It seems to me…
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Meade.
The so-called turbulent ‘60s are largely viewed by many as a time of change in the U.S. as several fundamental societal transformations were occurring virtually simultaneously all reinforcing each other. Protests to a detested war in Vietnam were dividing the nation. It was the age of the “hippie[i]”. While much of what occurred was trying at the time, all of us who lived through those years now consider ourselves fortunate to have been part of what took place.
Many who were active in the civil rights, antiwar, or other social movements at the time naively believed society could be changed: wrongs righted, intolerance eliminated, war ended, and compassion expected of our elected representatives. Disillusionment came when the extent of society’s plasticity became apparent – society absorbed, denigrated, insidiously subverted, or undermined most of those hoped-for changes. While most of society’s foundation proved surprisingly resilient, some institutional changes gradually did transpire.
It is difficult to say exactly when the Civil Rights movement began but one prominent date is 1 December 1955 when Rosa Parks, an African-American seamstress, refused to relinquish her seat on a public bus as required under segregationist law in Montgomery, AL. The movement gained significant traction in 1964 when more than 1,000 out-of-state predominately-white volunteers arrived in Mississippi to register African-American Mississippians as legal voters. Civil rights were subsequently forced upon an unwilling segregationist South though significant vestiges of discrimination still remain in both the North and the South. Progress continues, albeit slowly, but it has become apparent that full equality and acceptance currently remains in the indefinite future.
Marriage across racial, ethnic, color, and geographical barriers, once illegal in many states, now enjoys increasing freedom from the paradigm of racial and ethnic homogeneity prevalent in most other nations. A recent Gallup report indicated 87 percent of Americans do not object to blacks and whites getting married though only 4 percent felt that way in 1958[ii]. Researchers at the Pew Research Center in a recent study reported that about 6.8 percent of marriages in the U.S. were outside their race or ethnicity in 1980, a figure that has jumped to about 14.6 percent of marriages today[iii].
When the birth control pill was developed in 1960, no one appreciated the extent of changes that would result, especially as it corresponded to increased acceptance of women in traditional male-oriented occupations. Women for the first time had the freedom to engage in sex without fear of pregnancy comparable to the freedom enjoyed by men. But what was the result of the much-advocated sexual freedom? Apparently not much though there now is substantially more openness and discussion about sex. As with any change, not all has been positive.
Sex did became more socially acceptable outside the strict boundaries of heterosexual marriage. The ability to pursue higher education without the thought of pregnancy gave women more equality in educational attainment and a higher percentage of women now graduate from school and college ultimately gaining professional careers. During the 1960s there were only four major STDs, now there are twenty-four; marriage rates have declined by a 1/3, divorce has doubled, and children living in single-parent families have tripled.
While those changes definitely have occurred, it is not as clear to what extent sexual activity has increased. Many statistics related to sexual activity in the 1960s are unavailable making comparison difficult but today, among adults aged 25–44, about 98 percent of women and 97 percent of men have had vaginal intercourse, 89 percent of women and 90 percent of men have had oral sex with an opposite-sex partner, and 36 percent of women and 44 percent of men have had anal sex with an opposite-sex partner. Twice as many women aged 25–44 (12 percent) reported same-sex contact in their lifetimes compared with men (5.8 percent)[iv]. Sexual activity among teens might even have slightly decreased.
The first demonstrations by homosexuals for acceptance began in 1969 and there have been declines in homophobia as LGBTs (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transvestites) gain increased societal acceptance. Acceptance of same-sex relations has increased in the U.S. from 38 percent in 2002 to 56 percent in 2011[v]. In 2001 only 35 percent of U.S. citizens approved of same-sex marriage; support has steadily grown and now stands at 54 percent[vi].
The movement against participation of the U.S. in the Vietnam War began with demonstrations in 1964 and grew in strength as the country became polarized between those who advocated continued involvement and those who wanted peace.
The war had been justified as necessary due to the so-called Domino Theory that if one southeastern Asian nation fell to Communism, others would follow, but much of the general public perceived U.S intervention in Vietnam as not legally justifiable. Media coverage of the war also shook the faith of citizens at home as new technologies, namely television, for the first time brought real-time images of the conflict into American homes during their dinner hour.
