Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Student Activism 1960s and today, p. 1 - Short version

Well, that last post was godawfully long! Here is the short version.

I. Student activism in the early 1960s was VERY similar to that today. Most students were apathetic (or percieved to be so) and a small number of politics nerds. Many of these spent their time trying to convert the rest to their political lifestyle. There are other similarities, too, including a focus on building non-hierarchical organizations and communities, experimentation with forms of activism. An important point that DIDN'T make it into the last post is also that their ideology was not Marxist. In fact it was thoroughly steeped in good old fashion American (and even Jeffersonian) individualism.

II. But the Civil Rights movement made the most important difference between then and now, it seems to me. The civil rights movement gave students their 'in' into political action. Techniques of resistance to segregation allowed non-political students to dip into political action just a little bit at a time.

III. But then I think the CR Movement (and later the anti-war movement) eroded the student political movement. The student political movement was about getting students to actively push social change everywhere they saw need, and to feel a constant responsibility to be socially aware and active. But the CR Mmt. and the anti-war movement may have left people too issue-centric. My theory, that I would like to subject to scrutiny (mine and yours) , is that the student political movement dissolved because it was unable to transform issue-centric activists into citizens with a universal feeling of responsibility towards participation.

The long version is much cooler than this one, so I recommend you still read it. And the book I'm basing all this on, which I cite in the long version.



The Special said...

I think it is true that progressive activism was demobilized by what you call "issue-centrism." But I think this proliferation of single issue groups happened more in the 1970s than the 1960s. MLK's platform was about a lot more than ending formal racial segregation. He was a fierce critic of the American imperialism and the Vietnam war... and also a passionate champion of economic justice, calling for the "total and immediate abolition of poverty."

SDS and various "white left" groups also envisioned a comprehensive social transformation that went beyond ending the war and Jim Crow.

As an aside, there was also an interesting counter-cultural political right on college campuses in the 1960s. Groups like the Young Americans for Freedom, the Ayn Rand wackos and various right-wing individualist groups were very lively. Most YAF kids were plain old conservatives...but there was a libertarian tendency that was very opposed to the Vietnam War and caused a lot of trouble.

The Speeker said...

The Ayn Rand people are still around. Plus, I'm still embarrassed for enjoying the Fountainhead before I realized what it stood for. And there is another parallel between then and now. Its only very recently that I've heard pundits talking about liberals and libertarians cozy-ing up to each other to combat the neo-cons' work to strengthen the executive branch.
And based on what you say about MLK and the SDS - I think maybe it is a very general problem for a social movement or advocacy campaign or group to have leaders that hope to transform society more broadly than with a specific issue. You need a social movement whose goal is to inspire and enable people to be leaders.