Monday, March 30, 2009

USH23: Social Movements in the Seventies

The activism of the sixties didn't end with the decade. The changes that were wrought resonated throughout the seventies. In fact, some of the social movements of the sixties spawned more movements over the course of the seventies.

First of all, there was a change in the thinking of the general public. For example, a University of Michigan research team had been asking people: "Is the government run by a few big interests looking out for themselves?" In 1964, 26% said yes; in 1972, 53% answered yes. A Catholic group doing a survey in 1975 found that 83% of the people they interviewed agreed with the statement that "The people running this country (government, political, church and civic leaders) don't tell us the truth." (Of course, Watergate was a big influence on that.)

The events of the sixties led to new ways of thinking and being, much of which continued well in the seventies. As Howard Zinn put it: "There was a general revolt against oppressive, artificial, previously unquestioned ways of living. It touched every aspect of personal life: childbirth, childhood, love, sex, marriage, dress, music, art, sports, language, food, housing, religion, literature, death, schools." A counterculture came to life and was nourished. Todd Gitlin points out: "The thousands of communes, underground papers, free schools, food 'conspiracies', auto repair and carpentry collectives, women's centers and health groups and alternative publishers, required commitment. Where there were thirty free schools in 1967, there were as many as eight hundered in 1973, not counting the versions implanted within official school systems. ... Counterinstitutions were ways of settling in for the long haul." And some of those counterinstitutions are still with us. I know of 'women's centers and health groups and alternative publishers' that were founded in the late sixties or early to mid-seventies that are active now. The 'food conspiracies' are today's food co-ops. While many of the real communes have disappeared, some like Twin Oaks and The Farm go on. More popular than communes in the seventies were co-op houses and other group living situations. I live in a co-op founded in the seventies (most of us are aging hippies) but I have also lived in more recently birthed co-ops filled with young people. There is a decent sized network of co-op houses in the Boston area.

Some of the movements of the sixties dissipated at the end of that decade or early in the seventies. The anti-war movement hit a peak in 1970 with a nationwide student strike. In 1971, there were dozens of actions including a huge protest where thousands of activists tried to shut down the federal government, an action where nearly a thousand Vietnam vets camped out in the Washington Mall and threw their medals onto the steps of the Capitol, and a raid by Catholic group, the Camden 28, on a New Jersey draft board which led to a 1973 trial where they were all acquitted--seen by some as a referendum on the war. But with their success at ending the war in 1973, while many peace groups went on, the anti-war movement faded away. Little happened on the peace front until late in the decade, 1977, when a new group, the Mobilization for Survival, was founded, linking nuclear weapons with nuclear power. (I'll have more on nuclear power later.)

The the Civil Rights/Black Power movement seemed to disappear even before the sixties ended. Piven and Coward claim that "While there is no way of marking an exact time when the tide of unrest turned, the year 1968 might be considered such a point. It was the last year of major urban rioting (in the wake of Martin Luther King's assassination); it was also the year that the presidency passed from a liberal to a conservative leadership. With Nixon's accession to power the class and racial injustices that had figured so prominently in the rhetoric and action of earlier administrations, and that had encouraged protest among the black poor, gave way to rhetoric and action emphasizing law-and-order and self-reliance, with the effect of rekindling shame and fear among the black masses." With Malcolm and Martin gone and some civil rights gains having been made, much of what was left of the movement turned to electoral politics, voting for black politicians (at least some, locally) and as well as others who seemed supportive of civil rights goals. The Democratic party was a major beneficiary. In 1968, 87% of blacks voted Democrat. In 1976, it was 94%. There were still some activists that continued the work. A group called the Black United Liberation Front in Philadelphia, set up in 1970, took over work that had been done by the Black Panthers, running a free breakfast program and a free clothing program, and over the course of 1971 and 1972, redirecting street gangs from fighting each other to demanding that the city turn over abandoned buildings to the Black community and give them money to rehabilitate them. In 1972, Shirley Chisholm, became the first African-American (not to mention first woman) candidate for president. In fact, the women's movement (see below) inspired many black women to look at the multiple oppressions they were facing (unfortunately this often happened by their encounter with the racism of white feminists). In 1974, the Combahee River Collective was founded in Boston, and was key in developing the concepts of Black feminism and 'identity politics'(they have been credited with coining the term). And during the decade some of the concepts of Black pride developed in the sixties entered the mainstream. 1976, for example, saw both the publication of Alex Haley's book, Roots, and the start of the tradition of Black History Month.

