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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Robert Kennedy Announces He Will Run For President-March 16th, 1968

I was going to do Robert's announcement that he will run and the scene about his death in one post but I changed my mind about that. To keep my blog from being a big bore, I do try to keep from repeating subjects when possible which is why I will post the small things between March and June in this post but the assassination needs its own post, I think, not only because it was enormous to the movement but because, as you will see, it was very personal and very hard for Liz. So...March 16th, 1968 is the date and Liz and her friends have hoped that Kennedy would announce his bid for president as Liz states with this:

'On March twelfth L.B.J. won the New Hampshire democratic primary. That was a small blow to all of us. However, the win was slim with Eugene McCarthy losing by only eight percent. This gave us hope. Here was this man whom so many had supported for so long and now he was just barely winning against an outspoken dove who, if elected, would certainly bring us home from the war. We would support McCarthy. Still, so many of us hoped that Robert Kennedy would soon announce his bid. After his meeting with Cesar Chavez in Delano, California on the tenth it seemed that he was certainly up to something and what else could a Kennedy be planning to do with such actions on election year if not running for office? That was our logic anyway.'

So of course, when it happened at last it was a very emotional moment for her:

'The voice of Robert Kennedy could be heard and we shut up to hear what he had to say. At first we were unclear about the reason for the conference. As we listened, we agreed with him and then….at long last….he said what we had been waiting months to hear. “That is why I am announcing my candidacy for president of these United States.” At first we were silent, all of us. It had to have a second, this message that we had yearned for, in order for it to sink in. To my surprise I felt a tear slide down my cheek. There are probably many readers who are, at this point, scratching your heads and wondering why. What was the big deal, you might ask. McCarthy was a dove but he was not as outspoken as Kennedy about the war. Robert’s name alone gave him power and influence that McCarthy could have never matched. And he had, for over a year, proven himself to be an ally to us, the peaceniks. After the years of Johnson and Hoover’s FBI we needed Kennedy. We needed at last to have someone with power on our side. Kennedy was that man and if there was anyone out there who could beat LBJ it was the little brother of the man whom so many considered to be one of the best presidents of all time. Of course, we didn’t want him because of his connections with Jack. We wanted him because at last, at long last, here was a politician who GOT IT! With just the one speech, that one promise to lead us, Robert became what his brother had been in his presidency. He became a face of hope. How could I not weep when at last the end of the nightmare seemed closer than ever?'

Of course Liz followed Kennedy's campaign and I won't share all of the small bits but I will share a moment that sticks out from his campaign a little more than others. It was the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Many major cities in America had riots that night and into the days that followed. Kennedy was in Indianapolis that day and he was supposed to go out and give a speech. Just before he was due to go out and meet the crowd he was told of King's death and he knew he would have to say something about it to the people if he went on with the engagement. Those around him advised against it, fearing the emotions of the crowd and how they might react as a result of the news of King's murder. Robert, however, insisted that he go out and speak to the people that had gathered to hear him. Liz watched all of this on her television in her living room as she sought to make sense of what had happened and she, like so many, got a little bit of comfort that day from the words that RFK had to say:

'As I sat watching the news, watching clips of Bobby Kennedy as he broke the news of King’s death to a crowd gathered in Indianapolis, one of the only major cities in America that did not riot that day or in the days that followed, the riots were just beginning in Watts. Hearing what Robert had to say that night gave me a sense of calm. He did not make light of what had happened, he did not play down the situation, but I think it was that that made the speech so good to hear. Something horrible had happened and the wounds were now bleeding for the nation that had seen too much in the way of good and evil to let something so tragic pass by. Something had to be done, something that might act as a band aid on the gash to our collective psyche. If I had known how long it would be before any sort of healing began, I might have wept a little more that night.'

Of course, I can't help but see a cruel irony in this clip as it was only a couple of months before Robert met his end because of an assassination's bullet. Perhaps he knew as he spoke to the people before him that his own death was a possibility he could not overlook. Maybe he had a bit of a premonition about it as he talked of the death of a great man. Who knows? Did his speech somehow prevent riots in Indianapolis? No one can say. Perhaps...or maybe that was simply a coincidence. But for Liz that night as she sat in her living room knowing that by the next morning she would have to stay clear of Watts or risk her life because of the hell it would be from angry people who did not want to accept this blow, his words provided shelter from the storm.


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