Socio-Political Climate of 1960s
Civil rights, the Vietnam War, and many social changes were at the forefront. Rock and roll had grown and evolved into a galvanizing force that addressed the war (“Universal Soldier”) or injustice (“Blowin In The Wind” and “Eve Of Destruction”) or changing American culture (“Love Child”, “Does Your Mama Know About Me?”, “Society’s Child” (which was banned on many radio stations!).
The 1960s have become synonymous with all the new, exciting, radical, and subversive events and trends of the period, which continued to develop today. In Africa, the 1960s was a period of radical political change as 32 countries gained independence from their European colonial rulers. Some called this era a classical Jungian nightmare cycle, where a rigid culture, unable to contain the demands for greater individual freedom, broke free of the social constraints of the previous age through extreme deviation from the norm. The decade was also labeled the Swinging Sixties because of the libertine attitudes that emerged during this decade. Rampant drug use has become inextricably associated with the counter-culture of the era, as Jefferson Airplane co-founder Paul Kantner mentions: “If you can remember anything about the sixties, then you weren’t really there.”
Counterculture / Social Revolution
In late 1960s, young people began to rebel against the conservative norms of the time, disassociating themselves from mainstream liberalism, in particular the high levels of materialism. This created a “counterculture” that sparked a social revolution throughout much of the western world. It began in the United States as a reaction against the conservatism and social conformity of the 1950s, and the US government’s extensive military intervention in Vietnam. Respect for authority declined among the youth, and crime rates soared to nine times the rate of the 1950’s. The youth involved in the popular social aspects of the movement became known as hippies. These groups created a movement toward liberation in society, including the sexual revolution, questioning authority and government, and demanding more freedoms and rights for women, homosexuals, and minorities and opposed violence. The Underground Press, a widespread, eclectic collection of newspapers served as a unifying medium for the counterculture. The movement was marked by drug use (including LSD and marijuana), psychedelic music, mystic religions and sexual freedom. Marijuana use soared. Respected figures such as Timothy Leary encouraged the use of LSD as a mind-opening drug with his slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out”. The Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967, and the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York in 1969 represent the pinnacle of the hippie movement.
The conflict in Vietnam eventually led to a commitment of over half a million American troops, over 55,000 American deaths and a large-scale antiwar movement in the United States. As late as the end of 1965 few Americans protested the American involvement in Vietnam but as the war dragged on and the body count in Vietnam continued to escalate so did civil unrest. Students became a powerful and disruptive force and university campuses sparked a national debate over the war, as the movement’s ideals spread beyond college campuses, doubts about the war also began to appear within the administration itself. A mass movement began rising in opposition to the Vietnam War, ending in the massive Moratorium protests in 1969, and also the movement of resistance to conscription (“the Draft”) for the war. The antiwar movement was initially based on the older 1950s Peace movement heavily influenced by the American Communist Party, but by the mid-1960s it outgrew this and became a broad-based mass movement centered on the universities and churches: one kind of protest was called a “sit-in.” Other terms heard nationally included the Draft, draft dodger, conscientious objector, and Vietnam vet. Voter age-limits were challenged by the phrase: “If you’re old enough to die for your country, you’re old enough to vote.” Many of the youth involved in the politics of the movements distanced themselves from the “hippies”.
One of the most well-known anti-war demonstrations was the Kent State shootings. In 1970, university students were protesting the war and the draft. Riots ensued during the weekend and the National Guard was called in to maintain the peace. However, by Monday, tensions arose again, and as the crowd grew larger, the National Guard started shooting. Four students were dead and nine injured. This event caused disbelief and shock throughout the country and became a staple of anti-Vietnam demonstrations.
Civil Rights Movement
Main article: African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968)
Much of the socio-political movements and the people participating in them came from the civil rights struggle in the south in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The civil rights movement dominated the first half of the 1960s, which met with widespread and often violent resistance in the South, with bombings of black churches, murders of civil rights workers, and police beatings of protesters. The failure of the Kennedy administration to do enough about the situation led to the march on Washington DC in August 1963, when Martin Luther King made his “I Have A Dream” speech. President Johnson subsequentially signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Stimulated by this movement, but growing beyond it, were large numbers of student-age youth, beginning with the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley in 1964, peaking in the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and reaching a climax with the shootings at Kent State University in 1970, which some claimed as proof that police brutality was rampant. The terms were: “The Establishment“ referring to traditional management/government, and “pigs“ referring to police using excessive force. 1969 also saw the Stonewall riots.
The Rise of Feminism
Main article: Feminism
Feminism in the United States and around the world gained momentum in the early 1960s. At the time, a woman’s place was generally seen as being in the home, and they were excluded from many jobs and professions. Commercials often portrayed women as being helpless. In the US, the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (1963) found discrimination against women in the workplace and every other aspect of life, a revelation which launched two decades of prominent women-centered legal reforms (i.e. the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title IX, etc.) which broke down the last remaining legal barriers to women’s personal freedom and professional success. Feminists took to the streets, marching and protesting, writing books and debating to change social and political views that limited women. In 1963, with Betty Friedan‘s revolutionary book, The Feminine Mystique, the role of women in society, and in public and private life was questioned. By 1966, the movement was beginning to grow in size and power as women’s group spread across the country and Friedan, along with other feminists, founded the National Organization for Women questioning the unequal treatment of women which gave birth to “Women’s Liberation” in 1968 and disclosed the “glass ceiling.” For the first time, the new women’s movement eclipsed the black civil rights movement when New York Radical Women, led by Robin Morgan, protested the annual Miss America pagent in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The movement continued throughout the next decades.