Sixties Counterculture Essay

Hippies represent the ideological, naive nature that children possess. They feel that with a little love and conectedness, peace and equality will abound. It is with this assumption that so many activists and reformers, inspired by the transformation that hippies cultivated, have found the will to persist in revolutionizing social and political policy. Their alternative lifestyles and radical beleifs were the shocking blow that American culture– segregation, McCarthyism, unjust wars, censorship–needed to prove that some Americans still had the common sense to care for one another. The young people of the sixties counterculture movement were successful at awakening awareness on many causes that are being fought in modern American discourse. If not for the Revolution that the hippies began, political or social reform and the People’s voice would be decades behind.

While the hippie movement has subsided, as it became too “cool” and entrenched in mainstream society, the spirit of the Hippies lives on, as their work was only the framework for decades of reform to come.

Civil Rights

The work that hippies did, hand in hand with African-Americans, was very powerful in striking the discourse on racial equality in the US. Demonstrations reached their inspirational peak in 1964 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched with 250,000 people in support of civil rights and racial equality. They were successful politically with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The fight for equal rights has not been won, however, as most of the hippie’s battles continue to be fought by the veterans and new recruits of the movement.

Racism and inequality ensue today as the discrimination, prejudice, and hate crimes occur at an alarmingly frequent rate. Rita Sehti, in The State of Asian America, explains that “media sensationalism, political expedience, intellectual laziness, and legal constraints conspire to narrow the scope of cognizable racism” (Sethi). But it is still a problem of extreme magnitude in America, being fought more often in courtrooms than campus protests. Groups like ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunities Council), and ARA (Anti-Racist Action League) have come into force thanks to the social reform of the sixties counterculture. Organizations such as these continue to foster great changes in civil rights and equality.


The sexual revolution of the sixties was truly a woman’s revolution. Women were given the choice of getting pregnant for the first time in history. The value of this freedom was much more signifcant than controlling pregnancy, however. It represented female empowerment and gave women a long needed boost toward the fight for gender equality. Hippies, hand in hand with conformist women, protested and battled for equal wages, abortion rights, academic equality, discrimination, family and abused women aid, and much more. The progress the activists made for women’s rights in the 1960s is unparalleled and monumental.

It is now 2004. For the first time in history, the 1972 Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade is being challenged by American government. This court decision gave women the right to choose to end a pregnancy. The Bush administration’s Christian fundamental values are infringing on the Constitutional values of America. On April 25, 2004 there is to be a national protest march on Washington DC for women’s rights. This is to be the largest women’s rights protest in world history. Its’ organizers, participants, and sponsors hope that the demonstration will speak to the American people, legislators, and media the way the feminist movement of the sixties has.


As people began to recognize their relationship to each other and their environment in a new way, a heightened Earth Consciousness was born. Concern for the environment grew because hippies saw the Earth as wat it is–a loving Mother Nature that provided for and nourished their very lives. They pioneered the ongoing and tough battle to save the earth with the founding of Earth Day, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and groups like Greenpeace. Environmentalists host one of America’s largest political lobbies. Groups such as Greenpeace protest with millions of members worldwide on issues ranging from destruction of rainforests, oil companies, nuclear wastes, Greenhouse effect, and biodiversity.

Political Awareness and Student Rebellion

Recently Ralph Nader spoke to an enthusiastic and supportive audience at Columbia College. Nader spoke about the very same issues he lectured about in 1968–corporate rule, environmental protections, military-industrial complex and unjust wars, equality and access to education, women’s rights. It was an increased awareness that overtook the young people of the sixties counterculture movement. This awareness led to a social outcry against injustices in politics.

The hippies, hand in hand with college students, helped stop an unjust, costly, and deathly war in Vietnam. The hippies had the courage to speak out for the 67% of Americans that were opposed to the war. An anti-war movement not unlike the Vietnam protests has progressed over the past two years against the War in Iraq. March 20, 2003 was a national day of protest with over 25 million protesting the worldwide-disapproved occupation of Iraq. Seven-hundred were arrested in Chicago as the protesters marched on Lake Shore Drive. NION (Not in Our Name) is a prominent organization formed

post-9/11 that organizes, educates, and demonstrates through direct action against the unjustified Iraq war.

The hippie movement was comprised almost entirely of youth (the 18 to 30 year- old demographic). In an unprecedented and organized fashion, these young people united to make positive changes in the world. Youth have a powerful voice in numbers as parents, schools, and governing institutions wish not to have too much fuss in their daily lives. After the disasters at Altamont and Kent State University, some of the strength of the movement faded. But not for long. Today college students play a huge role in legislation reform. Groups such as SSDP (Students for Sensible Drug Policy) and YIRP (Youth in Revolutionizing Politics) have been succesful in gaining media and political support in increasing awareness of American political issues which affect the world.

