Everything’s Going To Be Okay


Sen. Robert Kennedy sprawled semi-conscious in his own blood after being shot in brain and neck while busboy Juan Romero tries to comfort him, in kitchen at hotel. 5th June 1968

Those were likely Robert F Kennedy’s last words, spoken to Juan Romero, the 17-year old busboy who cradled his bullet-shattered head.

“Is everyone okay?” Kennedy asked.

“Yes,” Juan Romero, replied.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” Kennedy said. And then lapsed into unconsciousness.

That was June 5, 1968, shortly after midnight. He had just won the California primary. “On to Chicago,” he concluded his speech and minutes later, as he made his way through the kitchen, a bullet ended the dream.

He died on June 6th at 1:44 in morning.

I remember a friend coming into my darkened dorm room and waking me to tell me Bobby had died. I was a freshman at San Francisco State. We were going into finals. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been killed two months earlier—April 4, the day before Spring break.

I thought of the night of June 5, 1968 as I waited for the results from the California primary on Tuesday, 48 years later.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Bobby was no saint. But one had the feeling that especially after his brother John’s death he had transformed. It was not merely political expediency for him to embrace civil rights. I believe he had come to a soul-deep commitment to guiding America to its true greatness

But, something died that night in 1968.

A dream.

A hope.

A belief that everything was going to be okay.

That we could make our way out of Jim Crow, lynchings, young men dying in a war that had no meaning, young and old. men and women dying to secure the right to vote.

Instead, the Chicago convention happened. Hubert Humphrey, who had not participated in any primaries, was given the nomination. Richard Nixon was elected president in November, promising he had a secret way to end the Vietnam War. Instead, it dragged on for another 7 years—for political purposes. And in 1972, George McGovern, an honorable man who served in the military and opposed the war in Vietnam, was buried in a landslide by Richard Nixon, who two years later resigned in disgrace.

Everything’s going to be okay.

It was hard to believe that.

I was at a rally at the Federal Building in San Francisco in the late 1980s. Ronald Regan was president. I don’t remember the purpose of the rally right now—probably protesting our involvement in El Salvador. I had been to so many rallies. Someone began singing “We Shall Overcome,” which always choked me up. But this time, I couldn’t join in singing it. I did not believe we could overcome.

George H.W. Bush succeeded Reagan and appointed Clarence Thomas to replace Thurgood Marshall, a lion of civil rights. Thomas was confirmed after a hearing that brought into the open the insidiousness of sexual harassment professional women endure. I was the sole woman manager in a small technical company. After those hearings, my colleagues made fun of me in meetings I was charged with and when I finally got frustrated and angry, asked me if I was on the rag.

Everything’s going to be okay.

It was hard to believe that.

And then the election of 2000 happened. George W. Bush got appointed to the presidency, in part because some thought Al Gore wasn’t pure enough. And so we got the Supreme Court that gave us Citizens United and eviscerated voting rights.

Everything’s going to be okay.

It was hard to believe that.

And then, Barack Obama was elected. For a brief moment, I thought we had crossed the threshold. Obama brought the economy back from the brink, and laid the foundation for health care to be a right. It wasn’t perfect. It was flawed. But it was a start.

From the moment he took office, the festering racism that lingered in the soul of our country took hold and the Republican Party welcomed it, using it to gain power and delegitimize Obama’s presidency—for the sole purpose of making him fail so they could retake the White House. They succeeded because too many of those who voted for Obama failed to vote in 2010 because they were disappointed that he wasn’t perfect.

And so we got a Congress that has eviscerated a woman’s right to choose, the right to vote, the hope that we can address climate change.

Everything’s going to be okay.

It was hard to believe that.

I thought of all of this as I waited for the results of the California primary last Tuesday.

I went back and forth through this primary season about who to support. I am behind everything Bernie Sanders brought to the forefront. But in the end, decided that I supported Hillary Clinton because I think she is better prepared for the job, and that we have more of a chance of steering the country to the path that Bernie’s revolution evoked with her as president.

I was appalled at the level of vitriol thrown at Clinton by Bernie supporters.

Everything’s going to be okay.

I hope so.

I did not realize how much it would mean to me that a woman is on a major party’s ticket. I know that the Green Party has a woman on the ticket, but the Green Party candidate has little chance of winning a presidential election. A woman on the Democratic ticket is a sign that another barrier has been broken.

I do not understand the vitriol hurled at Hillary Clinton. I think that any of the men running would have folded—or gone ballistic—long ago under the constant barrage of nastiness.

Is Hillary flawed? Yes. She is too self-protective. And that makes her seem secretive. I can’t really blame her for her self-protectiveness, but I think it hurts her.

She is more establishment than I am. And, in 2008, I didn’t think she had undergone the kind of self-reflection about gender that Obama had about race. I think she may have now.

She won the nomination fair and square. I cannot believe the nasty memes I have seen on Facebook about her. The vitriol. I have unfollowed friends or hidden their posts to keep from unfriending them.

I’m going to work for Hillary to become president. In part because it would be disastrous to have a Trump presidency. He is the very definition of white male privilege—a privilege that condones rape so long as it is committed by a white, privileged male. A privilege that I think turns one into a sociopath—a solipsist who has no understanding of where he or she ends and the outside world begins.

I’m also going to work to change the face of Congress. It’s a challenge because I live in a place that already has progressives in place. I don’t know how to influence other parts of the country.

Everything’s going to be okay.

I almost believe that.

I have been feeling very grumpy towards the Sanders’ faction that says Clinton and Trump are equivalent. I actually feel old and grumpy. I want them to look at 1968 and see how assassins’ bullets killed dreams. I could not vote in 1968. I was 18. The voting age was 21. Yet, 18 year-old kids were drafted and sent to. My grandmother, who died in 1988, did not have the right to vote until she was in her 30s.