Opposition to the war arose during a time of unprecedented student activism which followed the free speech movement and the civil rights movement. Antiwar activists won the propaganda battle with popular slogans such as “Make love, not war”, “Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity”, and “War is not healthy for children and other living things”. As the war dragged on, increasing numbers of Americans tired of mounting casualties and escalating costs. The antiwar movement quickly grew until American leaders were forced to reconsider U.S. involvement.
In many respects, the student antiwar movement reflected growing disillusionment among young Americans about politics and society as a whole. Unfortunately, since the conclusion of the Vietnam War, the U.S. has repeatedly demonstrated its failure to learn from that experience and became involved in a non-ending succession of other wars including the longest war (Afghanistan) in which it has ever been involved. The War on Iraq was sold to the American public on the basis of deliberate lies by the U.S. President and members of his administration who drove up the national debt by failing to allocate funding for our nation’s involvement.
Development of communes in the 1960s paralleled and was closely associated with the “hippie” movement. While the majority of communes traditionally had been established primarily for social or religious reasons, this new movement served a variety of purposes. People usually associated communes as being rural and agriculturally oriented due to media publicity but there was considerable diversity. While it is correct that some were rural or tolerated sexual freedom or psychedelic drugs, just as many others defied stereotyping and did not fit into any popularly perceived mold.
People joined or formed communal groupings (now frequently termed “intentional communities”) for many different reasons. While some members felt isolated in society, some were concerned about their children’s safety or society’s influences on them, and others because they wanted to lead a more environmentally friendly or simpler lifestyle. Many others simply consider it a way to share costs and live with like-minded associates.
Many small urban groupings provided advantages to non-related groupings of small children, working adults, and older retirees each dependent upon one another similar to lifestyles normally associated with extended families. While I eventually moved on, they provided a worthwhile refuge during a trying time in my life.
Quite a few communities still exist and though initially portrayed by the media as experiments in free love and uncontrolled drug use by kids who don’t want to deal with reality, they have evolved into an acceptable alternative lifestyle (though frequently considered somewhat strange by the communities in which they are located).
The 60s frequently are considered the golden age of music. Consider Woodstock[vii]. Folk music was extremely popular and Joan Baez was at the top. Bob Dylan was the generation’s poet. The Beatles arrived. But there were many others: The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell – the list goes on and on. Perhaps resulting from everything else going on at that time, it was an unparalleled burst of musical creativity unmatched since.
There is much else that evolved out of the 1960s. Fashion. Drugs. No, we did not find utopia. No, we did not change the world. But most of us found ourselves and, perhaps, that was enough.
That’s what I think, what about you?
[i] It always has been somewhat nebulous as to what a hippie was but anyone of unconventional appearance who rejected established social mores, often had long hair, wore unconventional clothes, opposed violence and war, and sought spontaneity and direct personal relations apparently qualified.
[ii] Newport, Frank. In U.S., 87% Approve of Black-White Marriage, vs. 4% in 1958, Gallup Politics, http://www.gallup.com/poll/163697/approve-marriage-blacks-whites.aspx, 12 July 2014.
[iii] Wang, Wendy. The Rise of Intermarriage, Pew Research, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/02/16/the-rise-of-intermarriage/ , 16 February 2012.
[iv] Chandra, Ph.D., Anjani, et al. Sexual Behavior, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Identity in the United States: Data From the 2006–2008 National Survey of Family Growth, National Center For Health Statistics, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr036.pdf, 3 March 2011.
[v] Saad, Lydia . U.S. Acceptance of Gay/Lesbian Relations Is the New Normal, Pew Research, http://www.gallup.com/poll/154634/acceptance-gay-lesbian-relations-new-normal.aspx, 14 May 2012.
[vi] Changing Attitudes on Gay Marriage, Pew Research, http://www.pewforum.org/2014/03/10/graphics-slideshow-changing-attitudes-on-gay-marriage/, 10 March 2014.