On December 2, 1964, Mario Savio stood among his fellow students and exclaimed, “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious.
..you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all” (Eidenmuller). Savio’s speech represented a generation consumed by anti-establishment feelings and confined by traditional social norms. Due to the Cold War, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and a multitude of governmental deceptions, distrust of the “machine” grew disproportionately during the 1960’s. This new culture was breaking from the 1950’s norms by challenging authority, experimenting with drugs, redefining sexuality, and ultimately changing “the American Dream.
” In their efforts to create a more inclusive society, the counterculture of the 1960’s became known for its activism, radicalism, and the emergence of the hippie.A central point of the 1960’s that helped give rise to the counterculture was black empowerment and fighting for civil rights. During this time, “national leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X would be assassinated, violence would claim the lives of young and old, and rigged all-white juries mocked justice in cases involving crimes perpetrated by whites against African Americans” (Riser). The Civil Rights movement aimed to correct these injustices and tried to implement the equal rights that are guaranteed by the constitution. This movement successfully addressed certain inequalities and made huge steps forward for the rights of African Americans. The Civil Rights movement helped set the stage for many other movements and excited young people about change.
Another movement during the 1960’s that focused on black rights was the Black Power movement. “It emphasized racial pride, economic empowerment, and the creation of political and cultural institutions” (Black Power). Different from the Civil Rights movement, however, the Black Power often represented socialist movements and violence. They believed socialism would help minorities increase their standing within American society and thought that violence would help them achieve these goals. The most popular group that represented this movement was the Black Panther Party. Although often associated with violence, the Black Power movement also funded institutions and services to help black communities.
These movements of the 1960’s ranged from violent to nonviolent and crossed racial barriers in hopes to develop a more tolerant society.The counterculture of the 1960’s was overwhelmed with movements and protests that questioned traditional values and challenged politics. During this time, college students were some of the most active and radical participants within the counterculture. They engaged in movements such as feminism, environmentalism, and gay liberation, and they created the Free Speech movement and Free School movement. The Free Speech Movement was a high-energy movement that reflected the change occurring within society.
This movement took place at UC Berkeley in 1964 and was formed to protest a ban that prohibited all on-campus political activities. Thousands of students at Berkeley demanded their right to free speech and Mario Savio stepped forward to serve as their spokesman. “Savio crystallized the students’ grievances with his angry denunciation of the university as a heartless, overly bureaucratic machine” (Anderson 1269). Initially, they held strikes and sit-ins, but as the movement escalated, students clashed with police on the streets of Berkeley. This movement was significant because it inspired student activism across the country.
The Free School movement was another protest against the increasingly structured society. Hundreds of students, educators, and authors “passionately advocated for students’ intellectual and psychological freedom, and for their autonomy and individuality in a society, they saw as increasingly standardized and corporately managed” (Miller). The 1960’s saw many movements such as the Free Speech movement and the Free School movement that attempted to alter the American education and society as a whole.
It was due to the large national divide between America’s involvement in the Vietnam war that the counterculture became revolutionary. Many moral dilemmas, governmental problems, and social issues surfaced because of the Vietnam war. Arguments against American involvement can be divided into two groups: “those based on conceptions of national interest and those based on the alleged illegality and/or immorality of American actions” (Guttmann). Opposers either believed that the war was not worth the cost or they were horrified by the gruesomeness of war and rejected the government’s reason for interfering.
All of this opposition led to large war protests in nearly every major U.S. city. The protests were mainly peaceful but there were occasions of violence. The violent protests were rarely intentional and were often made violent by police officers who used harsh tactics against the peaceful protesters. These protests mainly consisted of college students because of their supposed intellectual growth and liberal perspective. Although these protest took place on college campuses, not all protesters were a part the younger generation.
Older poets, writers, painters, and musicians, such as Pete Seeger, used their creativity to oppose the war and advocate for peace. Folk singer and songwriter, Joan Baez, sang “How many dead men will it take/To build a dike that will not break?/How many children must we kill/Before we make the waves stand still?” Musicians who preached of peace and love were able to spread a positive message but it also showed their detachment from the realities of many people, both in America and Vietnam. The protest of America’s involvement in the Vietnam war strengthened and united the counterculture of the 1960’s, but ultimately divided the country. Another large part of the counterculture was the lifestyle change that occurred. The hippie, or flower child, originated in San Francisco during the “Summer of Love” festival in 1967. It was at the festival that the counterculture adopted a new style of clothes, experimented with drugs, lived communally, and created new music.
Hippies were a subgroup of the counterculture that rejected engagement with politics and denied mainstream culture. They were often privileged, white individuals that had to most to gain from the existing social structure. “That these young people chose to drop out from lives in which they had clear advantages was a sign to many that perhaps something really was wrong with the system” (Pendergast). Within the counterculture, there was also large recreational drug use. LSD became very popular and was thought to raise consciousness and bring peace to the world. It heavily influenced the philosophy, art, music, and clothing of the time. Psychedelic rock musicians, such as Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, and Jimi Hendrix, emerged and fostered further interest in LSD.
The sexual revolution also had a large impact on the lifestyle of the counterculture. This revolution challenged traditional gender roles and increased acceptance of premarital sex, homosexuality, and birth control. The lifestyle of the 1960’s drastically changed from the decade prior due to the determination of the counterculture to break from traditional norms. The 1960’s was a turbulent time for many different aspects of American culture.
The change and nonconformity of the time became so large and powerful that it created the well know counterculture of the 1960’s. It supported the Civil Rights movement, organized the Free Speech movement, and created a whole new style of living. The counterculture participated in a multitude of other movements and made a large impact on society for the years to follow. They broke traditional norms by challenging authority, experimenting with drugs, and redefining sexuality. This decade altered the American Dream through its persistence and drive for change.
This counterculture should be acknowledged for its activism, but it is also important to remember its radicalism and often detachment from the everyday struggles of many Americans.