The year 1968 was very significant in my life, and a decisive one for the nation. It was the year when the hopes borne by the social movements of the 1950s and ’60s were dashed by the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
If Robert Kennedy had lived to become president on the inside (as he surely would have) and Martin Luther King Jr. had lived to lead a movement from the outside, the U.S. and the world might be very different today. But the most hopeful political leader of his time and the most important movement leader of the century were both struck down, and 1968 was the turning point when it felt like everything began to go wrong in America.
I vividly remember my feelings at the time. I was a student at Michigan State, actively involved in the civil rights and antiwar movements. King had been the leader of the movements that had captured my imagination and commitment as a young activist and Kennedy was the only politician who won my political trust. I was getting ready to take a break from college to work on his presidential campaign when he was killed, and I remember being devastated by the loss.
Since 1968, it has felt like the door has been closed to real social change in the U.S. Since 1968, we have been wandering in the wilderness. This marks 40 years of that wandering, a passage of time I have been pondering of late.