|Photo by Paul Fusco.|
When Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June 1968, while campaigning to be the Democratic Party's choice for President, you could feel the air going out of the culture. At the time, I was a Grade 8 student about to write my final exams. But when I woke the morning after the California primary to find out that he had both won and was mortally wounded by an assassin, I walked to school and promptly failed every one. Getting into high school just didn't seem to matter anymore. JFK's assassination might have been a seismic shock to the system in 1963, but this was a murder that curdled and darkened the nation.
Even though I was a Canadian, I was fervently following RFK's campaign as if caught up in the passion of a political dream, the quixotic idea that one could remake a country. Since Martin Luther King Jr. had just been murdered that spring, it seemed even more urgent that those ideals be realized through Robert Kennedy. Kennedy seemed to galvanize the nation by imagining a country built on the inclusion of its citizens; where rich and poor, black and white and Mexican-Americans could share in its possibilities. They would line the streets daily during that campaign clamoring to shake his hand while stepping forward as if they were walking into history, wanting to be a part of its making. There was a true sense, even with the horrible war going on in Vietnam, that the country could still be truly remade into something resembling the ideals set forth in its founding documents. In the absolute worst of times, you felt a keen sense of anticipation. But RFK's death seemed to kill any desire to hope for anything better.