counter culture and social movements
Last semester, an undergraduate student wrote an essay about the Vietnam war movement. She asked why the movement itself was relatively unpopular even though the public was becoming disillusioned with the war. In other words, the antiwar movement won on policy, but lost on politics. Why?
Her hypothesis was that the antiwar movement became strongly associated with the counterculture. This is an important point. In my research on movements – mainly movements of the left for the most part – I have found that activists tend to have a very tense relationship with mainstream American culture at best. They think that conventional politics and bourgeois culture are to be mistrusted.
This leads to an issue that I’ve been thinking about – is left politics inherently counter cultural? Maybe not. The Civil Rights movement was obsessed with adherence to the social norms of the day. Participants were urged to be polite, look proper, and learn how to work within and against mainstream institutions. Nowadays, most left movements seem to have a hostile relationship to mainstream culture. Occupy Wall Street was a grungy DIY movement. The antiwar movement of the 2000s followed in the steps of the anti-globalization movement in working outside conventional channels. For anyone interested in social change, it is worth thinking about this link and if it is a necessary development, or merely an affectation of a current generation of activists.
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