M Negativity M

Hippies grew up. Therein lies one major problem with the movement. The members of the counterculture were optimistic, idealistic kids. Many of them impressionable teens with a desire to conform to some group of peers. But after the fatal blows to the unity of the hippie tribes–Kent State massacre, mass arrests and assasinations of revered leaders and activists, government censorship, rock n’ roll overdoses, an influx of shady, greedy characters into the hippie community, legislation (building codes prohibiting hippie communes and open houses; anti-vagrancy laws) and so on–many of these kids matured as adults and adopted totally contradicting lifestyles.

Karen Thomas, longtime Chicago hippie activist and drug law reformer, tells of a time when she was working as an accountant at the Board of Trade. Many of her colleagues and stock trader “suit- types” told of the jolly times at Woodstock and smoking grass and the GroovyLoooveDayz. This utter and embarassing 180 of lifestyles showed the Conservative world that hippies were indeed a bunch of idealistic kiddies who would one day grow up. They are now working for the very companies they protested against for violations of human, environmental, women’s and animal rights. The irony of the grown-up hippies is damaging today, as it discredits future youth, counterculture, social, politial, and rebellious movements.

There are some obvious flaws in the countercultures’ approach to sparking a political revolution. In some ways the philosophies of the movement were far too broad to provoke any sort of lasting change. One must pick their battles wisely if they are to make any timely progress in legislation reform. “Real love”, rising of the consciousness, and enlightenment are great for some. But it takes a bit more than a peaceful nature and groovy hair to convince those legislators in D.C. that what they are doing is wrong. Hippies never provided any long-term alternatives to the evil system they were fighting, just colorful short-term ones.

It is not far off to imagine that many hippies felt drawn to the idea of protesting for cause of impure motives. Perhaps they were drawn to the excitement, the glory of speaking before an enthusiastic crowd, and the prestige of recognition in the scene. Allen Ginsberg once lamented that too many of the protesters in the sixties seemed to be doing it because it was a good excuse to be spiteful. Many hippies had uncontrolled anger and emotion that interfered with the clarity of their message. Long-time organizer Saul Alinsky, in his book Rules for Radicals, asks if you are willing to cut your hair to make yourself more effective. That is a pretty good indication of an activist’s level of sacrifice and dedication.

The hippie movement both amused and scared parents, educators, police, and government officials. They closed in on the hippie movement once and for all with the Draconian drug war launched by Richard Nixon in 1969. His administration arranged for an unprecedented amount of federal budget to be applied to cracking down on marijuana arrests. The drug war was used as a crutch to stop the hippie movement dead in its’ tracks. And it has done a pretty good job, with over five million marijuana arrests over the past decade! (Sidenote: Ninety percent of these arrests were for nonviolent, simple posession charges).

For the first time in American history, a large population of people of all ages, classes, and races came together to challenge the traditional institutions, traditional values in society, and "the establishment" in general. Youth, women, ethnic minorities, environmentalists, migrant workers and others caused the emergence of the counter culture. This cultural movement from 1960 to 1973 was caused by many factors. This era was one that was filled with many important events that shaped the way that Americans viewed life. Those who were unhappy with what was going on around them and took part in this social phenomenon reflected and demonstrated their attitudes, values, and ideals in many ways. Various things from protests to songs expressed their views and made their point get across to America. This cultural movement had a profound impact on society. It had both beneficial and detrimental effects on the society. As we look back on the sixties, it was one of the most important decades because it accomplished so many important things.

The sixties was an era that was filled with so many important events that caused people to become actively involved in challenging the structure of American society and taking a stand. Civil rights was one of the most important issues. African Americans were still treated unequally although the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were supposed to grant them equality. Separate but equal wasn't enough for most people. Incidents where African Americans were denied rights caused much rebellion. When Rosa Parks was ordered to give up her seat on the bus to a white person, Montgomery's black community boycotted the buses. These incidents became more frequent and more people took a stand. The African Americans' successes reveled others to join in. Women saw their chance to win their long deserved rights. They wanted to change the way that women were represented and treated in American culture. Consciousness of what they could accomplish eventually led to the organization of huge public feminist protests for abortion rights, equal pay, and, eventually, the Equal Rights Amendment. There were many things that influenced people to fight for civil rights dating all the way back to slavery, but in the sixties people realized that they could actually make changes for the better. The Vietnam War was another major factor that caused the emergence of the counter culture. The horrifying images of the Tet Offensive and other atrocious pictures from the war caused many anti-war groups and leaders to emerge. Groups such as the Doves and Students for a Democratic Society rebelled against the war and fought for peace. One specific incident would be when Richard Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia and the need to draft 150,000 more U.S. soldiers. At Kent State University protestors launched a riot, which included fires, injuries, and even death. The environmentalists also reacted to the war in Vietnam. The use of napalm and Agent Orange outraged many people who saw forests and jungles be destroyed almost instantly. Environmentalists strived to end the war in hopes of saving the earth as well. The media was one of the main elements in the sixties that also influenced this counter culture. Media was still a rather new and growing concept in the sixties, as televisions were becoming more available and people tuned in to watch the news. It was the media that showed the scenes of the war and the protests that were taking place nationwide. The television also opened doors for those who felt that they could use it as a device to reach large masses of people. All of the different factors involved in the emergence of the counter culture made people think about life in America and what they could do to change it.