The work of African-Americans for liberation also inspired other groups from the late sixties through the most of the seventies.

The Chicano Movement grew during the sixties and early seventies. The Brown Berets, a youth group that modeled themselves on the Black Panthers, began in LA and spread up the west coast. They set up a free health clinic in Chicago in 1972, and worked with SNCC in Texas. And during the height of the anti-war protests, a group called the National Chicano Moratorium Committee organized demonstrations throughtout the Southwest, including protest in East Los Angeles, in 1970, where 30,000 people marched. Also in 1970, the Raza Unida Party was established--a Chicano third party that continues today, with chapters active in California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. And the work of César Chávez and Dolores Huerta with the United Farm Workers in the '60s, '70s, and '80s, inspired many.

Puerto Rican nationalist groups also learned from the black movements. The Young Lords were a street gang that turned themselves into an organization focused on achieving self-determination for Puerto Rico, as well as dealing with local community issues--they also modeled themselves in part after the Black Panthers. The Puerto Rican Independence Party, an US electoral group which had been around since the 1940s, saw their largest growth during the '70s when they ran a socialist, pro-worker, pro-poor campaign.

But perhaps the largest identity group to grow from the thinking of the '60s were the Native Americans. In 1968, a group of Mohawks began a journal entitled Akwesasne Notes, filled with vibrant, radical articles. In 1969, a group of "Indians of All Tribes" occupied Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay and proposed that it be turned into an education center, an ecology center, and a cultural center. After eighteen months US forces invaded the island and removed the Indians. In 1970, the United Indians of New England began a yearly protest in Plymouth, Massachusetts, they call a National Day of Mourning--an alternative to the traditional, sanitized Thanksgiving celebration. And in 1973, the American Indian Movement seized the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. In response the US government sent out a large military force that included "federal marshals, FBI agents, and armored vehicles". It became a siege lasted 71 days. The American Indian Movement continues to this day, although the organization has split into two factions. And as far as I can tell, Akwesasne Notes has continued to publish.

Also inspired by the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement was the Women's Liberation movement, also known as Second Wave Feminism. I talked about the start of it in my post on the late sixties (3/14/09). 1969 saw the founding of such groups as Redstockings and New York Radical Feminists. In 1970, two books came out that became a huge influence on the movement, Sexual Politics and Sisterhood is Powerful. One of the most well-known feminist publications, Ms. magazine, first appeared as an insert in the New Yorker magazine in 1971. And support groups and consciousness raising groups were flourishing everywhere. Things really seemed to be happening when the Equal Rights Amendment waspassed by Congress in 1972--unfortunately, as many of you know, it was never ratified. The feminist movement opened up many issues. Sex workers (primarily women), a group that includes prostitutes, strippers, phone sex operators, etc, began organizing. A group called COYOTE (which stands for Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) was founded in 1973. Other groups followed. In 1975, a book called Against Our Will, which was a feminist work on the politics of rape, was published. And, as I mentioned, those women's centers continue on.

