Young people make revolution. Always have. Always will.
Wanting a better life. Willing to die fighting for it, but more importantly, willing to live and love to create a better world. Everyday.
In sociological studies, one of the big questions every social organization had to face was: what to do with the youth, especially the young men? The seemingly fearless ones, or, as the popular television program of an earlier era called them, “The Young And The Restless”.
Many of us are reluctant to publicly acknowledge how big a role sex places in youthful social movements. But there is no denying the obvious fact that youth in their twenties either fantasize about or engage in sexual activity. Flagrantly. Moreover, the game changer was the commercial development and broad availability of the “pill”.
The sixties was a period of great awakening in diverse and broadly unrelated areas. World War 2 ended with a bang, i.e. the nuclear bomb dropped by America on the Japanese–not on major military targets but rather on two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the overwhelming bulk of the victims were civilians.
It is ironic that the “pill” and the “bomb” define the fifties/sixties, and even more so when we realize the implications of a popular slogan of the period: “Make Love, Not War”–use the pill and not the bomb.
In May of 1960 the FDA approved the oral contraceptive pill after clinical tests beginning in 1954. For the first time on an affordable and mass basis, contraception is available to a majority of the female population in America.
When General Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, who had become the 34th President of the United States, left office, one of his departing speeches warned the nation about the “military/industrial complex”. Irony upon irony, a celebrated general of WWII railed against the confluence and influence of the two major economic drivers of this society, i.e. 1. the military and 2. industrial corporations, and particularly the confluence and influence of these two sectors on society at large, notably via technological and consumer activities.
For those who might be interested, a new report on the military/industrial complex makes clear the staggering amount of money in that sector.
One quick example of technology changed by commercial concerns: eye glasses. The lens used to be made of glass, hence the title. In the 21st century the lens and the frames of eyeglasses are manufacture from plastic. So what should we call these spectacles? Eye-plastic?
Yes, the pill and the bomb irreversibly changed American society, particularly the military and our daily life as led by multi-national corporations. Today we take for granted those developments and their far-ranging off-shoots. Most of us do not realize the vast changes in both private and social life that have been wrought by the pill and the bomb, however, when we look at society, what shapes us and what we fashion as a result of being shaped, well, then we see just how deep and far-reaching these biological/technological influences have either outright or significantly shaped and determined our lives.
Both the pill and the bomb were achieved by a concentration on science, specifically human biology on the one hand, and nuclear physics on the other. However, what is most significant is that both resulted in a surge in science employed for military and consumer purposes, and that surge led to both theoretical and practical advances in the second half of the 20th century on into the 21st century.
In the context of technological advances in society as a whole, it is but a hop, skip and a jump to move from chattel slavery, to Jim Crow, to Black Lives Matter. The summer of 2020 was significant. Why? Because massive numbers of young Whites chanted, marched and actively supported the basic premise that all humans matter, even Blacks who, throughout the history of this country, have been vilified, incarcerated, and locked into perpetual poverty.
The now popular Civil Rights Movement was not always broadly accepted. In many cases it wasn’t even a dream. But two sectors of the Black population were determined to make change. 1. returning veterans of World War II and the Korean Conflict, were major participants as they and their families helped kick-off the militant wing of the Civil Rights movement. Men such as Medgar Evers, who was assassinated in the driveway of his Jackson, Mississippi home, and Robert Williams, who spent years in exile in Cuba and China before eventually being allowed back into the United States in exchange for his introduction of government officials to Chines officials. Of course, the role that Robert Williams performed as a go-between is little known and never officially acknowledged by the U.S. government apparatus.
Even more important was the children of these men–young people who became militant advocates of Black Power and of feminism. A number of the men had been active in the military campaigns that stretched from the Middle East into the longest war ever engaged by the U.S., i.e. the Afghanistan conflict. After every major war, Black men were pivotal in the struggle for Black social advancement. This is not an accident, but rather a direct result of international conflict. Scratch the surface of these social struggles and the role of returning vets is significant, if not dominant.
In the fifties and sixties, five major organizations spear-headed the Civil Rights Movement: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League (NUL), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). While far from the oldest (i.e. NAACP), and not as widely known as SCLC (led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), SNCC (pronounced “snick”) was not only the shock troops of the movement but also took up residence throughout the countryside in the south.
They not only were known for organizing but SNCC field secretaries also lived and worked with the sharecroppers, sometimes referred to as America’s peasants. SNCC people were mainly in their twenties, although their major inspiration came from veteran freedom fighters, such as Rosa Parks and Ella Baker, who along with rural, Black residents, encouraged the young activists, such as Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner who were murdered. As internationally celebrated martyrs, the activist trio literally bore the brunt of resisting racism.
Although it may seem insignificant today, wearing denim over-alls became an unofficial uniform of many of these activists, a number of whom were college educated individuals who seemed destined for the suit-and-tie track.
One of SNCC’s accomplisments was the elevation of what was called “participatory democracy”, meaning that regardless of your educational status, everyone had a right to the tree of life, to all the freedoms and responsibilities of full citizenship. This was a major achievement.
People who had not graduated from high school were encouraged to speak out and what they said was considered a valuable contribution to town-hall discourse. No longer only “sick and tired of being sick and tired”, as Mrs. Fannie Lou Hammer articulated, rural Black voices spoke up, stood up, and demonstrated. Even now in the era of social media, the views and voices of the so-called little people are no where near as valued as those voices were during the height of the rural and small town struggles for Civil Rights.
A great overview is In Struggle — SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s by Clayborne Carson. There is also an online website: https://snccdigital.org
The participation of women as both leaders and organizers around feminist issues and concerns, as well as participation in all aspects of daily life, particularly as heads of households, parents, and workers across all sectors of society, is, has been, and will continue to be critical to daily life in modern America. It is no accident that some of the most militant and/or progressive elements are women, many of whom spotlight highly contested social issues.
It is significant that the “pill”, the “bomb” and the “vote” were defining issues energizing freedom struggles for the formerly enslaved and for women in general, both of whom have a long history of resistance to the patriarchal mainstream.
Today, our society is in the midst of major convulsions around access to safe and medically competent “abortions”; around how to square the constitutionally recognized right to own and bear “arms” and at the same time deal with the alarming rise of gun violence in schools and neighborhoods nationwide.
And perhaps most significantly of all, there are major conflicts around the volatile issue of “voting rights”. As long as it is mostly middle-aged and elderly White men who continually make and determine the legality of most of the laws and mass social activities, seminal elements of progressive change will be either illegal or severely circumscribed.
The more society changes, the more social issues and conflicts will remain essentially the same until and unless there is a thorough-going revolution of by whom and how our lives are controlled.