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Counterculture Essay, Research Paper

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.


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