Today a story, about a split second decision, a man who rose to the occasion and changed the course of a city in less than 5 minutes in a campaign message.
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It was April 4. 1968. The State of Indiana. New York Senator Robert Kennedy was campaigning for President. Upon landing in Indianapolis, he was met by an aide who told him that Dr Martin Luther King had been assassinated.
He was then handed a phone. The Mayor of Indianapolis told Kennedy that there was violence in every major City in America–burning, looting, rioting–and asked that Kennedy cancel his public appearances and remain secluded in the safety of his hotel room.
Kennedy refused. Instead he went to what was then called the ghetto of Indianapolis. Surrounded by a sea of very angry people, Kennedy mounted the back of a flatbed truck and began to speak. He talked about the pain of losing his brother to an assassin’s bullet.
He asked that the people of Indianapolis not respond to hate with hate, but to instead go to their homes and churches to peacefully honor, remember and celebrate the life of Dr. King.
He spoke for less than five minutes, ending his speech with the words of Aeschylus, “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom, through the awful grace of God.”
There was no violence that night in Indianapolis. The only major city in America where there was none.
Thousands of people quietly joined hands and went to their homes and churches to pray.
Today, Indianapolis is a thriving city. Its hotels sparkle. Downtown is vibrant, alive, and packed with people all hours of the day and night. It has a football stadium, a basketball arena, a world class Natatorium, a zoo, beautiful museums, a baseball stadium, and restaurants open around the clock.
And one small monument. Commemorating the night that Senator Kennedy sought to heal pain, stop hate, and summon the better angels of the human spirit.
Why share this story with you? What Kennedy did was an example of leadership we too seldom see.
If you are running for office, you need not resort to hate, ridicule, insults, or juvenile antics to advance your cause. You need not pit white against black, or attack those who don’t look like you, or belittle those who worship a different God.
Words are the most powerful drug mankind has ever known. The internet is the most powerful weapon ever invented. They have been used for both good and evil.
As you speak your truth in the public square, choose to leave a legacy that future generations would want to remember.
Political consultant Jay Townsend works with smart, passionate candidates who want to run for office, win elections and make a difference. He has successfully helped candidates learn how to run for the U.S. Senate, how to run for Congress, how to run for Mayor and develop a winning campaign marketing strategy.
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