It’s unusual to feel a need to reach out to our UU community because a Senator died, but the death of Senator Edward Kennedy casts a long shadow across our nation.
Senator Kennedy’s death is a signal of the passing of the torch from one generation to another in our nation and in the world. It is a call to remember and to honor all of those elders whose struggles for justice have made our lives today possible. It is cause for both grief and for deep celebration.
In the UUA’s Washington Office on Wednesday, staff members spoke to one another quietly, remembering personal encounters with him in labors for shared goals—some which were accomplished and many which remain unfinished.
It is hard to overstate how important Senator Kennedy was to the causes we hold dear. From Voting Rights and Disability Rights to reauthorizing TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families); from more than a decade working to pass anti-hate crimes legislation and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to ensuring a fair minimum wage, Senator Kennedy was a relentless supporter—if not a champion—for most of our legislative agenda. Few people in this era have done more for the health and welfare of marginalized people.
Among the many lessons we can learn from Senator’s Kennedy’s Senate career is that it is not only possible, it is actually powerful to be both extremely committed to your values and able to work with people and groups that hold different views. Most Americans know Ted Kennedy only as a bastion of liberalism. May he also be remembered as one who understood the importance of relationships and collaboration. As Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) wrote in a reflection which appears in today’s Washington Post, Kennedy “never made his partisanship personal and, most of the time, if he believed you were sincere, he was willing to give ground to reach an agreement. He’ll be missed both for his friendship and personality, as well his ability to get things done even in the most partisan times. “
Senator Kennedy has been present to us—not just as a remote figure represented by staff people—but also as flesh and blood, as a passionate, caring, and flawed human being who strove to connect with the people working on (and affected by) the issues he cared about. A few years ago, he spoke at an event for Martin Luther King Day at our congregation in Quincy, MA, about the need to raise the federal minimum wage. He said, “We have to think, who are the recipients of the minimum wage? They are men and women of dignity…They may be making the minimum wage, but they want to do the job, they want to do it right, and they want to do it well…they deserve our respect.”
This respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person was at the heart of Senator Kennedy’s desire for our common good. May that respect live on as our legacy for Senator Kennedy—in our families, in our congregations, in our towns and cities, in our struggles for justice. May we find the strength to carry on without him.
–Rob Keithan, Director of the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy