Barack Obama

Newsweek International - - POLITICS -

Robert F. kennedy knew a thing or two about hope. Half a cen­tury ago, it was hope in the fu­ture, hope in peo­ple, hope in our ca­pac­ity to do bet­ter, to be bet­ter, that spurred him to chal­lenge a sit­ting pres­i­dent of his own party and chal­lenge the con­science of a na­tion.

And through steel towns and crowded hous­ing projects and windswept Na­tive Amer­i­can reser­va­tions, Bobby rein­vig­o­rated an Amer­i­can spirit that was bruised and bat­tered and still reel­ing from as­sas­si­na­tions and ri­ots and protests—and ha­tred. And he had am­bi­tion, and he had moral clar­ity. He ar­gued for unity over di­vi­sion, for com­pas­sion over mu­tual sus­pi­cion, for jus­tice over in­tol­er­ance and in­equal­ity. And stand­ing on some makeshift plat­form, maybe on the trunk of a con­vert­ible or the back of a flatbed, some­times speak­ing into a tiny mi­cro­phone while an aide held up a por­ta­ble speaker, he felt authen­tic, and he felt true, not stage-man­aged or prepack­aged like so many peo­ple in pub­lic life.

Which is why when you look at the pho­tos and you look at the footage of that re­mark­able pe­riod, what sticks out is the sea of hands sur­round­ing him seem­ingly ev­ery­where he went. Dozens of hands, hun­dreds of hands, thou­sands, ev­ery shape and ev­ery color, the smooth hands of chil­dren and the wrin­kled, worn hands of the el­derly, and they’re all reach­ing up­ward.

He un­der­stood that it wasn’t blind op­ti­mism that he was ped­dling. Hope is never a will­ful ig­no­rance to the hard­ships and cru­el­ties that so many suf­fer or the enor­mous chal­lenges that we face in mount­ing progress in this im­per­fect world…. [It’s] a be­lief in good­ness and hu­man in­ge­nu­ity and, maybe most of all, our abil­ity to con­nect with each other and see each other in our­selves, and that if we sum­mon our best selves, then maybe we can in­spire oth­ers to do the same.

It’s been 50 years since we lost Bobby, and be­cause we still seem to be grap­pling with some of the same is­sues that he was in 1968, when I was 7 years old, be­cause we are still deal­ing with poverty and in­equal­ity and racism and in­jus­tice and en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion and a con­stant stream of sense­less vi­o­lence, be­cause of all that, it can be tempt­ing some­times to suc­cumb to the cyn­i­cism, the be­lief that hope is a fool’s game for suck­ers. And worse, at a time when the me­dia are splin­tered and our lead­ers seem con­tent to make up what­ever facts they con­sider ex­pe­di­ent, a lot of peo­ple have come to doubt even the very no­tion of com­mon ground, in­sist­ing that the best we can do is re­treat into our re­spec­tive cor­ners, cir­cle the wag­ons and then do bat­tle with any­body who is not like our­selves.

Bobby Kennedy’s life re­minds us to re­ject such cyn­i­cism. He re­minds us that be­cause of the men and women that he helped in­spire, be­cause of the rip­ples that he sent out, be­cause of the of­ten-un­rec­og­nized ef­forts of union or­ga­niz­ers and civil rights work­ers and peace ac­tivists and stu­dent lead­ers, things did in fact get bet­ter.

In the years since Bobby’s death, tens of mil­lions would be lifted out of poverty. Around the world, ex­treme poverty would be slashed, and more girls would be­gin to gain ac­cess to an ed­u­ca­tion. Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans would be shielded by health in­sur­ance that wasn’t avail­able to them be­fore. That progress is fu­eled—by hope.

It’s not fu­eled by fear. It’s not fu­eled by cyn­i­cism. And this is maybe the most im­por­tant thing: It’s not de­pen­dent on one charis­matic leader but, in­stead, de­pends on the steady ef­forts of dream­ers and do­ers from ev­ery walk of life, who fight the good fight each and ev­ery day even when they’re not no­ticed.

Six years ago, Lucy Mc­bath’s son was shot and killed in the park­ing lot of a gas sta­tion be­cause the kids in the car were play­ing mu­sic too loud, ap­par­ently, and she turned her grief into hope and her hope into a seat in the next Congress, run­ning un­abashedly against the gun lobby in the great state of Ge­or­gia. She won.

And then there are the Park­land stu­dents. It hasn’t even been a year since a mass shoot­ing stole 17 lives at their school, but less than a month later those stu­dents had helped to raise the age to buy a ri­fle in Florida. They’d length­ened wait­ing pe­ri­ods be­fore pur­chase. A cou­ple of weeks af­ter that, they’d in­spired hun­dreds of thou­sands to march in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal and all across the coun­try. And, of course, they haven’t won ev­ery bat­tle, but on­line, in the me­dia, in the streets, on col­lege cam­puses, they have be­come some of our most elo­quent, ef­fec­tive voices against gun vi­o­lence. And they are just get­ting started. Who knows what they’re go­ing to do once they can ac­tu­ally rent a car?

Rip­ples of hope. That’s the legacy, that’s the spirit, that Bobby Kennedy cap­tured, stand­ing on top of a bea­tup car 50 years ago. Those are the de­scen­dants of the men and women and chil­dren who reached up into the sky, try­ing to get a touch of hope.

the 44th pres­i­dent of the United States, Obama was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Hu­man Rights Rip­ple of Hope Award on De­cem­ber 12. This is an ex­cerpt from his speech, shared with Newsweek.

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