Now that people wanted to rebel and strive for change, they needed ways to reflect and demonstrate their attitudes, values, and ideals. People did this in many ways. Many people used non-violent means to get their point across. People often picketed the streets carrying signs with catchy slogans and yelling memorable phrases. In Birmingham Alabama the children marched the streets in order to get blacks registered to vote. Martin Luther King was one of the major leaders of the non-violent philosophy. In 1963 Dr. King and thousands of other marched on Washington in order to keep pressure on the Kennedy administration and Congress in providing blacks with economic opportunity, education equality, and job equality. These were just two of the many non-violent marches, protests, boycotts, and demonstrations that took place during the sixties. Although there were many non-violent methods, some turned violent and some were intended to be violent. Some people felt that violence was the only way to get things accomplished. At Kent State protestors were very destructive and violent. In the end four people were dead. From 1967-1968 blacks burned down whole neighborhoods and the black militant movement started to emerge. These seem like very radical ways to ask for change, but there were also less drastic methods. Many songs, cheers, and chants were created and sung in the sixties. Music became a major way to express attitudes and ideals. Other techniques such as draft evasion were used to protest the war in Vietnam. People used a variety of techniques to demonstrate their beliefs and challenge the American society. The wide variety of people involved in the counter culture and the wide variety of factors causing the emergence influenced this wide variety of techniques to demonstrate attitudes, values, and ideals.

Different people can interpret the counter culture of the sixties in different ways. It had many important effects on the society, both detrimental and beneficial. During the era, there were many things that injured the society. One of the most obvious harmful effects was the physical damage. The rebellion in the sixties caused injuries and deaths as well as property damage. African Americans were lynched, protestors were shot and sometimes killed, and neighborhoods and college campuses were destroyed. The counterculture caused many strong emotions to flare and caused lots of immediate destruction. It also caused the society to be torn into two: the group that challenged American society and the group that conformed and resisted change. Things are always better when a country is united, but during the sixties the society was split. This also caused difficulty during the Vietnam War. When American policymakers should have been focusing all of their attention on the war in Vietnam, they also had to focus on the war at home. The protests often called for government action. When James Meredith tried to attend the University of Mississippi, the federal government had to send 400-500 federal marshals and 3,000 paratroopers in to secure his safety. This also cost them 4 million dollars. The Kennedy administration and others after him were pressured to pass civil rights acts. They had to pay major attention to the counter culture at home and the war in Vietnam. This may have weakened their ability to handle issues in Vietnam. Although in the short run the counter culture was detrimental, in the long run the efforts to challenge the American culture paid off. We now live in a society that is coming closer and closer to full equality. The counter culture may have also ended the war in Vietnam a little sooner. If it weren't for all of the anti-war protests and demonstrations, US policymakers might not have worked as hard to end the war. As a result of the counter culture, we also live in a society that is not conformed to the same values, ideals, and attitudes. We have people who are rising to every debatable occasion. People aren't scared to challenge the American society. People can feel free to express themselves however they please. We have broken free from conformity and have learned to challenge what we believe is not right. The counter culture of the sixties had a profound negative and positive impact on the society during that era and the society today.

The decade of the sixties was one of the most important decades in American history because it changed the way people view the society and take action. The actions of women, youth, African Americans, environmentalists and other caused the emergence of the counter culture that had such a profound impact on society. Although there were many different factors causing the surfacing of the counter culture and many different methods to challenge the traditional society, the goals of all of the groups were the same. They all wanted some form of change and change was what they got in return for their actions. Although women are still paid less than men, and there are still many more whites than blacks in government positions, the sixties was an era of progress. The counter culture has paved the way for American society today and created a country that allows and accepts free expression and doesn't frown down upon those who challenge the long-established society values and institutions.

Word Count: 1495

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