Right now, 45 years after Robert Kennedy ran for president, his legacy and vision are more relevant than ever.
When Barack Obama, the Millennial generation's candidate, said thank you to his young campaign staffers, he invoked Robert Kennedy: "What Bobby Kennedy called the Ripples of Hope... that's going to be you," Obama told them. Not a single person in the audience of twenty-somethings had been alive during Robert Kennedy's time, but everyone knew the quote, and the room erupted in cheers. A day later, over one million people had relived this moment on YouTube. Every young person who had knocked on a door, sent a tweet, or donated $5 to Obama's campaign, watched that video and became part of the ripple.
And so, 47 years after Robert Kennedy first spoke about a Ripple of Hope to a group of South African university students, he remains a lodestar for a new generation of young people. A Millennial generation that is more open, more tolerant, and more unified in our ability to create change than any generation that came before. We recognize in Robert Kennedy a compatriot. A person who viewed the world as we do, and who represented youth at its very best: full of integrity, creativity, and courage.
Robert Kennedy foresaw our millennial world. A world where "new technology and communications brings men and nations closer together, [and] the concerns of one inevitably become the concerns of all."[i] A world with an international community of young people, bound together by common goals, desires, concerns, and hopes for the future. And a world that would only change if young people created that change.
The world RFK spoke of almost half a century ago exists today. More than half of the global population is under 30 years old. Young people are more connected than ever before. Indeed, our greatest strength as a generation is our ability to connect with one another. Isolation is the oldest enemy of social change, and technology is conquering our isolation. Young activists now know they are not alone--a click of a button can bring allies from every corner of the globe. See Occupy, Arab Spring, or Kony 2012.
A young person in 2013 can make bigger, faster, and more efficient change than at any other point in history. Social media has solidified our power as individuals, and enabled us to trace and quantify the "ripples" we send forth.
For young people today, standing at the threshold of the future with an unprecedented tool for social change under our finger tips, this is all very heady. We must avoid the dangers that come with newfound power, and ensure that the change we make is for the better. And so we look to the legacy of Robert Kennedy, who always fought on the side of justice, and who represented youth at its very best: full of integrity, creativity, and courage. Many of the battles Bobby fought have yet to be won, and it is now incumbent upon us to take up the torch.
And so we are. 45 years after RFK fought for farmworkers' rights in the fields of California, young people are taking up his fight in the fields of New York, where farmworkers can be forced to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, without a single day off or even overtime pay. Almost every other worker is protected from this kind of abuse--except farmworkers. Robert Kennedy would not have stood for such injustice, and neither do we.
So on June 6, 2013, on the anniversary of RFK's Ripple of Hope speech, the Robert F. Kennedy Center and countless young supporters launched *Except Farmworkers-- a campaign to secure basic rights for the thousands of New York farmworkers who ensure we have fresh food on our plates every day. Rights that Robert Kennedy repeatedly advocated for as New York's senator.
There are less than two weeks left before the end of the legislative session in Albany. Less than two weeks to call upon our senators to finally bring justice for farmworkers in New York State. Less than two weeks to make our voices heard.
There is no better way to honor Robert Kennedy's legacy than to join us.
Go to www.exceptfarmworkers.com and become part of the ripple, and watch Martin Sheen's PSA in support of *Except Farmworkers.