LOS ANGELES for many Californians, today is the long-awaited election day when they will be able to strike back at high property taxes and the politicans who have imposed them.But for others, it is a day of sad remembrance for the life and promise of Robert Francis Kennedy.
It was 10 years ago that Sen. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) defeated Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.) in a hard fought California primary and seemed on his way to winning the Democratic presidential nomination. Instead, he was shot down in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel here in the hour of his triumph. He died the next day, and the hopes of his supporters died with him.
Dallas is a city that has struggled with the terrible memories of the earlier assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In Los Angeles, a city that easily forgets, there have been few memorials.
On this tenth anniversary of Robert Kennedy's murder, there were those who tried to change that Los Angeles Mayor Thomas Bradley proclaimed the first week of June as a time of remembrance. This past weekend, friends and politicians who had worked to make Kennedy president, gathered to talk about their fallen leader at a party and then at an interfaith church service attended by 300 persons.
"I think it was not intended that Bobby Kennedy become president of the United States," said Rosie Grier, his friend and former professional football player. "I think it was intended that he will always be here to remind us constantly what it is to hate, what it is to forget the words that are written in the Bible, what it is to forget about the rights of others, what it is to forget that we can change it, that we have to change it."
Grier spoke so softly that his words were almost inaudible in the hushed church. He had cried when they called him to participate in the service, and he struggled to maintain his composure. When he had finished speaking, however, he took out his guitar, smiled and played "Feelin' Groovy," and the congregation, relaxed and happy for the only time during the evening, applauded.
The memory of Bobby Kennedy brought to mind the other assassinations that marked the nation's traumatic years - the killings of President Kennedy and of Martin Luther King Jr. Thoughts about the Kennedys and King, said Allard K. Lowenstein, a U.S. representative to the United Nations, were reminders of "how inadequate a substitute nostalgia is for hope."
What Robert Kennedy's friends remembered best about him was the way he took chances, on behalf of those who possessed less in life than he did. They talked of his commitment to the poor, to farm workers and his belief that black people, white people and Mexican Americans must learn to live and work together.
"The world as it was not acceptable to him," said state TreasurerJesse Unruh, the California campaign manager for Kennedy in 1968. "He saw a better world and he fought for it."
Kennedy was a controversial figure during his life, who his adversaries saw as a relentless and even ruthless foe. The 1968 campaign between him and McCarthy service, was a bitter one that "was not always gentlemanly or even truthful." But Unruh and actress Shirley MacLaine urged the congregation to remember a gentler Kennedy, a Kennedy who poked fun at himself and who objected when his supporters heckled the daughter of Sen. McCarthy.
Some of the old animosity spilled out during the remembrances, catching Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry: Brown Jr. in the middle. Brown was a staunch McCarthy supporter in the 1968 campaign, and he faced a dilemma Sunday night, knowing that some Kennedy supporters didn't want him at the service and the that others thought it would be an insult of him not to appear.
Brown sloved the problem with an unusually brief and subdued speech in which he said the country missed "the heroic spirit of Robert Kennedy, the spirit that looks ahead, the spirit that looks to justice . . ., the spirit that looks to the better self of America and tries to summon it up."
This did not save the Democratic governor from the embarrassment of having Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers add a "Viva Brown" to her remembrance of Kennedy or to Unruh's pointed contrast between Kennedy's daring and Brown's celebration of the "era of limits."
Earlier, at the party in a sundrenched home in an upper middleclass section of Los Angeles, some old supporters expressed vague discomforts at the presence there of those who had never been for Kennedy. For others, the dissatifaction was more with the loss of their own ideals.
"What do you do with your liberalism in the '70s," said Connie Seim, a former Kennedy supporter who now works for the Los Angeles city attorney. "I don't have the options now that I did in the '60s."
For many attending the memorial service, the options, both political and personal, also seemed more limited. Lowenstein, thrice defeated in his attempts for public office, recalled that he had spent most of 1968 arguing with Kennedy that he should run, and then supporting McCarthy.
"Yet he meant more to me, as to so many others, than any other public figure of his time - and the awful fact of his unnatural death will shadow events as long as we are part of them," Lowenstein said.
Speaking under a huge crucifix and rood beam which said, "he was wounded for our transgressions," the Rev. William Purcell of St. John's Episcopal Church concluded the service with a responsive reading. He praised Kennedy for having "great strength, great heart and a great anxiety to apply the force of his character to the world's advantage."
"For such a man," responded the congregation, "the sunsets should not have come before the afternoon."