WHERE HAVE ALL THE LEADERS GONE?
Last week was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy was cut down on the prime of his life during a time that the country was in great conflict and turmoil. While 1968 itself was a year of tragedy and anger, with Martin Luther King and RFK both killed, the fact of the matter was that the conflict and turmoil had been building since the early 1960s. The civil rights struggle and violence in the South, Vietnam, President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, and the rise of anti-war movement all contributed to a feeling that the United States was on an unknown and dangerous path. For many of us, especially those of us in our youth, 1968 was the nadir of that time. RFK’s killing began a period of anger and violence that rocked the nation, culminating in riots at the Republican and Democratic conventions and a divided country for years to come.
Bobby Kennedy announced his candidacy for President in March of 1968. He was killed in June of 1968. But in those three short months he became, for many, the voice and champion of a collective desire for change. Change in how we as a nation addressed the war, race, economic justice, poverty, fairness, and openness. Bobby Kennedy became the leader who just might finally make things better. He argued in his campaign for gun control, closing corporate tax loopholes, ending the war in Vietnam, and addressing crime by more focus on jobs and economic opportunity. He took leadership positions on issues that were dividing America.
Anyone who had listened to Robert F. Kennedy before he announced his run for President should not have been surprised that he took these leadership positions. He made it clear in a speech at the University of Capetown on June 6, 1966 that he believed that every person can make a difference by stepping up and leading. His words ring as true and as powerful today as they did on that day:
“Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one man or one 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…
It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man (or a woman) stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he (or she) sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
The challenge to those listening to his words in 1966 is the same challenge we must consider today. As we try to address the many divisive and complex issues our country faces in this period in our history we would do well to ask ourselves who among us has the courage and belief to stand up and address those issues. Who is the Martin Luther King, or Robert F. Kennedy of 2018? In the cacophony we hear every day on the news who will rise above the noise and be the voice that tries to heal and unite? RFK’s most famous quote is probably: “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.”
Who among us will dare to dream, and act, and lead?