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How to turn protests into powerful change

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 titanic1    244


The civil rights movement came from a natural evolution of the liberal consensus and it's flaws, likewise the steady escalation of military involvement in Vietnam. The protest movement against that incursion owed much to the example of the civil rights workers. It was also the model for Native and Chicano groups that sprang up during the 1960's, as it was for social protest groups, which included women's liberation, prison reform, welfare rights, and environmentalism. [Blumberg pp.xiv,162]

Indeed, many activists were involved in both civil rights and anti-war groups. All of these organizations collided with a blossoming youth counter-culture, ready to support any cause against 'the establishment'. These movements will be considered, along with the reasons for the Vietnam War, and how they tied together. These were not only a product, but also the destruction, of the liberal consensus.

It will be argued that the main reason all of these movements emerged was due the accommodationist nature of the liberal consensus. When these movements became too strong and could no longer be appeased, they turned their anger against those moderates who had originally supported them in their struggles. The liberal consensus was torn apart, divisions became more apparent, and America deepened into 'moral exhaustion'.[Kendrick p.11] 1960's style liberalism was seriously flawed, and it's failures contributed to the rebellion that convulsed the nation.

Liberals identified the nation's internal concerns as racism, unemployment, and poverty. These were bundled together and fought in what became known as the 'War on Poverty'. In liberal consensus grew the elements of how America viewed itself. The preservation of capitalism was vital, avoiding the excesses of right and left. Between 1948 and the 1960's all presidents, Democrat or Republican, believed strongly in this 'shared vision'.

Yet there was still a denial of fundamental internal problems. This was brushed away with the assumption that America's problems only came from outside, most commonly the 'red threat'. Opposition to this policy meant only Soviet inspiration or madness! Not many were prepared to consider the 'threat within'. The anti-communist thought had very little to do with what the USSR or communist thought were actually about.


This was to be a very important element as the 50's grew into the 60's. The 'Domino Theory' provided justification for intervention in Vietnam. The legacy of the 50's- Cuba, China, Korea, meant America had to 'prove' it's stance on the 'rollback' of communism. [Rotter p.400] Black violence and rebellion was to be avoided, being seen as, "...the gravest threat to American society." [Matusow pp.70,88]

The growing affluence of American society contributed by blurring class and race lines, and undermining the self-denying ethic. New wealth and liberal policy also ensured the huge growth of higher education, which were to become hotbeds of student radicalism. Students of the 'baby boom' generation had more time, and more money, than their parents to indulge in protest activities. Universities brought forth the 'new left' thinking, which due to clashes of ideology, eventually split into several different variants.

Advertising had taught baby boomers to pursue a self indulgent lifestyle of luxury, freedoms, and sex. Some challenged this world, some adapted it, others accepted it readily. Poor Mexican and Afro Americans resented exclusion from this new affluence. A reason given for many who avoided service in Vietnam was that life was just too good to spend in a foxhole in Vietnam.[Rotter p.460] In this is a long term trend toward conservatism that was beginning to be seen by the late 60's.


Youth began to almost become a separate class, Vietnam exacerbated the 'generation gap', and liberal formulas began to unravel. [Kendrick p.14] The counterculture challenged traditional values of reason, progress, order, achievement and social responsibility - values that underpinned the liberal consensus. They rejected liberalism, and what it stood for. The great uprising by hippies, new leftists, black nationalists, and the anti-war movement ensured the repudiation of the Democrats in 1968, as Nixon swept into office on a 'law and order' platform [Matusow pp.x,xiv,277]

One of the great concerns with Vietnam was how it had moved money away from domestic priorities, including the rehabilitation of ghettoes. Government members, including William Fulbright, wrote to the president expressing their attitudes on this matter, concerned that LBJ was allocating too much attention and resources to the Vietnamese conflict. [Matusow pp.196,385 Capps p.75] Matusow viewed that the 'ingrates' of Watts, with an assist from the Vietcong, were ultimately the ruin of President Johnson. [Matusow p.197]


JESSICA LEBER 03.16.15 6:00 AM
Nonviolent movements have come and gone in the last century, some successful, others not. In either case, whether during Gandhi's fight for Indian independence, the Palestinian uprising during the First Intifada, or today's Black Lives Matter protests, participants have questioned and debated the effectiveness of their tactics: Is peaceful protest the best way to make your voice heard? Or is there a time when a smaller violence is the right response in the face of an even more violent injustice? Are the tenets of nonviolence holding back change that could happen with a more aggressive fight?

World Changing Ideas: This is part of Co.Exist's annual collection of some of the most interesting and thought-provoking trends that will alter the world in the year ahead. See the whole list here.

These questions were asked—and acted upon—during the 1960’s at the height of the civil rights movement. They are asked all around the world, practically every time a protest movement or armed faction has aimed to topple a dictator from his perch.

But only in the last few years have researchers started to answer these questions by looking at the data. And it turns out the data says something hopeful: In the face of even the worst oppression, violence is not the answer. Peaceful movements are simply more effective.


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