Things change.

Compromise and governance is what will turn this aircraft carrier that is our country around. I believe it takes a mile for a ship the size of an aircraft carrier to turn around.

I still wonder what could have been if Bobby had made his way through the kitchen and then to Chicago. I still weep when I pause to remember that night.

Here’s a portion of the spontaneous words Bobby Kennedy spoke when he delivered to the crowd the news that King had just been killed. The audience was mostly African-Americans gathered for a Kennedy rally:

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

And then there what were probably his last words:

“Is everyone okay? Everything’s going to be okay.”

Everything’s going to be okay.

It’s incumbent on us to direct our efforts and work as if we believed those words.

Is everyone okay?

Everything’s going to be okay.


November 22, 1963

Football season was done. I think it might have been the first Friday without a football game. But it was Friday, so we had to do something. We planned on going to the Vine to see West Side Story. Back then, it took a few years for “big” movies to get to Livermore.

The bell hadn’t rung yet to mark the start of fourth period. Kids were still straggling in to Mr. Fraser’s fourth period Freshman English class. I had just taken my seat when Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Weiss rushed in, pulled a radio from the closet in the back of the room, then just as quickly left the room. I remember thinking it seemed strange. They looked so grim.

By the time the bell rang, we knew. We heard. President Kennedy had been shot. Mr. Fraser led us in a discussion. We talked about politics, who was Democrat and who was Republican. He managed our bewilderment, kept it light, told us he was a Republican, then said we should use the remaining time to read our assigned book—Great Expectations.

Pete Prassinos, he of the beautiful deep dark brown eyes framed with long dark eyelashes, asked if he could go to his locker to get his book. Across the hall, Mr. Satterthwaite had the radio on, the scratchy sounds of the newsfeed barely audible. Pete returned with his book.

“He was shot in the head,” he said pointing to his temple.

Moments later, we heard the news bulletin clearly. The president was dead.

“Well, that’s it,” Mr. Fraser said and turned away from us.

“President Kennedy has been killed,” the voice over the public address system announced. “School is dismissed.”

The boys in the back row jumped up and cheered. Not because Kennedy was dead, but because school was dismissed. They were teenage boys who didn’t know how else to react.

“Hey!” Mr. Fraser boomed. He was barely five foot two, but his glorious voice drove the hulking members of the football team in the back row into their seats. “A man is dead! The president is dead. We need to respect that.”

And with that, he dismissed our class.

There were other things that remain vivid in my mind from that weekend:

My mother cleaning house wearing the skirt and blouse and heels she had been wearing when she was at the store and heard the news. My mother hated housecleaning and never—never—before or after that Friday wore heals and a dress to clean the house.

My father, the next day, threatening to break the Vaughn Meader record that lightly satirized Kennedy. My dad was an Irish Catholic. That was a big thing to him: an Irish Catholic as president.

Seeing Oswald shot on Sunday morning.

Going to see West Side Story on Sunday afternoon with Mary Ann Kriletich, Kathy Smith, and Kathy Keene. Weeping as we walked home, comparing Jackie to Maria, remembering that Jackie had lost a child just months before.

On Monday, the riderless horse, boots placed backwards into the stirrups, preceding the coffin as it made its way to Arlington. I had seen the same image in the previous week’s Life magazine, an illustration that accompanied an article about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand—perhaps because Barbara Tuchman’s book, The Guns of August, had influenced Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

We returned to school on Tuesday. It was a two-day week. Thanksgiving was on Thursday.

The Beatle’s arrival in February of 1964 took the focus off of Kennedy’s death. Or at least, that’s my memory. The trauma of the assassination of a president receded, seemed a mistake, something that still couldn’t happen here.

Over next five years, civil rights workers were murdered, fire hoses and dogs let loose on peaceful marchers, cities rioted. The war in Vietnam escalated, driving a wedge between generations—those who fought the “Good War” and those who questioned why we were at war.

By the time Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were killed five years later, we came to believe that assassinations were part of the American landscape.

I had Mr. Fraser again in my senior year for English Honors. That was his last year teaching high school. He had been accepted into the Master’s program at San Francisco State College (later University); I was heading there, too. I saw him once in the Humanities Literature and Language building, drinking from the water fountain.

I later learned that he did not make it through even the first semester. Academia, he quickly learned was not the place for him. He left for New York where for years he made a living doing voiceovers and acting bit parts in soap operas.

In 1996, on a trip to New York, Tom and I reconnected with Mr. Fraser. He had been Tom’s teacher as well. By that time we called him Bert. I thanked him for how he took care of us, my fourth period English class, the day Kennedy was killed. “You gave us a safety net in a very confusing moment,” I said. “And you showed us how important and sad that moment was.”

We agreed to keep in touch. We invited him to our wedding that September, but he was unable to attend. Sometime soon after that, a heart attack took him.

Mr. Fraser introduced me to William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize speech in English Honors. I had to write a paper showing how the convict in “The Old Man” exemplified the sentiments of his speech. I don’t remember my paper. It’s been too long since I read the short story to be able to tell you how it exemplified his sentiment.

But Faulkner’s speech has stayed with me over the years. I go back and read it from time to time. With each reading, it resonates more deeply with me.

Innocence and experience. Experience does not necessarily lead to cynicism. It can, if we are willing to go deep enough, lead us to a deeper understanding of what it means to be human, how to wend our way through sad times. I was fortunate, that on that awful day, November 22, 1963, I had Mr. Fraser as my guide.

From Faulkner’s speech:

“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”