The Youth Culture

During the 1960's and 1970's, the growing, left-leaning youth culture wished to create a community of the people to overthrow current political elites and change the political landscape to provide racial and economic justice and end the war. A parallel movement also wished to "liberate" themselves by creating a new culture that would end the "dehumanizing pressure of the modern technocracy'". (Brinkley)

The New Left

During the 1960's, American college and university students formed a group that became known as The New Left to challenge the current political system. Although the New Left was primarily composed of white people, the movement embraced the issues faced by African-Americans and other minorities, who tended to form their own political movements.

The New Left drew motivation from the Old Left (in fact, many members were children of the Old Left) and social critics like C. Wright Mills.The New Left, although not communist, also drew inspiration from the writings of Karl Marx and contemporary Marxist theorists, as well as Third World Marxists like Che Guevara and Mao Zedong. Left-leaning leaders in the labor movement initially supported the New Left, but the AFL-CIO's anticommunist stance was irreconcilable with the New Left's ideology. Another big motivator for the New Left was the civil rights movement and the widespread violence and oppression omnipresent in the South.

University students from Michigan gathered to form a group in 1962 called the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and declared their beliefs in the Port Huron Statement. These university students were disillusioned with society and the SDS became the foremost student radicalism organization. In 1964, an argument between University of Berkeley and its students spawned the Free Speech Movement climaxing in a tense strike in which a third of all Berkeley students participated. Events like this became more violent and started up in Columbia University in New York and Harvard afterward. In 1969, the constant campus turmoil climaxed in Berkeley with a week-long battle over the "People's Park".

Students wished to build a "People's Park" on a vacant parking lot while the University of Berkeley wished to build a parking garage in the same area. This issue became violent conflict which polarized the campus and resulted in an 85% vote for the park in a referendum of 15,000 students.

Although most campus radicalism was rarely violent, it portrayed a situation of mass chaos and confusion, mostly caused by small groups of militants (such as the Weatherman, a violent offshoot of the SDS). Contrary to the violent notions of a few militants, the SDS and other radical student groups was very anti-war, driving out ROTC programs, barring military recruiters, and attacking laboratories and corporations making weapons for the war. (Brinkley)

Some of the largest demonstrations ever occurred from 1967-1969, such as the October 1967 march on the Pentagon, the April 1968 "spring mobilization", and the Vietnam moratorium in late 1969. Draft burnings became increasingly common at anti-war rallies and members chose to accept jail terms or flee to countries like Canada and Sweden. This continued until President Jimmy Carter signed a presidential pardon in 1977 pardoning draft resisters and providing limited amnesty for deserters.


The Counterculture

The Hippie counterculture of the 1960's and 1970's was closely aligned with the New Left. The counterculture chose to display its contempt for traditional standards by wearing long hair, flamboyant, colorful clothing, and their own hippie speech. Drugs became central to the movement, increasing the availability of drugs such as marijuana, beer, and hallucinogens like LSD.

The "sexual revolution" became a big part of the Counterculture, spurred on by better contraceptives, the birth-control pill, and legalized abortion in 1973. The sexual revolution reflected the counterculture's beliefs of following one's instincts and forgetting traditional inhibitions and values.

Long hair, flamboyant clothing, drug use, and freer attitudes towards sex spread beyond the hippie counterculture and became hallmarks of the generation. However none of these could match the effects of the most pervasive element of the counterculture: rock 'n' roll. Rock 'n' roll became wildly popular starting with early singers Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley and then took off with "Beatlemania" in 1964 to become a widespread sensation. As rock 'n' roll developed, bands and artists increasingly sang about drugs and more mystical things reflecting America's new "fascination with drugs and Eastern religions" (Brinkley).

Rock also became a vehicle of political radicalism especially popular singers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. As rock 'n' roll increasingly became a symbol of political rebelliousness and social change in the late 1960's, a huge music festival took place in the summer of 1969 at Woodstock, New York. Woodstock marked the peak of the hippie counterculture and showed the rest of America the seriousness of the counterculture movement.



  1. Brinkley, Alan. "The Crisis of Authourity." American History A Survey. 12th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 852-56. Print.
  2. AMSCO