A movement that was influenced by Civil Rights movement and the Women's Movement was Gay Liberation. I talked about Stonewall in my post about the late sixties (3/14/09). In 1969, just after the Stonewall riot, the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance were both founded. The next year (1970) found a variety of anniversary marches around the date of Stonewall, including the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March in New York City. The parades were held annually, called things like Gay Liberation Marches and Gay Freedom Marches. It was only in the 1980s, as the politics shifted in the GLBT community, that these parades became named Gay Pride. The early Gay Liberation movement was a radical, passionate, and flamboyant happening that was politically aware and able to connect with other struggles but like the homophile movement of the fifties (see my post of 3/6/09) it became more conservative and assimilationist as it went along. Other groups emerged from the gay shadows as the seventies went along. In 1973, Lesbian Nation, a lesbian/feminist/separatist book, was published, making it clear that there were women in the movement and they weren't going to take a back seat to the men. Bisexuals also made themselves known, to the point that the term 'bisexual chic' came in vogue. The 1972 film Cabaret featured a man and a woman admitting that they shared the same male lover. And in 1978, that potent GLBT symbol, the Rainbow Flag, was created. In 1974, Kathy Kozachenko became the first openly GLBT candidate to win election when she took a seat on the Ann Arbor city council. In 1975, Elaine Noble was elected to the Massachusetts State House as an open lesbian. And in 1977, Harvey Milk was elected as a city-county supervisor in San Francisco--unfortunately, he was assassinated in 1978 by a former supervisor. (Of course all this is in the film Milk, released last year.) And the decade ended on a more radical note with the first gathering of the Radical Faeries, an attempt to create a spiritual GLBT entity, in 1979. One of the founders of the Radical Faeries was Harry Hay who founded the Mattachine Society in 1950 (in my post of 3/6/09).

The modern Environmental/Ecology Movement came to public consciousness on Earth Day, April 22, 1970. Although environmental concerns can be traced back to Thoreau's work in the 19th century, and Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring awoke many in the late sixties, the seventies made it mainstream. Some of this can be traced to the energy crisis of 1973 (see my post of 3/22/09), but there were many movement highlights during this decade. Greenpeace was founded in 1971. In 1972, the book Limits to Growth was published which pointed out (to the dismay of many) that our current rate of growth wasn't sustainable. Also in 1972, astronauts took a photo of the earth from space that inspired many to think about the whole planet--the image was later put on Earth Flags. In 1973, Small is Beautiful was published, again echoing the theme that our current economy isn't sustainable. Several new eco-terms were coined in the seventies, including Acid Rain (1972) and Deep Ecology (1973).

From the Environmental Movement, another movement sprang up in the seventies: the No Nukes/Anti-nuclear Movement. It may have had its start in 1971 when Dr. John Gofman wrote the book Poisoned Power. In 1974, Sam Lovejoy, a member of a communal organic farm in Montague, Massachusetts, knocked over a weather tower that was built to test conditions for building of a large twin nuclear reactor complex nearby. In his trial he argued that the reactors were a threat to the health and safety of the community--and he was acquitted. The event was recorded in the 1975 film Lovejoy's Nuclear War. Soon anti-nuclear organizations sprung up around the country. The first could have been the Clamshell Alliance, which was founded 1976 to protest nuclear power in New England and became famous for their demonstrations against the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire. The Abalone Alliance was founded in 1977 with the goal of shutting down the Pacific Gas and Electric Company's Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. 1978 saw the founding of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and, in 1979, the Musicians United for Safe Energy held the famous No Nukes concerts.

Two political groups in particular that both started at the beginning of the seventies and had a major influence on me in the eighties were Movement for a New Society (MNS) and the National Organization for an American Revolution (NOAR). While there were some real differences between these groups (among other things MNS had a commitment to nonviolence that NOAR didn't have and NOAR was much more racially diverse than MNS--and many other movement groups of the seventies) both groups were different from other social organizations in seeing the need for personal change as well as social change (see my next paragraph), dedevelopment--realizing most Americans needed less stuff not more, and decentralized leadership--MNS was consciously egalitarian, NOAR was deliberately moving away from a Marxist-Leninist 'centralist' position. Both groups ended in the late eighties, MNS 'laying itself down' in 1989, and NOAR just 'fading away' between 1985 and 1987. These were no longer revolutionary times. (I was a member of MNS in the eighties and read NOAR's books and literature as well as attending one meeting--when I was out in Detroit--and meeting some of their leadership.)

A social movement that was less political but nevertheless influential and, I think, important was the 'Human Potential Movement'. While the movement has its roots in the fifties and began flowering in the sixties, the seventies saw a flood of encounter groups, sensitivity training, meditation techniques, and workshops and books on Gestalt Therapy, Bioenergetics, Primal Therapy, est, Rolfing, yoga, tai chi, and more. As Todd Gitlin put it: "In the early seventies it seemed that no movement house was complete without meditations, tarot cards, group therapies, the Tao Te Ching, and the writings of Alan Watts on Zen, Fritz Perls on Gestalt Therapy, Wilhelm Reich... R.D. Laing... Baba Ram Dass... and most of all, Carlos Castaneda's parables..." While Gitlin saw this as a political downfall, I saw it (and I was pretty involved with all this at the time) as a way of working on ourselves so we'd be better at changing things. I've seen too many activists whose 'stuff' gets in the way of their work. As the NOAR people (see the paragraph above) used to say "Change Yourself to Change the World".

