Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
As seniors in 1968 a small group of my friends and I petitioned our principal at St. Francis High School in Eugene, Oregon, to let us get out of school the afternoon the then presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy, Sr., after whom his son, speaking above, was named, came to town to campaign for the nomination to run for President of the United States for the Democrat Party.
That is, the Democrat Party that WAS your parents’ DP.
My classmates and I were among the downtown throng pressing in for a handshake.
I was struck with how thin and fragile RFK appeared up close and personal and how his body guards forged a loose, but formidable shell around him. There was barely room enough to stick your hand in for the shake.
Having only a young person’s concept of the gravitas of the moment, but remembering as well the day back in 1963 when his brother, then president John F. Kennedy, was assassinated, I wondered for a moment if RFK would be killed, too, with his own unpopular views–a topic discussed in various classes at school.
But that, Junior says now, is why his dad knew he had a certain freedom to tell the truth.
RFK knew he wouldn’t win the nomination in 1968, said his son in his recent announcement to run for President today, so the reins on what his dad would not normally say in a campaign speech were loosed.
In the chaotic and dangerous days of the sixties, RFK, Sr. felt he had a greater mission.
He knew well, however, the possible price of committing to that.
And about a week later, after campaigning in Los Angeles at the Ambassador Hotel, he paid that price…
The night he was assassinated (June 5th, succumbing to his gunshot wounds early the next morning) was the night of our graduation party.
Needless to say, the party was over when the news interrupted the pop songs playing on the little transistor radio at a table beside the pool at the YMCA where we celebrated.
When we had listened to all the news we could glean–and stand–on the two or three local radio stations, we gathered our stuff and split. Most of us, silent. Some, crying.
When my friend and I got back to her house where I spent the night, we discovered the place had been robbed, but the thieves had gone off with only her mother’s purse.
We shuddered at how close we may have been to being there when it happened…
Somehow, the robbery seemed as surreal as the news of RFK’s last night alive (we got back when the news of his death had already been broadcast) and somehow it seemed analogous.
He was just here. Downtown. Shaking hands.
The purse was right here, on the table.
Now both were gone…
And that’s what happens in a world full of deceivers and thieves.
They lie, steal stuff–and sometimes they kill people who don’t agree with them.
We need to pray harder and work harder for the truth-tellers this election season (whomever we believe them to be, representing whatever Party).
Politics were bad enough back in ’68 (and got much worse for a few years afterward).
But they’re even worse, today.
Let’s hope there will be no more verses added to one of the most listened-to songs of that fateful year: