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The Liberal Agenda and Domestic Policy: The 1960s, The Youth Movement

Port Huron Statement, antiwar protest, Free Speech Movement, Woodstock Festival, sit-ins

As the baby boom generation veered toward adulthood, its members began to challenge the status quo. By the mid-1960s nearly three out of four students finished high school, and about half of those students went on to college. College campuses filled with young people who had the freedom to question the moral and spiritual health of the nation.

One facet of the youth movement was a disaffected, apolitical counterculture, made up of people who were known as hippies. These young people decried materialism, mocked convention, spurned authority, joined communes, enjoyed rock music, and experimented with drugs and sex. Often hippies asserted their rebellious attitude through elements of personal style, such as long hair and tie-dyed clothes. In August 1969 hippies gathered at the Woodstock Festival, a music festival where young people convened to celebrate love and peace. Woodstock represented a high point in the counterculture, but hippie lifestyles continued into the 1970s.

Another wing of the youth movement included activists from political protest movements, such as the civil rights movement. This wing was more visible on college campuses and more politically conscious. In 1960 a small group of young people formed Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and adopted The Port Huron Statement, written by student leader Tom Hayden. The manifesto urged participatory democracy, or the idea that all Americans, not just a small elite, should decide major economic, political, and social issues that shaped the nation. It also criticized American society for its focus on career advancement, material possessions, military strength, and racism. By 1968 some 100,000 young people around the nation had joined SDS.

Student protesters denounced corporate bureaucracy and campus administrators. Universities and colleges, they believed, were dictatorial and exercised too much control over students. Students held rallies and sit-ins to protest restrictions of their rights. In 1964 a coalition of student groups at the University of California, Berkeley, claimed the right to conduct political activities on campus; the coalition became known as the Free Speech Movement. Political activism and protests spread to other campuses in the 1960s.

The youth movementís demonstrations soon merged with the protests of students who opposed the Vietnam War. By the spring of 1968, student protests had reached hundreds of campuses. At the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, antiwar demonstrators clashed with the police, and the images of police beating students shocked television audiences. Violence peaked at an antiwar protest at Ohioís Kent State University in May 1970, when National Guard troops gunned down four student protesters.

The political activities of the youth movement had enduring effects. Colleges became less authoritarian, ending dress codes and curfews and recruiting more minority students. Students also contributed mightily to the movement against the war in Vietnam. Both the counterculture and student activism, finally, fueled a backlash that blossomed in the 1970s and 1980s.

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