Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Farewell Teddy

Watching and listening to the tributes to Senator Ted Kennedy, I realized that with his death, I am saying goodbye to a representative of a time on which I cut my political teeth.

When I was in college, John F. Kennedy ran for president, and I went on my first door to door canvassing dollars for Democrats. When he won, his inauguration message resounded: what could I do for my country, not what could it do for me. Martin Luther King was preaching a message of equality and dignity, and I was proud to be part of a new generation emerging from the South.

After that first assassination, I was heartbroken but recommitted to the dreams of the time -- I marched in sympathy with Selma in New Jersey, I worked on Lyndon Johnson's campaign against Goldwater in 1964. And I worked in a civil rights group to open segregated housing in the surburbs of Washington in the mid-60s.

But the Vietnam War interrupted, and our country became more and more bogged down in a war we couldn't win. We protested, we marched, we wrote letters. In short, we organized.

Then Martin Luther King was assassinated and 2 months later, Bobby Kennedy. So much sadness, such deep divisions within our country.

(In a different way, I feel those divisions again, paired with an uncontrolled anger -- especially in the town hall meetings over health care reform. )

As part of his legendary family, Teddy Kennedy suffered through personal tragedies that seem the stuff of myths. His own personal shortcomings led to a terrible death of a young person, and subsequently to more anguish and dysfunction in his own life..

But Ted Kennedy had a third act -- In the last 30 years, he rose to become the greatest of our senators. He became not only the voice of the poor and the dispossessed but one of the most respected senators (by both parties). He forged friendships and alliances with people whose views diverge greatly from his -- Orrin Hatch of Utah, John McCain of Arizona. And I know of at least one situation in which his personal attention helped a grieving family settle their affairs. Someone said he was a generous man, and indeed, he was generous in spirit.

Losing Teddy, then, is a huge loss for the Congress and our country. For me, it marks the end of the era that he represented. Yet as it said so eloquently in 1979 when he gave up the presidency:

"For all those whose cares have been our own, the work goes on, the cause endures, and the dream shall never die." Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wasn't aware of this site, Kat. Great post. Ted Kennedy was an example of never giving up. He suffered tragedy and setbacks (yes some of his own making) but he was able to persevere and made a difference in the lives of so many.