanted to respond, after the murders of the Sixties icons -- John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, all of whom I had known as a young man? If those killings were not enough, we suffered the Nixon and Reagan eras of counter-revolution aimed at what our generation had achieved. Then the war and sanctions and war again for control of the Persian Gulf. During the coming decades, I was limited every day by the sordid realities, as well as the occasional modest achievements, of electoral politics.

I didn't see him coming. When I heard of the young state senator with a background in community organizing who wanted to be president, I was at least sentient enough to be interested. When I read Dreams of My Father, I was taken aback by its depth. This young man apparently gave his first public speech, against South African apartheid, at an Occidental College rally organized by Students for Economic Democracy, the student branch of the Campaign for Economic Democracy [CED] which I chaired in 1979-82. The buds of curiosity quickened. Soon I was receiving emails from David Peck, an organizer of the Occidental rally, who now is coordinating Americans in Spain for Barack Obama.

 
See more stories tagged with: