This is the sixth essay in a series devoted to examining citizenship and the American citizen, the rights, duties, and norms of which have become ever more contentious since the divisive Sixties. They have become especially relevant in recent years with the actions of Edward Snowden and Colin Kaepernick, and with the election of Donald Trump and his proposed policies on immigration reform and his accusatory statements against those who will not stand for the national anthem.
As a human body is only as healthy as its individual cells, so a civilization or modern state is only as healthy as its individual citizens. As a healthy human body is sustained by new, healthy cells, so a modern state needs continuous rejuvenation with new, healthy, good citizens to sustain itself, especially in times of stress.
The Sixties were a time of tremendous social and political ferment, turbulence, and experimentation. A substantial segment of America had high hopes for a new age, and when the state suppressed their efforts, showed rage against an old order in which a substantial number of Americans—relatively privileged young, African-Americans, women, homosexuals, and early environmentalists—challenged the established order, including the duties and acceptable modes of behavior and protest of a true American citizen. Driven by alienation, fear, anxiety, impatience and revulsion, these groups of Americans were better at challenging and finding fault with America’s political, social, and economic systems than proposing alternative systems that were viable.
As the Sixties began and consensus deteriorated, the rights to assemble and to free speech (protest) gained in prominence and allowed these groups to demand change. This challenge could be justified ultimately by Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence: “… whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and institute a new government….” Their strategies for achieving their goals evolved over the course of the decade from organization and publicity, to demonstration, to protest, to resistance, to—by the late Sixties—violence and calls for revolution.
Despite their measured successes in improving social injustices for oppressed minorities at home and abroad, and in making protest politically acceptable, they failed to achieve their loftier goals of truly uprooting and transforming the American, democratic, social, capitalistic order. As a number of these groups turned to more violent methods, a backlash against violence and for a return to moderation and order emerged.
Comparable to the new republican “active citizens” in Revolutionary France, the activist citizens of the Sixties organized in varying degrees and sought change on certain core issues. These organizations and groups challenged the premises and practices of the American political, social, and economic systems of the Fifties and, in a least four ways, sought to replace them with new ones.
America, the Not-So-Beautiful
First, while the majority of Americans in the Fifties were happy to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful,” the disenchanted and disenfranchised segments of the Sixties asserted that America was not so beautiful. Rather, America was deeply flawed. It was not so beautiful because it still had neither delivered on the promises of its founding documents nor lived up to the words spoken by its current political and economic leaders. The gap between its rhetoric and reality was simply too great; hypocrisy seeped from every seam.
Drawing its ethos from the Beats of the 1950s and with roots in the League of Industrial Democracy, mostly white, middle-class, college students organized the Students for Democratic Society (SDS) and at its first national convention in 1962 formulated its Port Huron Statement. This policy statement addressed the basic problems in American society and presented a radical vision for the future. Challenging what it called the “managerial liberalism” of the Democratic Party in power, it called for a more enlightened and genuine “participatory democracy” so that individual citizens could have more impact on government policy and acquire more control over their individual lives. The statement targeted many issues, but mostly importantly, the scourges of nuclear weapons and also the oppression of minorities, especially racism against blacks.
The SDS was in the vanguard of the larger New Left movement, which in the words of Todd Gitlin, elected the SDS president in 1963, “aspired to become the voice, conscience, and goad of its generation.” (The Sixties) In age and activism, its members sought to distinguish themselves from the Old Left of the Fifties—mainly communists, Marxists, and socialists. It “wanted decisions made by publics, in public, not just announced there. It valued informality, tolerated chaos, scorned order. Clamor was the necessary overture to genuine harmony.” It sought participatory democracy which “entailed the right of universal assertion. It meant inserting yourself where the social rules said you didn’t belong. … The expressive tendency was in revolt against all formal boundaries and qualifications….” Throughout the Sixties, the New Left came to address mainly the issues of the Vietnam War, civil rights, civil liberties, and campus reform.
New organized groups of mostly African-Americans arose in the late Fifties/early Sixties, joining already established groups, all seeking social equality, some seeking separation from an “Amerikkka” that they believed would not repent for its original sin of slavery, and some prepared to move beyond Martin Luther King’s strategy of non-violence. Joining the NAACP (founded 1909) and the Congress of Racial Equality (1942), came now the Southern Leadership Conference led by Martin Luther King (1957)and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (1960), the latter forming an alliance with the SDS. Gitlin states: “To identify with SNCC was not only an act of solidarity, it was an alliance with brothers and sisters against the old white men who dead-locked the Democratic Party and fueled future wars.”
In 1966, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton founded the Black Panther Party which advocated black nationalism and socialism, and fought segregation, police brutality, and the military draft. At its height in 1970, it boasted organizations in 68 cities.
Also battling the “American system” was the Progressive Labor Movement, a Marxist-Leninist group established in 1962, which became the Progressive Labor Party in 1965. In addition to its political-economic agenda, it drew inspiration from Castro’s Cuban revolution and joined the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Formed in 1967, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (“Mobe”) was a collection of antiwar activists who sought to organize massive demonstrations against the war. Large marches, eventually with hundreds of thousands, took place in New York City, April, 1967, in Washington, DC/Pentagon in October 1967, and in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention in August 1968.
Numerous other smaller and transient groups, collectively called the Counterculture—sought more to escape from rather than transform what they saw as the hypocrisies, absurdities, and contradictions of American life and culture. They included such groups—some “organized,” some not—as the hippies, yippies, Diggers, Merry Pranksters, and Motherf—-rs.
As the Sixties wore on, militancy increased, especially after the assassinations of Martin Luther King—and subsequent rioting—and Robert Kennedy in 1968. In this atmosphere a radical faction of the SDS broke off and formed “the Weathermen,” dedicated to overthrowing the U.S. government. It aligned with the Black Liberation Movement, opposed the Vietnam War, and in 1970 issued a “Declaration of a State of War” against the U.S. government.
The Anti-War Movement: “Ballots Not Bombs in Vietnam”
The second issue on which the Sixties challenged the loyal American citizen of the Fifties was the Vietnam War. The concept of a good citizen in the Fifties included supporting the foreign policies of the United States, including its policies against the mortal foe: the Soviet Union. The Cold War—a state of tension which existed between the two World War II allies—was fought in various places, near and far, and could turn “hot” at any time. The Fifties underlined the gravity of the situation and urgently called the American citizens to close ranks in the fight against international communism, led by the Soviet Union in cooperation with the People’s Republic of China.
The Sixties’ anti-war movement challenged U.S. policy in one of these distant places: Vietnam. Segments of the movement eventually were not only prepared to use violence to achieve their ends, but also to go so far as to meet, sympathize, and align with the declared enemy. In place of common American heroes, the movement lofted enemy leaders as heroes, an extraordinary act for a citizen to commit. Gitlin maintains: “Truly the movement against the Vietnam war was a broad-based antiwar mobilization of a sort rarely if ever before seen in the blood-soaked history of the world.”
The first anti-war demonstration took place on April 17, 1965, and witnessed 25,000 assemble on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House. In his closing speech, SDS President Paul Potter spoke to the connection between the protesters and the Vietnamese guerrillas. “In both countries there are people struggling to build a movement that has the power to change their conditions. The system that frustrates these movements is the same. All our lives, our destinies, our very hopes to live, depend on our ability to overcome that system.”
As the war continued and the destruction and casualties increased, this connection grew, challenging a fundamental aspect of citizenship and patriotism of the Fifties: my country, right or wrong. Gitlin indicates that members of the anti-war movement “needed to feel that someone, somewhere in the world, was fighting the good fight and winning….” The exemplars they found were not American; rather, they were foreign—“in Cuba, in China, in the Third World guerrillas movements, in Mao and Frantz Fanon and Che and Debray, most of all—decisively—in Vietnam.” While the American flag dripped with napalm; these protestors believed that the flag of the National Liberation Front (NLF), the Vietnamese organization for the liberation and unification of Vietnam, was genuinely clean.
Members of the anti-war movement put these words into action. In July 1965 ten American women organized by the Women Strike for Peace met in Indonesia with six North Vietnamese and three women of the NLF. In December of the same year, three Americans made the first visit by Americans to Hanoi, the capital of the declared enemy. In December 1967, an SDS delegation visited Castro’s Cuba.
A few months before in September, 1967, a delegation of 40 Americans met with high-level North Vietnamese and NLF members. Christopher Jencks, a member of the group and writing for The New Republic, stated: “The common bond between the New Left and the NLF is not … a common dream or a common experience but a common enemy: the US government, the system, the Establishment. The young radicals’ admiration for the NLF stems from the feeling that the NLF is resisting The Enemy successfully, whereas they are not.”
The zeitgeist of this period, felt by the anti-war movement, was captured by the song, “Eve of Destruction,” sung by Barry McGuire. It arrived on cue. For the first time American combat units had arrived in Vietnam in March 1965, to assume control of the war from the South Vietnamese. The song hit the Top-40 chart in August 1965, reached number one, and remained on the chart for ten weeks. Its four verses speak to the confusion and contradictions of the age; its chorus challenges the listener to see the looming doom.
The eastern world it is exploding/Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’/You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’/You don’t believe in war but what’s that gun you’re totin’?/And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’
Chorus: But you tell me/Over and over and over again my friend/Ah, you don’t believe/ We’re on the eve of destruction
Think of all the hate there is in Red China/Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama/You may leave here for four days in space/But when you return it’s the same old place/The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace/You can bury your dead but don’t leave a trace/Hate your next door neighbor but don’t forget to say grace
Numerous protest marches and strikes took place between 1965 and the early Seventies. In October 1967, nearly 100,000 assembled at the Lincoln Memorial. During these years there were generally two major marches annually in the major cities of New York City, San Francisco, or Washington, DC. On April 26, 1968, close to one million college and high school students took part in a national student strike.
In addition to meetings with the enemy and protest marches, the anti-war movement also demonstrated resistance through the burning of draft cards. Resistance to the military draft grew gradually during the Sixties, became substantial in 1967, and continued until national conscription was ended in 1973. Thousands turned in their draft cards in public; many more in privately. According to Gitlin, over 200,000 were accused of draft offenses, 25,000 were indicted, 8750 were convicted, and 4,000 were sentenced to prison. About another 10,000 evaded the draft by going underground, leaving for Canada or other countries. Beyond these numbers another 250,000 never registered for the draft.
To punctuate the end of the tumultuous decade with force and defiance, the song “War” sung by Edwin Starr, hit the Top 40 charts in July 1970, reached number one for three weeks, and remained on the charts for a total of 13 weeks.
Intro (War, what is it good for?) Absolutely nothing /(War, what is it good for?) Absolutely nothing/(War, what is it good for?) Absolutely nothing
Verse 1 War is something that I despise /Because it means destruction of innocent lives/War means tears in thousands of mothers’ eyes/When their sons go out to fight and lose their lives
Chorus (War) good God y’all (What is it good for?)Absolutely nothing/say it again (War, what is it good for?) Absolutely nothin
Verse 4 Listen to me (War), It ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker/(War)Friend only to the undertaker /Peace, love and understanding Tell me, is there no place for them today? /They say we must fight to keep our freedom /But Lord knows there’s gotta be a better way
Don’t Trust Authority
The third way that the Sixties challenged the “red, white, and blue” citizen of the Fifties regarded authority and authority figures. While in the Fifties, citizens for the most part trusted figures of authority, such as elected politicians, professional bureaucrats, police, and parents, segments of the population—especially the young—came to distrust these traditional fonts of morality, legality, probity and wisdom.
The young adults of the New Left in the early Sixties, Gitlin argues, frightened facing the nuclear balance of terror and disgusted with the many perceived social injustices, “extracted the lesson that the fate of the world is not something automatically to be entrusted to authorities.” “All wanted to redeem their parents’ ideals in the face of their parents’ failures.” Younger untainted and enlightened citizens could collectively impact the course of history. “…history was alive and open.” This younger generation felt it was compelled to act “when power behaved stupidly.”
Elites, not only in America but also in the Soviet Union, were not to be trusted. These elites, based on their own “analysis” of reality, had formulated the wrong policies, which threatened the world and perpetuated injustices. Sound analysis was needed which would lead to a more peaceful, stable world, in which many of these injustices would be remedied. The young intellectuals who led the New Left supplied this new “analysis.” Gitlin maintains that this enlightened analysis “was a ticket to the elite world of movement cadres. It was a sign that one was not beholden to authorities, that one was potentially an authority oneself.”
Jack Weinberg, a student activist at the University of California, Berkeley, was one of the founders of the Free Speech Movement (FSM), organized in early October 1964. The following month a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle interviewed him. When the reporter began insinuating that the FSM was perhaps being manipulated by Communists or other subversive groups, Weinberg became defensive and told him that the FSM had a saying: Don’t trust anyone other 30. Printed on November 15, the statement stuck.
Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll
The final area in which the Sixties differed from the Fifties concerned social conformity and freedom of life style. The Fifties were characterized largely by consensus and conformity. Rules, social codes, and conventions were respected and provided order and stability to American society. Social imperatives for the young were generally agreed and followed: obey authority; control your emotions; fit in and conform with the group; and do not touch the forbidden fruit of sex.
All these norms were supposed to bring, not only social order, but also contentment and satisfaction. However, these proved elusive to many in the face of nuclear holocaust and persistent social injustice. The counterculture movement of the Sixties challenged all these norms. Young people rebelled against the stifling constraints of American society and sought to maximize individual freedom. Gitlin states that now “for the first time, the normal culture of teenagers was becoming infiltrated by grander ideals: freedom, license, religiosity, loving community.”
The drive for more freedom in this counterculture showed especially in the three areas of sex, drugs, and music. The sexual norms of prohibition and restraint of the Fifties gave way in the Sixties to freer, less-inhibited sexual relations and experimentation, all reflected in music. In the Fifties the Everley Brothers sang of teenage embarrassment from falling asleep in the drive-in movies.
Wake up, little Susie, wake up Wake up, little Susie, wake up
We’ve both been sound asleep/wake up, little Susie, and weep/The movie’s over, it’s four o’clock, and we’re in trouble deep
Wake up little Susie Wake up little Susie, well
Whatta we gonna tell your mama/Whatta we gonna tell your pa/Whatta we gonna tell our friends when they say ooh-la-la?
In the Sixties the embarrassment and restraint dissolved into sexual liberation. Songs invited and celebrated sex. Jefferson Airplane sang:
When the truth is found To be lies/And all the joy Within you dies
Don’t you want somebody to love/Don’t you need somebody to love/Wouldn’t you love somebody to love/You better find somebody to love, love
Stephen Stills denied commitment in love and encouraged freer sex.
If you’re down and confused/And you don’t remember who you’re talking to/Concentration slip away/Because your baby is so far away/
Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove/And the eagle flies with the dove/And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey/Love the one you’re with
Don’t be angry – don’t be sad/Don’t sit crying over good times you’ve had/There’s a girl right next to you/And she’s just waiting for something to do/
Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove/And the eagle flies with the dove/And if you can’t be with the one you love honey/Love the one you’re with
Freedom was elevated to a new level. Restraint and control were dashed. In 1966 the Mamas and the Papas celebrated this new ethic in “Go Where You Wanna Go.”
You gotta go where you want to go/Do what you want to do/With whoever you want to do it with
You don’t understand/That a girl like me can love just one man/Three thousand miles, that’s how far you’ll go/And you said to me please don’t follow
You gotta go where you want to go/Do what you want to do/With whoever you want to do it with
The use of illicit drugs to heighten sensation, awareness, and happiness increased dramatically in the Sixties. In Gitlin’s words: “The old world was coming to an end, and square logic with it. So let the good times roll! It was time for Better Living through Chemistry.” The most common chemistry was to be found in marijuana and LSD. The culture of the Fifties called for young adults to have goals and purpose; these meant requirements, decisions, and plans, all adding up to stress. Better to just “be.” “Be-Ins” became common. “Teach-Ins” arose to educate and reeducate about the Vietnam War, the nuclear balance of terror, and social injustice. In January 1967, a Human “Be-In” (also called “A Gathering of the Tribes”) took place in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and sought to assemble political activists and acid lovers. At this event attended by some 30,000 hippies, Dr. Timothy Leary, a professor at Harvard fired in 1963, spoke and gave LSD lovers their standard phrase: “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.”
