Protests in the 1960’s and 1970’s

Protests in the 1960’s and 1970’s


The movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s include the civil rights movement, the student movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, and the environmental movement. Social change movements erupted in the 1960’s for several interrelated reasons. In the 1930’s, the role of the federal government had become increasingly important in Americans’ everyday lives, and people began to look to the federal government to resolve problems. After World War II (1939-1945), the United States emerged as a global power that competed with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR); this competition was both a political and moral crusade to convince people around the world that Western democracy was superior to the Communist system adopted by the USSR. (Lessonsite) The 1950’s and 1960’s were periods of relative economic prosperity for most of the country, making economic disparity in the United States more obvious. A national culture was emerging that linked all Americans more closely than ever before; television became common and allowed people to witness events taking place in other parts of the country and the world. Lastly, more students were going to college than before World War II, creating a concentration of concerned and educated activists on the grounds of universities and colleges. With education came enlightenment in student’s expectations of what the role their government was to play in their life. People started finding themselves and fighting for what they believed was right and wrong in their society.

The first known major movement was the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The Civil Rights Movement fought to end political, social, economic and legal practices that discriminated against black Americans. The Civil War had officially abolished slavery yet black across America still were not given the same opportunities as white Americans. Blacks fought in the courts, lobbied elected officials, and began a sustained campaign of nonviolent direct action. Many blacks participated in major demonstrations, often led by King, in Albany, Georgia, in 1962; Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963; Washington, D.C., in 1963; and Selma, Alabama, in 1965. Young black activists also played a key role in the civil rights movement. (Lessonsite) Discrimination towards black Americans was more prominent in the South than in the North. Thus looking at the Civil Rights Movement through the lens of time and location, it is not a surprise that students started causing an uproar. They were learning that they had something to stand up for and people as individuals deserve to have equal rights.


The next major protest in America was the anti-Vietnam war protests. Vietnam protest gained national strength in 1965 after the United States started bombing North Vietnam. “In August 1964, North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked two U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin, and President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the retaliatory bombing of military targets in North Vietnam.”( The anti-war movement started primarily on college campuses. Leftist from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) began expressing their opposition for the way the government was handling the war. The primary goal of the SDS was to discuss and examine America’s Vietnam policy and debate what they might do to change the policy. This debate led to the “spirit of questioning authority and determining how common citizens could affect policy-makers was at the core of the antiwar movement.” (Lessonsite)  In 1967, the war cost nearly $25 Billion a year, casualties reached almost 16,000 and over 100,000 wounded. “Under the draft system, as many as 40,000 young men were called into service each month, adding fuel to the fire of the anti-war movement.” ( On October 21, 1967, one of the most prevalent anti-war protests took place at the Lincoln Memorial where nearly 100,000 protestors showed up to demonstrate their uneasiness with the Vietnam war. In 1968, a Gallup poll showed that only 35% of Americans supported President Johnson’s choice to stay in the war with Vietnam. This led the disgruntled students to burn their draft cards and picket Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) buildings. While American’s protested the war, soldiers listened to music on Armed Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) radios. The American military hoped to raise the morale of American soldiers stuck in Vietnam with failing war effort. “Certain rock songs became anthems in Vietnam because the represented the experience of simultaneously getting away from the war and taking pleasure in its spaces of leisure and entertainment.”(Kramer, 138) The music on the radio became an escape from their awful reality of death and war fully surrounding them. Protest regarding the war taught Americans to pay closer attention to American foreign policy and reminded them that they have a voice. In America, you are free to let your government know that you disagree with their decisions and if enough people agree with you, you can have policies changed.

I think that time plays a vital role in how people act and why they do as they do. I believe that things were starting to shift in America and people were given a little bit more courage to not be so obedient to their government. Time tells us where we have been and where we will go. Life in America shifted from suffering from World War II and the Great Depression to thriving suburban utopia in the late 50’s. By the 60’s and 70’s “celebrity stories focused on tales of unhappy, suffering celebrities.” (Sternheimer) Karen argued that for people in the 60’s, maybe marriage wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, celebrity culture glamorized massive wealth, and thanks to the internet, anyone can be famous. It came to light that after the baby boom era, marital problems became more obvious. Divorce rates rose dramatically until it became the norm. With this becoming the new reality, Ads for books like “How to Find a Husband After Forty” weren’t so shocking to see. Getting a divorce started to be a trend much like the teen marriage era postwar. “The year 1960 marked a peak in the percentage of Americans married: 67 percent of women and 71 percent of men over 15 had been married. The median age at first marriage for women dipped under 21 between 1950 and 1970; divorce rates gradually climbed from just under 8 per thousand in 1955 to 20 per thousand in 1975.” (Sternheimer) Celebrities too started showing that their marriages weren’t all roses and chariots either. Their divorces were plastered on magazine headlines. Again, making celebrities feel a little more like “normal” people. Women wanted to stop being looked at house-wives and start being respected as valuable community members. They gained careers and consequently begun having fewer children. This led to the Women’s Movement.

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Figure 3 – Women’s Movement Protests





The Women’s Movement primarily began to fight discrimination against women in the work-force. The second wave of feminism peaked in the 1960’s and 70’s and wanted more for women in every aspect of their lives- including family, sexuality, and work. Abortion was illegal in almost all states, rapes were rarely prosecuted, and domestic violence was widely accepted as a private matter. Some radical activists believed that American society would have to be entirely remade. They rejected what they called patriarchal values, or men’s values, such as competition, aggressiveness, and selfishness. They believed that women were naturally more nurturing and compassionate and advocated a society based on women’s values. In the early 1970’s, Congress banned discrimination against girls in schools and feminist lawyers won Roe v. Wade, in which women were now given the choice to have an abortion or not. Roe v. Wade was a huge victory in history for women, I can only hope it doesn’t get over-turned anytime soon with our current administration. I have personally never had to make the decision to have an abortion or not but I would like to believe that I will have the CHOICE if and when the day ever comes. Too many children grow up in foster care, abusive family relationships, or are products of rape as it is. It is a sad and unfortunate reality for millions of people.

“On Sept. 7, 1968, hundreds of women in a radical group called “The “Women’s Strike”, organized by Betty Friedan and the National Organization for Women (N.O.W.), and happened on Aug. 26, 1970— the 50th anniversary of the Suffrage Amendment passing. Women marched on this day nationwide, but the biggest march happened down Fifth Avenue in New York City” (Makers) Women were finally fed up with male-dominated and male-biased fields making all of their decisions for them. Women realized how unequal their lives were in comparison to their male counterparts and decided to start standing up for themselves. People in volume speak a lot louder than just individuals speaking out separately. Thanks to these courageous women changes did happen. Women finally were able to work at jobs that were predominantly male-driven, received higher wages, and were started to be looked at as independent, adult individuals. As a 29-year-old woman, I bet my life would be much different if these powerful women hadn’t paved the way for people like me. Although the pay gap still exists, it is much smaller than it was 40 years ago. I believe the Women’s movement and protests alike also obtain to the lens of time.

After the Civil Rights Movement, protests became more popular as a means to fight for what is right by mass amounts of people. Thanks to protest, a change did happen. It shows how effective it can be when large numbers of people work together for the greater good.


Lessonsite. Author unknown. Date unknown. August 17.2018 Vietnam War Protests. History Staff. 2010. Aug 17. 2018.
Celebrity Culture and the American Dream. Karen Sternheimer. Routledge. 2015.
The Republic of Rock: Music and citizenship in the sixties counterculture. Michael J. Kramer. Oxford. 2017 Isoke Cullins. 2018. Aug 17. 2018.


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