May 23, 2012 – by Gregory Franklyn
I’m thinking about the assassination of President John Fitzjerald Kennedy tonight for a couple of reasons. One is probably due to recently watching Oliver Stone’s JFK in which Lead actor Kevin Costner, as Louisiana District Attorney Jim Garrison, tries to prove that the Kennedy Assassination was a conspiracy by the Mafia, the CIA, The FBI and some high ranking military officials. I was 11, well, closer to 12, when the Assassination took place. I was in Grade School in a one room rural school house near Memphis Michigan when we got the news.
I wasn’t old enough to understand the intricacies of a conspiracy but I was old enough to know who the President was and that he was generally well liked everywhere in my, admittedly small, world at the time. I remember seeing Walter Kronkite on TV announcing that the President was dead and seeing footage of what was happening in Dallas. The entire nation was glued to these primitive boxes for the next 4 days through the swearing in of Vice President Lyndon Johnson standing next to a weeping Jacqueline Kennedy, still wearing the blood stained dress from tragic assassination earlier that day, to the funeral procession with the finicky rider-less horse and John Jr., then about 3 or 4 years old, stepping forward saluting the passing casket.
I was also old enough to understand how no one seemed to believe the lone gunman and the magic bullet stories we were being told. Even on November 22, 1963 reporters were commenting on things that didn’t make sense. Things that seemed odd. Something was clearly going wrong and our thirst for information was being frustrated by what seemed like clashes between law enforcement agencies trying to take control of the investigation and messing up the crime scene to the degree that nothing could ever be conclusively proven about who might have been responsible for the killing of President John F Kennedy. So much so that 50 years later, we are still asking questions because what we do know still doesn ‘t make sense.
A few days later we watched as Lee Harvey Oswald was led through the underground garage at the Dallas Police department and was suddenly shot dead right there on TV by Jack Ruby, a local strip club owner and a man well know to the police. It was then that we learned that Oswald had been interrogated for several hours there at the Dallas Police Department by competing agencies and not one of them emerged from these interrogations with so much as a single sentence written down about what was said. Reports of the interrogation were later filed, but at the time, the whole thing looked kind of fishy. There were even more questions about normal procedures not being followed and the resulting mess being confusing enough that nothing could ever be conclusively proven.
This was 1963 and the 60s were just getting started. The decade had LOTS more in store to think about for a young teenager like me. Not quite 2 years later Malcolm X was murdered in a theater in Manhattan while fulfilling a speaking engagement. Again, standard crime scene procedures were not followed, confusion reigned in the hours and minutes after the shooting and police allowed the crime scene to be compromised enough that nothing could ever be proven about who was responsible. Three men were eventually convicted of the murder, but all three, now out of prison, continue to maintain their innocence.
There was more to come in the radically turbulent 60s. Later that year, the Watts riots erupted in Los Angeles bringing long simmering tensions between police and African-Americans to a head ignited by a single traffic stop of a man suspected of driving while under the influence. The next year a similar riot erupted in Detroit, again a long simmering race-centered tension had existed for decades between police and African-Americans. This time, it was ignited by police raiding a nightclub in the inner-city.
Which brings us to 1968. The pace of violence was accelerating and the preceding decade’s frustrations were coming to a head. Dr Martin Luther King was killed on a hotel balcony in Memphis Tennessee while fulfilling speaking engagements in favor of a sanitation worker’s strike for safety and wage issues. For the third time in the decade, police allowed the crime scene to be compromised to the point that nothing could ever be conclusively proven about who was responsible for the murder. In this instance, there were fewer irregularities than in the previous two assassinations. There were questions, but if there was a conspiracy, the conspirators were getting better at covering it up. Again, the story was a lone gunman, this time James Earl Ray, a fugitive.
Shortly thereafter, Robert Kennedy, brother of slain President John F Kennedy, was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles while running for President. Once again, police allowed the crime scene to become so compromised that nothing could ever be conclusively proven about who was responsible for the shooting. And, once again the official story focused on a single lone gunman, in this case a young Palestinian named Sirhan Sirhan. Several witnesses in the room where the shooting took place reported hearing a series of gunshots, one describing it as “A hail of gunfire”. Again, the sanity of anyone who disagreed with the lone gunman theory was called into question by authorities and the media.