As it did in the area of sexual relations, music again reflected, celebrated, and sometimes lamented, the wider acceptance and pursuit of the drug culture. This music was generally powered by bold, wrenching heavy metal guitars and electric organs. Typical songs of the era included: “Day Tripper” (Beatles, 1965-66), “Good Vibrations” (Beach Boys, 1966), “Light My Fire” (Doors, 1967) “Sky Pilot” (Animals, 1968), and “Time Has Come Today,” (Chambers Brothers, 1968). Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (1968) was unique in that it lasted 17 minutes, 5 seconds in its unabridged form. According to drummer Ron Bushy, organist/vocalist Doug Ingle wrote the song one evening while drinking a gallon of wine.
Both a harbinger and reflection of societal trends, the music dimension of the counterculture provided the third area which saw great transformation from the Fifties to the Sixties. The lovey-dovey, innocent, malt-shop, three-minutes-or-less ballads and upbeat rock ‘n roll songs of the Fifties, during which two teenagers danced together, gave way to songs during which one moved but not necessarily with someone. This reflected the freer form style of the Sixties. Songs of innocence and anticipation of love still existed. Stevie Wonder sang of innocent love: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours;” “I Was Made to Love Her;” and “For Once in My Life.” But new songs entered the air waves, songs of sexual freedom, carnal pleasure, social injustice, and drugs’ ecstasy.
Bob Dylan, nee Robert Allen Zimmerman from Duluth, Minnesota, occupies a unique place as a harbinger and poet of the entire Movement. Gathering a small following in Greenwich Village in the early Sixties, he became a major spokesman and standard bearer for Movement, singing out against white racism, Cold War terror, and the uncertainty and precariousness of the times. Gitlin states: “Whether he liked it or not, Dylan sang for us …. We followed his career as if he were singing our song: we got in the habit of asking where he was taking us next.” His three most influential songs were “Blowin in the Wind” (1963)“The Times They Are A-Changin” (1964) and “Like a Rolling Stone” (1965).
The transition in subject matter, instrumentation, and beat from the songs of the late Fifties-early Sixties to the late Sixties is typified by the music of The Temptations. Their early hits dealt with innocent, chaste, yearning, and unrequited love, and included great songs such as: “The Way You Do the Things You Do” (1964), “My Girl” (1965), and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” (1966). A few years later they sang to the drug culture and to the ambiguity of the times using different beats and instrumentation, hard and provocative, with their hits “Cloud Nine” (1968), “Psychedelic Shack” (1970), and “Ball of Confusion” (1970).
Culminating Events of the Counterculture
Three events in the period 1967-1969, mark the high water mark of the counterculture movement which fused the combustible elements of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll: the Summer of Love (1967), the Woodstock Festival (1969), and the Altamont Free Concert (1969). In the summer of 1967, an estimated 100,000 mostly young people made their way to the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco to celebrate the themes of hippieism: wild and colorful dress, bohemian behavior, music, and drugs—a celebration of communal love, peace, and harmony. A Free Clinic was established for free medical treatment and a Free Store distributed basic necessities without cost. Psychedelic drugs such as LSD and marijuana were pervasive. Bob Weir, the guitarist for the Grateful Dead stated:
“Haight-Ashbury was a ghetto of bohemians who wanted to do anything. … Yes, there was LSD. But Haight Ashbury was not about drugs. It was about exploration, finding new ways of expression, being aware of one’s existence.”
