Messages to president recall Robert Kennedy

Tue, Nov 11, 2008, 00:00

The writing is on the wall for US president-elect Barack Obama, but in a spirit of hope and trust, writes Mark Hennessyin Washington

ON THE eastern side of the Potomac, a single, white wooden cross and simple marble tablet marks the grave of perhaps the last politician in the United States who made his followers dream of better days.

The words of Robert F Kennedy, the man who could have been the Democratic candidate in 1968 and who could have been the 37th president of the United States, still carry down the ages, even 40 years after his assassination in the Ambassador hotel in Los Angeles.

An inscription from one of his speeches, given in South Africa in 1966, is carved into the granite plaza that was erected three years after his night-time burial, the only one to have happened in Arlington's history.

The inscription reads: "It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and, crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance."

Hundreds of people now visit his resting place daily after they have first left a message of hope and congratulations on a temporarily erected wall to Barack Obama on the other side of the river near the Lincoln Memorial.

The structure was erected facing the Reflecting Pool on The Mall just hours after Obama's victory declaration. Since then thousands upon thousands of messages have been inscribed on it, front and back from young and old.

"Thank you so much, Barack Obama, for letting me know that I can do anything," wrote Christine Chesley from Washington DC.

Beatriz Reyes from New Mexico scribbled: "Thank you for not only hearing our voices, but being our voice. God bless you."

The messages are not just from Americans.

"You have brought back hope - not just for America, but for the world," wrote Adrian Longhurst from New Zealand, whose thoughts are surrounded by numerous declarations of love.

Having written her thoughts, yesterday, Donna Perla said quietly: "We have all been pinching ourselves to see whether it has really happened. We have lived through eight years of watching everything go downhill.

"When George Bush was re-elected, I could not believe it, given what we had experienced in his first term. I kept asking people, 'Where were you?' But this, now, is the real America: a diverse America, a hopeful America," she said.

Many clearly are concerned that they are investing too many of their own dreams in Obama. "Be sure to take care of my hope," said one, while another said, "I am trusting you with my hope."

The comparison between RFK and Obama is quickly made by many flocking around the wall of signatures, and the fears for the safety of the man who will be the 44th president of the United States are palpable.

In the wake of Kennedy's death, Lyndon B Johnson ordered that all presidential candidates should in future receive Secret Service protection.

Obama received it earlier than any other candidate has done since.

"If anything happens to him, there will be the most serious repercussions in America," said Perla's friend, Nancy Reeddeck. "We worry, we worry. The people have spoken and they have spoken clearly."