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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

48 Years After the Torch was Passed

Stephen Gale writes about our political legend, Ted Kennedy, from his personal perspective and years of activism.

Forty-eight Years after the Torch Was Passed

By Stephen Gale

The first time I met Arnold Schwarzenegger he was sitting beside his celebrity companion, Maria Shriver. Their table-for-four at Froman’s Deli in Santa Monica was only a few feet from the little two-seater where my wife and I sat, exhausted at 9:00 on a Sunday morning. Maria was animated and loud and excited that she woke that morning to see the name KENNEDY boldly showing on the windshield of every car on the street below the apartment where she lived. Arnold beamed, but it was Maria who became the gracious niece of Edward Kennedy when Lorre and I admitted, wearing broad smiles of our own, that we had labored since before sunrise to place a flyer on every car in Santa Monica, until our limited supply was exhausted.

Ted Kennedy has been the patriarch of a generation of Democrats for as long as I can remember, being only eleven when John Kennedy visited Dallas for the last time. Five years later, such a short time after I heard him calm an anguished crowd when Martin Luther King was murdered, there was no consoling those whom Robert Kennedy touched and who sought to touch him. Although I would experience grief at the loss of friends who did not return from Viet Nam and others who stepped out of line too soon, there is a cold stillness, even today, as I remember the assassination of the second Kennedy. The generous words Ted Kennedy spoke in eulogy were soothing and still hang on my office wall.

My father was so affected by the loss of John Kennedy that he resigned a lucrative job in the Santa Clara valley and became the Director of Vocational Education at Parks Job Corps Center in Pleasanton. Some of those relationships forged during years of committed action grew into friendships that lasted for the rest of his life. Before his death he remembered how George Forman, the most famous person to emerge from Parks, had his life changed by the passionate commitment of those who worked in one of the cornerstones of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

For a short time, I was so affected by the loss of Robert Kennedy that I worked in the district office of first term Assemblyman John Vasconcellos and considered pursuing a career in public policy. Then I went away to college, married, pursued two careers and raised a son, while the political world unfolded on a course so different from the hopeful path illuminated by three Kennedy Brothers. Through all of those overly ordinary and sometimes self-absorbed years, I came to understand that it was Edward Kennedy who showed the greatest strength, through long struggle that is the real hallmark of courage.

To see Edward Kennedy speak tonight, with his left hand covered by a bandage and his right hand shaking slightly as his voice filled the Convention’s never-silent space, was to know that the torch had, indeed, been passed. When Edward and Caroline stood with Barack Obama and endorsed his candidacy, the torch moved from the loving hands of the third Kennedy Brother who had so jealously kept the eternal flame alive in the Democratic Party.

In his mid-day message from Denver, Chip Roberson (Obama Delegate from the City of Sonoma) shared his illuminating recognition of the message imprinted on the California Delegation. “By strengthening and building relationships, we can share and craft a common message that will serve to build the bonds that unite the party.” Politics and the struggle to create a better future for ourselves and our children do create lasting bonds of unity. For those of us who are preparing for the loss of the final Kennedy Brother, it is encouraging to see the torch being passed so peacefully and respectfully to Barack Obama. And locally, it is equally gratifying to see a new generation of political leadership emerging in the likes of Delegate Chip Roberson, new to politics, and passionately engaged.

Stephen Gale is the Chair of the Sonoma County Democratic Party.

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