Thursday, June 5, 2008

"You've just gotta give yourself to the people and to trust them." RFK

(clip from the film Bobby)

Robert F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel by Sirhan Sirhan. This terrible event took place forty years ago today.

"Bobby Kennedy, who, after the assassination of his brother, took a risk and, moving outside the bubble of his own privileged life, had his eyes opened and his conscience convicted by what he saw and experienced and concluded that as a country we not only could, but had to be a better, more just society, which is the only way to realize a more perfect union" (Homily, 30 January 2007).

Throughout his public life, which began working for the rightly infamous House Un-American Activities Committee, he changed. From that alarming start, in time, he became a wise and trusted counselor to his brother as Attorney General, a senator from New York, and almost president. He allowed himself to be shaped by his experiences. The quote I used for the title of this post is from RFK, who said it to a reporter, in answer to a question about his safety, especially in light of JFK's assassination, while campaigning in California. This speech, The Mindless Menace of Violence, was given 5 April 1968, one day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and just two months to the day before his own violent death, to the City Club of Cleveland, Ohio. This clip from the film is an edited version of his speech. You can read the whole thing on the blog Scylla & Charybdis. Here is a portion of what is not in the clip, with a bit of overlap:

"For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

"This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all.

"I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered."

Speaking of those who loved and needed him, Robert and Ethel Kennedy had eleven children. The youngest child, their daughter Rory, with whom Ethel was pregnant when Bobby was killed, was born six months after her Dad's murder. Without a doubt Bobby was the most devout Kennedy son. While JFK was aloof about his faith, Bobby's convictions were very much formed and informed by his Catholic faith.

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