June 5 marks 50 years since presidential candidate and icon for social justice Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated by a gunman at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. His assassination came during a tumultuous year across the globe, and was part of a crucial turning point in the United States according to a professor of government at Cornell University.
Sidney Tarrow, professor emeritus of government and adjunct professor of law at Cornell University studies social movements in the United States and globally. Tarrow is also teaching a summer seminar on the year 1968. He says Kennedy’s death convinced Americans that their country was no longer a “beacon of democracy.”
“1968 was a year that rocked the world. But it was never a single thing nor did it have a single epicenter. France and Italy were virtually paralyzed by strikes and student demonstrations, while revolts shook Soviet rule in Eastern Europe. In Mexico, where the Olympics were scheduled, army snipers mowed down hundreds of student demonstrators.
“But it was in the U.S. — where the war and the antiwar movement came together with a presidential election — that the greatest turning point occurred. Of all the momentous events in that year, perhaps the assassination of Bobby Kennedy was the split and Richard Nixon was able to win the presidency. Kennedy’s murder – together with that of Martin Luther King Jr. convinced a generation of Americans that our country was no longer the beacon of democracy that had emerged from World War II.”