“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
– Robert F. Kennedy
I am inspired by Robert F Kennedy. His “Ripple of Hope” Speech in South Africa was truly a masterpiece, delivered with passion and genuine belief. As Attorney General, he made great progress in fighting organized crime. He was very involved in the Civil Rights Movement as well. He was a key member in the presidency of John F. Kennedy and was often joked about as co-president. He played a very important role in ending the Cuban Missile Crisis and averting a possible third Word War at the height of the Cold War.
After the assassination of President Kennedy, he became more involved in fighting for the poor and the disenfranchised. He worked on improving conditions for migratory labor along with Cesar Chavez. As a NY senator, he worked on the renewal of Bedford-Stuyvesant (a Brooklyn neighborhood). He took a stance against the Vietnam War, even though his brother’s administration had played a part in starting it. He went against the sitting president of his own party, Lyndon B. Johnson, for supporting the Vietnam War.
I think Robert F. Kennedy would have made a fantastic president, but unfortunately his life was cut short when he was assassinated in California.
“I don’t care if anyone likes me, so long as they like Jack.”
As JFK’s campaign manager, RFK played a key role in getting him elected as President. JFK was a great President too, but RFK was very committed to his brother’s success. He was made one of the youngest Attorney Generals, and he was also involved in all major decisions to help his brother. When the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred, RFK played a crucial role in de-escalating the situation and preventing a possible World War III.
During the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union began to store nuclear weapons in Cuba, a communist island country within striking range of the United States. This was clearly not acceptable as it was a threat to America’s National Security. Over the next thirteen days, while there was tremendous pressure on the brothers from the military and the cabinet for an all-out strike against Cuba and the Soviet Union, they resisted the pressure and stopped a war that could’ve had horrible consequences.
“To see people sit in front of us and lie and evade makes me boil inside.”
As one of the youngest Attorney Generals of the United States, RFK took on organized crime and mobsters. He saw the “Mafia” as a criminal organization that operated on a national level, and for the first time, the Department of Justice (DOJ) would take on an entire criminal organization instead of seemingly unrelated crimes.
Civil Rights Movement
“We must recognize the full human equality of all of our people before God, before the law, and in the councils of government. We must do this, not because it is economically advantageous, although it is; not because of the laws of God command it, although they do; not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.”
“We will not stand by or be aloof. We will move. I believe that the 1954 (Supreme Court School Desegregation) decision was right. But my belief doesn’t matter. It is the law. Some of you may believe the decision was wrong. That does not matter. It is the law.”
As Attorney General, RFK campaigned for equal rights and desegregation. He supported the Freedom Riders and threatened to deploy U.S. Marshalls when they were threatened. When a black student got admitted into the University of Mississippi, RFK sent the National Guard to ensure his registration even though there were horrible riots with hundreds dead and injured. He did the same thing for the University of Alabama the next year. In 1963, on RFK’s insistence, President Kennedy called civil rights “a moral issue." He also made huge contributions to the Civil Rights Bill.
Robert Kennedy saw voting as the key to racial justice and collaborated with President Kennedy when he proposed the most far-reaching civil rights statute since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed after President Kennedy was slain on November 22, 1963.
“I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.”
RFK visited in various impoverished areas of the country, including Mississippi Delta and urban slums, and was startled by their conditions. He tried to bring national attention to this issue and tried to influence government law-makers to help reduce the divisions of income and opportunity, and thereby reduce poverty. He believed the best way to tackle poverty was not to provide welfare, but to help people not rely on the government and to rely on themselves. He started the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Project to rebuild businesses within the community and provide more opportunity for its residents.
“Why is a New York Senator dragging himself all the way out to California?”
RFK was already tackling multiple issues including racism, poverty and the Vietnam war, and so he didn’t want to also get involved in issues of migratory labor related to the plight of farm workers in California. But when he flew down to California and met Cesar Chavez, and heard all the details, he became angered with the situation and quickly changed his mind.
RFK served on a senate subcommittee to improve conditions of migratory labor and became good friends with Cesar Chavez during this time. He displayed great responsibility by asking “How can I help?” rather than just doing what he thought was right.
“The people of our country have a right to expect not easy answers, but candid evaluation of our conduct and our position in the world.”
RFK initially didn’t want to come out against the war. His brother’s administration had a role to play, though RFK believed they would have re-evaluated and pulled out of Vietnam if President Kennedy had lived to win a second term. He didn’t want to come out against the sitting President of his own party. But he believed their policies wrong.
He advocated for the stopping of bombing in North Vietnam and the withdrawal of US troops with the replacement of an international force. Later, when he ran for President, he spoke out against the war, and said he would end the war if elected President.
RFK not only made great strides in a number of very important areas, he also left a rich legacy that inspired other great world leaders to follow in his footsteps. Even President Obama talked about RFK when he said:
“As a young man, I came to believe that I could be part of something bigger than myself; that my own salvation was bound up with those of others. That's what Bobby Kennedy expressed, far better than I ever could, when he spoke here at the University of Cape Town in 1966.”
I really admire President Obama, too, and it’s great to see how he too was inspired by Bobby Kennedy.
"LOOKING BACK: RFK's 'Ripple Of Hope' Speech In South Africa" by Mark Memmott, published by NPR.org
"RFK and Cesar Chavez" published by PBS.org
"RFK’s Secret Role in the Cuban Missile Crisis" by Matthew Hayes, published in the Scientific American
Thirteen Days, a film by Roger Donaldson in collaboration with Beacon Pictures
RFK, a tv movie by Robert Dornhelm in collaboration with FX
"How Bobby Kennedy Started the War on Gangs" by Becky Little, published by History.com
RFK Legacy Education Project by Tricia Baldes, Katie Gould, and Dr. Joanne Marien
RFK Human Rights.org, led by President Kerry Kennedy and CEO Michael Schreiber
Such a well written article Anirudh. Well done!