I watch Kerry Kennedy speak on stage, under the stage lights, in the silent theatre, amid the gleam of perspiration and the breath of a suspended audience. I watch Kerry and listen to her words that cut across Sierra Leone diamonds, a bullet in the eye, blood, traces of flares across the skies of Africa and the Middle East, burning oil wells and villages, Ken Saro Wiwa, the poet, hanging from a branch; the faces of children, child soldiers, raped women, slave women, people wounded, refugees, more women, this time from Eastern Europe, multinational empires, malaria and HIV and broken teeth and shattered bones and mass graves and all the absurdity of man’s violence against man and the millenary cry of pain of the lowest. All of this is in her words, her eyes, her shoulders and her straight back and in her pacing backwards and forwards as if she were living always on the edge of a never-ending trench, because she breathes all of this, she lives it, suffers it and wants to change it. It’s her mission, without even a hint of rhetoric, the truth alone against power.
I witness her ability to move from recognition to indignation and then comprehension, and then to conceive and plan to the point of achieving, through the practical process of building relationships, consensus, unity, facts, places, communication and initiative. I look at Kerry Kennedy and I see politics as politics should be. A mixture of heart, intelligence, transparency, passion, level-headedness and the ability to organize and share, all blended together and shaken through courage. Making a stand and fighting with somebody and for somebody. The clear-headedness that makes it possible to imagine a different and better world and to laugh at people who claim it is just utopia.
I look at Kerry Kennedy and I think of the faces and words of our politics and inside I weep a little and laugh a little.
I watch Kerry Kennedy and I see her father holding a megaphone, standing, supported by hundreds of hands of every colour and shape and age; and the march for Peace in Washington, the Reverend King and Rosa Parks, flowers in guns, clashes in the ghettoes and strikes in factories; Edgar Hoover laughing, Edgar Hoover playing poker, Edgar Hoover eating his hamburger, Edgar Hoover ordering assassinations, Mc Carthy burning film, Miles under arrest, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez’s words in the wind, the Star Spangled Banner by Jimi Hendrix in the cathartic dawn of Woodstock and the Alabama riff bursting out through Coltrane’s saxophone; and Lady Bird, Lady Day who after shouted her despair into a microphone, the despair of a whole people, like a wingless angel on the final stretch of flight, is seated at a table back stage, on her own, with nothing left to wait for except death, in front of a bottle of vile third rate whisky for blacks, because the champagne for the white people sitting in the front row under the stage, where she has just sung, the greatest singer of the 20th century, is barred to her. Because Lady Bird, Lady Day, with a gardenia in her hair and a cigarette between her fingers, greeted in Europe as a queen among kings and queens, cannot sit at a table for whites.
I watch Kerry Kennedy speak and I see the beauty, pride, kindness, anger, poise of an woman who is both extraordinary and ordinary and I am ashamed of this country of mine where women are objects of trade and favours, merchandise in contracts, disco dancers for the powers that be; the decadent and geriatric peacocks, stuffed with viagra, who pardon, promote, reward, eliminate, grab; and then tits, asses and thighs shamelessly exhibited without restraint every day in media showcases, as if it were normal and right, every day, ceaselessly.
I watch Kerry Kennedy speak and I understand how powerful a word can be, depending on how you utter it and if you utter it well it means you’ve thought it well and that you have many, a great many words to say and every day you learn more, and their sound, because the World is so wonderful, complicated, strange, cruel, forceful and diverse that all the words in the World are not enough to describe and understand it; because you cannot understand or explain everything but you can recognize as your brother the stranger you cross in the street who is in need of everything, a roof over his head, a chunk of bread, a blanket, a sip of water, because he has lost everything, because he roams the world alone, because he has only known an unjust life which he didn’t choose but which was imposed upon him.
I watch Kerry Kennedy speak and I know that you can change and improve the life of a refugee who lives in fear, a man, woman or child who suffers and asks for nothing more, nothing less than to be treated as a human being. And there is no need for words, all it takes is a smile, an embrace, a wink. All it takes is the courage to be human.
Kerry Kennedy was a guest of the city of La Spezia on 17 February at the Teatro Civico within the framework of the exhibition "Citizenship and Constitution" organized by Fondazione Carispe. Kerry gave students from the La Spezia schools an extraordinary lecture on human rights and the excellent book "Speak Truth to Power".
by Marco Ursano
translated by Giovanna Simmons