A community organizer remembers Ted Kennedy

Dear PICO Organizers,

Last night at 1:45 AM, I left the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library,
located in the Dorchester part of Boston where I live, having joined tens
of thousands who paid their respects as his body lay in state there.

Earlier in the day at 5:00 PM, my wife and I stood beside two leaders
from another community group I’d once worked for who we had run into, too
see the motorcade with his casket and funeral pass by at the entrance to
the Kennedy Library about 3/4 mile from the actual library. These leaders,
one of whom pushed the other who was wheelchair bound, brought a hand made
sign to hold up that thanked Ted Kennedy for all he did.

For people around my age, which is now 58, we remember where we were when
we heard of President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, when we woke
up to learn of Robert Kennedy’s assassination in June of 1968, and now Ted
Kennedy’s passing which I learned about when I opened my newspaper on Tuesday
morning.

There’s a bit of a full circle for me remembering as a boy of 10 waiting
for President Kennedy’s motorcade to pass through my home town during the
1960 election campaign and waiting again yesterday for his brother’s last
motorcade.

Each generation can carry their poignant memories of national events that
touched them just as my mother told me how people of her generation remember
where they were when they learned of President Franklin Roosevelt’s death
in April of 1945.

If I can be so bold to say, I think we at PICO try to operate humbly in
Ted Kennedy’s way. We have principles, but we are willing to compromise.
We see a glass half filled and not one half empty as giving some new opportunities
for people and some lessening of injustice. We try not to demonize our opponents
but try to reach them, but we do fight tenaciously for what we believe in.
And we know we have our own failings just as he knew he did.

PICO’s first national campaign on health care was to increase the funding
and scope of the SCHIP children’s health care program. Senator Kennedy had
first developed this legislation and the campaign to pass it in 1997. Because
our local organization was part of PICO, we did a share of organizing on
this PICO campaign and we organized a press event on SCHIP that Senator Kennedy
spoke at along side of Diluvina Vazquez Allard, one of our leaders, in 2007.

Showing the staff organization and personal touch Ted Kennedy was famous
for, I even got a thank you note from him thanking me for working on the
event that include a personal handwritten note of thanks from the Senator.
You can imagine I treasure this note just like a letter I have signed by
Robert Kennedy in 1967.

And on our other national issue of immigration reform, Senator Kennedy’s
bill in 1965 changed the system and the face of our country. When immigration
restrictions were passed in the 1920’s in conservative reaction to the streams
of poorer immigrants who had come from Eastern and Southern Europe in 1890-1920,
like all my grandparents, the new law much restricted the numbers of annual
immigrants and gave much higher quotas to Northern European countries. Senator
Kennedy’s 1965 legislation ended this discriminatory preference and gave
people from Third World countries more of a chance to immigrate here. And
again, three years ago, it was he who developed the bipartisan Kennedy-McCain

Immigration Reform Bill, that we worked for and is the basis of the next

campaign we are part of. (editors’ note: for more info on the Cover All Families Campaign, http://bit.ly/Vf0GQ

—-Lew Finfer

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