Activism comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes from someone who is independently wealthy and wants to give something back. Other times, it’s from someone who started at or near the bottom and learned to fight for the rights of the disenfranchised. In Las Vegas last week we saw examples of both, when Robert Kennedy Jr., son of the late attorney general, senator and presidential candidate, visited alongside Arturo Rodriquez, president of the United Farm Workers of America.
Both have their own impressive resumes in the field of activism, but they also have intimate knowledge of two men of incredible stature — one who inherited great wealth and gave his life in service to his nation, while the other rose up to lead a movement for his own oppressed people.
Of course, we are referring to the late Robert Kennedy, brother and confidant to President John F. Kennedy, and Cesar Chavez, the late, great leader and organizer of the UFW. It’s no great surprise that these two historic figures were close political allies during the turbulent 1960s, when the nation was going through monumental changes. So it only seems fitting that Robert Kennedy’s namesake and the leader Cesar Chavez mentored would hit the campaign trail during this momentous election — in support of Barack Obama.
Both the junior Kennedy and Rodriquez are not without their own credentials as activists, and they entertained the Las Vegas audience with stories of their own making. They also expressed their views about the state of America today, rightfully condemning the Bush administration’s failed policies regarding the war on terror, the state of the national economy, the environment and energy.
But their words were to be expected, given their activism through the years and the reason they came to town. What strikes us as particularly poignant, however, is the symbolic bridge they represented, between the tumult that occurred 40 years ago, and today.
Four decades ago, in 1968, RFK was running for president when an assassin’s bullet killed him. That was also the year in which Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down. Lost in those two deaths was a youthful idealism that this nation could turn away from its oppressive, warring past and live up to the belief that all are indeed created equal. Those two deaths represent two of the darkest days in modern American history.
And yet, now, one can see that America did not assassinate its youthful idealism; it just went dormant for a while. Forty years after those dark days, the nation is on the cusp of redefining itself. If Kennedy and Rodriquez and millions of others have their way, the first African-American president will be elected — based, as Martin Luther King would say, on the content of his character.
And if that occurs, we expect that the elder Robert Kennedy and Cesar Chavez will sit up in their graves and smile.