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Activism in the 1960s and Today Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Jamie Denim, United States Apr 18, 2002
Human Rights , Education , Culture , Global Citizenship   Opinions


In the 1960s, activism seemed to draw much of America, especially youth, into alternative ways of looking at life, politics, and the world. Demonstrations, teach-ins, and sit-ins occurred throughout the country as citizens became involved in civil rights, peace, environmental, free speech, and anti-Vietnam issues. To some extent, the prevalence of hippie culture was shallow. After the protests were over and the 60's wound up, most teenagers and college students went home, got married, had kids, and preoccupied themselves with advancing their careers (only if they were lucky, of course) and had managed to escape police violence, drug addictions, or prison terms. But at the core of 1960s activism were sincere activists who cared about creating a better, more equal, peaceful world.

Today a similar sort of activism is on the rise. On college campuses, students organize rallies and discussions about globalization. In 1999, protesters interrupted the WTO convention in Seattle. This year, progressive groups and world leaders met at the Social World Forum to develop ideas for an alternative world, with alternative development and economic practices. The internet is a fantastic organizing tool that is unique to the new wave of activism. Radical listserves and news sources proliferate as activists discover each others efforts and began to work together. One aspect of the 1960s activism that is conspicuously absent in today's movement is music.

Music played an integral role in politicizing and radicalizing Americans in the 1960s. Students at home and even soldiers at the front listened to songs by the Beatles, the Doors, the Rolling Stones, Country Joe McDonald and many others. This part of the movement is noticeably absent in today's anti-globalization/peace movement. With the exception of a few bands and musicians like Spearhead, the Flying Folk Army, and the Raging Grannies (who sing old songs to new lyrics, songs like "There's no business like war business", "The best business we know"), there is very little substantial music for the movement, and certainly none of it is making the pop charts.

In order to send a practical message of peace in today's increasingly nonsensical environment of militaristic and economic rhetoric, activists should encourage the production of meaningful music. Music can be a powerful way to spread ideas and change public opinion, as it proved in the 1960s.



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Jamie Denim

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Nice article!
Adam Fletcher | Jul 27th, 2003
Hey, this is a good summary of what is going down. I think its really important, though, to emphasize the purpose of today's activism. While many people are stuck on the romanticism of radical activism, few people seem to understand larger reasons for undertaking action. Its not just about protests and boycotts for the sake of protests and boycotts, and its not just anti-globalism for the sake of being anti-global. For many people, its about building a radical democracy, a place where everyone must participate as members, as co-conspirators, and as agitators for the sake of our collective welfare and social empowerment.

Purpose is paramount to activism.

For resources for social change by and with young people, visit The Freechild Project website today.

Kelly Landry | May 29th, 2004
I don't think the movement has yet reached the scale of the '60s, and that's the reason for a lack of the music you write about. This year, however, Incubus's Megalomaniac reached a high position on the charts. I think that as people realize the injustices of the war in Iraq the movements of today will become more mainstream. Also, have you noticed that it was the Baby Boom Generation that was behind the movements of the 60s and now it's the Echo Boom Generation that's behind the movements of today. Sort of ironic, isn't it?

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