Scott McKenzie’s song, “San Francisco, Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair,” celebrating the summer, hit the charts in June 1967, and reached number 4 on the pop charts.
If you’re going to San Francisco/Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair/If you’re going to San Francisco/You’re gonna meet some gentle people there
For those who come to San Francisco/Summertime will be a love-in there/In the streets of San Francisco/Gentle people with flowers in their hair
All across the nationSuch a strange vibration/People in motion/There’s a whole generation/With a new explanation/People in motion/People in motion
In terms of size, the largest of the three events was the Woodstock Festival with an estimated 400,000 people attending the three-day music concert at a 600-acre dairy farm in upstate New York. It was billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music,” August 15-17; however, it ran into August 18 because of bad weather. A total of 32 acts performed outdoors with Jimi Hendrix taking the stage for the final act. Included in his set was the now famous psychedelic rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which he played wearing a blue-beaded white leather jacket and a red head scarf.
While the first two events were generally peaceful, the Altamont Free Concert was marred by violence. This concert, on December 6, 1969, at the Altamont Speedway in northwestern California, was attended by an estimated 300,000 people. It featured such artists as Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. The Rolling Stones performed the final act. The crowd, fueled by alcohol and drugs, became unruly and violent which eventually led to the death of Meredith Hunter at the hands of a member of the Hells Angels. There were also three accidental deaths. Ironically, the Grateful Dead, who helped organize the concert, declined to play because of the threat of violence. Rolling Stone magazine characterized the day as “rock and roll’s all-time worst day, December 6th, a day when everything went perfectly wrong.”
The entire Movement of the Sixties did not achieve its goals because it never satisfactorily resolved at least three conundrums. First, the challenge of factionalism: As the decade continued, new groups with new leaders eventually emerged with disparate visions, goals and methods. The issue of which goals took priority and what were the legitimate means of achieving the goals undermined the unity of the Movement. Second, the individualism-collective dilemma: Individuals hooked on liberation from social norms and pursuing maximum freedom were not always prepared to submit to the needs of the collective. The “general will” was not always evident and was defined differently by different groups. And third, the means dilemma: Eventually segments of the Movement were prepared to use the very thing they were demonstrating against—violence—to stop the violence they saw the Unites States perpetrating domestically and internationally. In the late Sixties—the more radical phase—some segments believed using violence was justified to end violence by the State. This not only alienated many segments of the general American population, but also fellow members of the Movement. Therefore, a distinct legacy of the divisive Sixties was the affirmation in the minds of most Americans that the use of violence against established power and authority centers within the country was to be reserved only for extraordinary circumstances.
The most significant legacy of the Sixties regarding citizenship and patriotism was the breakdown of the single model of the “good American citizen” of the postwar period and the legitimization of the large, loud, and lengthy protest against political leaders and policies. Large portions of the population believed that a good citizen was no longer just a “red, white, and blue citizen”—“my country, right or wrong.” Now one could be accepted as a “good citizen” by being, let us say, a good “white citizen”—someone who is motivated on pure principle to disagree publicly with the country’s political leaders and policies. One could now be a “good black citizen”—one who is prepared to oppose publicly the country’s policies on minorities. One could now be a “good pink citizen”—one who is prepared to oppose publicly the country’s policies on gender issues. Some would even condone a good “red citizen”—one who is prepared to use violence to change American policies or indeed the American system. After all, it was none other than the writer of the Declaration of Independence who said: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” The “yellow citizen”—one who protests merely for self-interest—has never gained legitimacy or respect.
President Donald Trump in many ways has shown that he longs for the good old days, apparently the late 1940s and the 1950s. As a baby boomer patriot, I sympathize with this. However, with his comments disparaging the members of the NFL who refuse to stand for the national anthem, clearly he is saying to Make America Great Again, the only good citizen is a “red, white, and blue” one. This is mere sentimentalism.
In the 1971 song “American Pie,” Don McLean also longed for the good old days, wanting to hear some Buddy Holly music again from the late 1950s, but the man at the “sacred store” told him “the music wouldn’t play.” Trump longs for that good old-time patriotism, but America—and the world—have changed.
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