As the seventies became the eighties, I was hoping that the new decade would be a time when we could merge the inner work with the outer work, that the 'Me Decade' would be replaced by a 'We Decade'. Of course, that's not what happened.


Quote of the Day: "Never in American history had more movements for change been concentrated in so short a span of years. But the system in the course of two centuries had learned a lot about the control of people. In the mid-seventies it went to work." - Howard Zinn

References:
Dick Cluster (ed), They Should Have Served That Cup of Coffee
Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage
Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, Poor People's Movements
Wikipedia, lots of articles (some linked from their article on the 1970s)
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

8 comments:

SoapBoxTech said...

Wow, there was a lot going on while I was up here toddling around in the snow. Funny, I had never heard about that Alcatraz thing before.

Thanks for your part in the work done back then.

MoonRaven said...

Thanks for your comment.

Unfortunately, I wasn't part of much of this. I attended an anti-war rally or two and a gay pride parade or two and lived in a group house or two, but most of my involvement in the seventies was in the human potential movement. I was much more politically involved in the eighties than the seventies (or nineties, for that matter).

I sort of remember the Alcatraz occupation but I learned much more about it when we visited San Francisco some years back.

And much of this stuff, I didn't know about until I did the research.

ethicalsusan said...

Good posting. I just scanned it, but a few things to comment on. I believe Shirley Chisolm, who was my State Assemblywoman back in the mid-60's, said that she found more difficulties in her life as a woman than as a black person.

The other is that I think the anti-nuke movement may have started before you said - I know that the Union of Concerned Scientists which started with an agenda focused on not using nuclear weapons, was started in 1969.

Thanks for all your good work.

MoonRaven said...

I appreciate your comments.

That's an interesting statement from Shirley Chisolm. Thanks for sharing it.

As far as the anti-nuclear movement's origins--it may well have started before the seventies, but that was as early as I could trace it. Unfortunately, I may not have been as clear in this post as I meant to be but I was talking about the movement against nuclear *power*. (As I reread the post, I realized I didn't actually say that.)

The movement against nuclear weapons goes back to the fifties when groups like the Committee for Nonviolent Action used ships to try to enter nuclear testing areas in the Pacific. (See my post of 3/6/09.) The brilliance of the group Mobilization for Survival (as I pointed out early in this post) was to link nuclear power with nuclear weapons--something that I'm sure that the Union of Concerned Scientists also did.

Austan said...

Shirley Chisholm is my "Favorite Politician" in my 1971 autograph album. LOL. I adored her and loved watching her speak. She was my new hero.

Thank you for these history articles. It's so good to see these things recounted, as most is ignored. I'm gonna send all my friends and family here to read about what really happened that nobody talks about. Blessings, MoonRaven. You are Absolutely Fabulous in my book.

MoonRaven said...

Thank you, thank you. (blush) I'm so glad people are finding these posts on history useful. I got a bit carried away with all this stuff--more than I originally intended--and I just hope that there are some helpful bits in all this.

Shirley Chisholm seems to be getting quite a little fan club. I feel like I should learn more about her--at least someday...

alabamared said...

Thanks Moon for the memories,as one who was there,it is a very accurate article.
The quote about the response of the Government is accurate also.
It fact,I am afraid they did such a good job,there is little hope for Americans now.
Maybe it was our fault,we each of the era,had our pet causes. We should all have joined when each cause was met. As a brother has said,"Maybe just one more bomb,would have done it."

MoonRaven said...

Thanks for adding your comments. I agree about the pet causes--certainly more joining together might have made a difference. The government and 'the system' (which includes the corporate world) wanted to keep us divided.

That said, I can't agree with your final quote. I think the bombs hurt our cause--and played right into the government's attempts to discredit us.