A few months after that, Riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago erupted as Chicago Police began brutalizing thousands of protesters from all over the country who had gathered to voice their opposition to the war in Viet Nam. Senator Hubert Humphrey was nominated and favored Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of the war, which the nation had grown generally weary of.
Another reason why I ‘m thinking about these events tonight is because of the Occupy Movement we are witnessing today and the fact that we are still fighting about the same things we were frustrated about 50 years ago. War, both at home and abroad, and equality!
There are a number of things that these 4 men had in common. Not the least of which was opposition to war. Remember that it was not quite 2 years before all of this violence began that Republican President Dwight Eisenhower delivered his “Military Industrial Complex” speech as he was leaving office. I think these things are all closely tied together, one following the other in a manner that doesn’t feel organic to me. It is also why I continue to believe that a Coup de Etate of the United States took place during that decade. A prominent theme in the Oliver Stone movie that got me thinking about all this.
All 4 of these men where hugely influential, hugely powerful and had the attention of most of the nation. They were all simultaneously coming to the realization that humanity in general, and the people of the United States in particular, had more in common with one another than we had, things that divided us. They all espoused a kinder gentler nation that cared for it’s more vulnerable members and worked tirelessly for a more equal and balanced playing field that could provide opportunity for everyone, not just the wealthiest and most powerful among us. And, yes, I guess you might call it a little more socialist than the Darwinist ideals held by most Republicans.
They were all, also, deeply hated and feared by the Republican Party of their day because of it. Not so much for who they were, but more because of what they were beginning to accomplish in the hearts and minds of most Americans. It was a threat to the Survival of the Fittest theology of rugged individualists, admired and imitated by Conservatives.
The parallels between these 4 heroes and President Barack Obama are striking to me tonight as I tie all these things together in my mind. I’ve always liked the President as a person despite my criticism of some of his inaction at critical moments. I trust him despite my frustration with him at times because it’s clear to me that he’s a smart guy with a good heart and a vision that I can appreciate. I appreciate him for the same reasons I appreciated John, Robert, Malcolm and Martin in my teens. Beneath that cool, calm, disciplined, intelligent and poised exterior, beats the heart of a hippy like me!
Republicans clearly HATE and FEAR this man. They hate and fear him even more than they love their own country and it’s because they see him working to awaken a spirit in us that they believed they had nearly extinguished altogether. The spirit of peace and fair-play that I have always believed is integral to what it means to Americans to be an American.
I’ll tell my little microcosmic story about that spirit again. In 1993 we, here in Portland, were threatened by a major flood. The downtown area was in real danger of flooding from the unusual rising of the Willamette River. The last time we were threatened by this perfect storm of precipitation and runoff from snow melting on the mountains around us was 60 years ago and it wiped out an entire town that has since been annexed into the north of Portland.
Then Mayor Vera Katz went on TV at about 8:00AM to ask for people to come downtown and help fill sandbags to guard against large scale flooding of the downtown area that was expected. About 5 hours later she was back on TV asking the good people of Portland to stay home because city workers were overwhelmed with well meaning volunteers who had responded to her call for help.
That, dear reader, is what Americans feel about what it means to be an American. We have been given a LOT as a nation and we have never been shy about the realization that much is expected of us. We have an inherited drive to be of help because we know that when we come together in a spirit of love and fair-play, we ALL benefit from it. It is a concept of governance that I don ‘t believe Republicans understand.
It feels like the 60s to me today as I watch Occupiers all over the world stand up for justice, for truth and for a common future that includes everyone and benefits everyone. My own spirit is lifted when I see these brave men and women occupying their cities and countries all over the world in the face of the brutality they face from the power structure that intends to maintain a Status Quo that favors and respects wealth and power over people. I am in hopes that that fire, that spirit, that drive, doesn’t get squashed again like it did when we took a good run at it last time. Go forward proudly my brothers and sisters. You are on the right side of history!