Here Comes the Signs: Protests of the 60s Compared to Now


Photo Illustration by Sam Ko ’19.

Kyra Hudson

When Francine Werner ‘68 thinks back to her years at the then-Westlake School for Girls, she said she recalls the cultural phenomenon of the Beatles and the British Invasion, the counterculture movement and the anti-war protests.

“Back then, it was our brothers and boyfriends who were getting killed, so I had to get more politically aware and active,” Werner said. 

As a college student, Werner said she was never scared to go out and get involved with the protests that were going on around her; in 1969 she flew to Moratorium to Washington, D.C. to End the War in Vietnam protest.

The Vietnam Protests and the anti-war culture during the late ’60s to early ’70s were revolutionary as new groups of people began to participate, according to The New York Times. The protests grew as other movements such as the women’s liberation, Chicano movement, and organized sectors of organized labor were sparked from the Vietnam Protests.

Just as protests have become more popular among students and other young people, the anti-war protests then were mostly led by the younger people, according to The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture. Werner said she recalls that many of the leaders then had backgrounds in the recent Civil Rights Movement, having gained experience during the years prior.

The Civil Rights movement and its leader Martin Luther King Jr. has had a lasting impact on protest culture and political activism. Their goal to reduce segregation and create legal rights for African-Americans resulted in the banning of employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin creating new opportunities for many Americans.

Protesting became less broadcasted during the last decades of the twentieth century, according to The American Archive of Public Broadcasting, but it still remained highly influential as new groups of people entered the political mainstream. For example, some devout Christians began the Anti-Abortion movements during the last few decades.

It wasn’t until the 2010s that protest became widespread again, according to Vox. Movements such as the 2011 Occupy Wall Street once again brought protests to the center of attention as they were covered by worldwide media.

Recent protest movements, such as the Women’s March and Black Lives Matter, are fighting for equal treatment and rights for groups of people in America. The participants protest through the use of social media, in professional environments or even with marginalized groups’ relationships with the government, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Although many of the current protests are against government policies or specific political actions, they have become widespread as more groups of people from different backgrounds and their corresponding issues have been brought to the surface, according to The Atlantic.

One major difference of the times is the goals of the protests Werner said. During the resistance movements of the past, especially the Anti-War protests, there was one major goal of the protests: ending the Vietnam War. However, there are more individualized protests, meaning that there is no one unifying goal that links all these protests together Werner said.

Just as the protest movements now have been built on the backs of previous protests over the years, the Anti-War Movement was heavily influenced by the recent Civil Rights Movement that had occurred just a few years earlier Werner said.

Another difference in the protest of the different eras is the increase of communication, Christopher Clement, history teacher with a Ph. D in politicial science from Howard University said.

“But, interesting enough, the sizes of protests aren’t any larger than in the 1960s.” Clement said. “Because at the same time, technology which can mobilize people to physically protest in the form of marches and demonstrations have also meant that protests can be expressed through different mediums such as tweets; it can be through Facebook; it can be done by blogs. All of that has transformed how we protest.”

Tali Tufeld ‘20, an intern for Katie Hill’s campaign for the 25th district, said that she has seen an increase in protests, especially among young people like teenagers at school. Despite this, she doesn’t necessarily think that this means that more people have become truly invested in issues.

“People need to do more than just protest,” Tufeld said. “They need to do their research, work with campaigns, do whatever they can. Yes, protests are a good way to express your political beliefs, and it’s good that it’s become more acceptable but there should be more that’s done.”

“The culture of violence has become more of an issue today, Werner said.”

Violent hate crimes have been rising in 2015, according to a 2017 Federal Beaureu of Investigation data release.

Despite the differences, Werner said she recognizes similarities as well such as the violence between different groups. Although the violence comes in different forms, with isolated acts of aggression now and extreme tension then, Werner said the culture of violence is very much an issue now as it was back then. The extreme language exercised by the many different sides also amplifies the already-existing tensions.

According to The Atlantic, American political society has become significantly more polarized since 2010.

“Strong language has always been a part of the American protest, even going back to colonial times,” Clement said. “Violence has been there too as people with strong opinions have clashed time and time again. That is a fixture of American politics.

Tufeld said she has noticed political extremism for many years, but with the election of Trump, she thinks it’s become a bigger part of the mainstream.

“There are issues that have been boiling up for years, and Donald Trump just made it visibly evident of these problems,” Tufeld said. “People are just so disgusted that the American political system is where it is now that they feel they must do something in response.”

Although political anger has become a bigger part of people’s lives, as Helen Graham ‘21 said, she thinks that people still need to make a larger effort to communicate effectively.

“One of the biggest issues that we are facing today is the political divide in conversations between the two parties,” Graham said, “This makes it difficult to discuss any sort of issues or come of any sort of resolution. People are putting partisan opinions on issues that are not partisan.”

Some students said that they believe that this political gap creates uncertainty among citizens.

“A lot of the time people don’t know what is going on in the news,” Tufeld said, “They just see something, but they don’t understand how it affects them.”

Tufeld says that the lack of communication leads to many of the protest movements. Many of the issues being protested during the time of the Vietnam protests are the same ones being talked about today, but she said many people who were protesting in the ’60s do not see the similarities with the movements today.

“I also protest for issues that are personally affecting me,” Tufeld said, “I’m gay, so LGBTQ+ rights are really important to me.”

Other students protest about issues they are passionate about as well.

“I am really passionate about climate change and environmental issues so I help out at Heal the Bay which is a combination of educating the public about the environment and cleaning up the bay,” Graham said, “I also help out with encouraging politics on both sides of the spectrum to pass legislation that will benefit the environment.”

Tufeld said she sees the increase in protests as good sign, even if she doesn’t think the people involved in the protests aren’t as enthusiastic as they were in earlier decades.

“While the power of the protest is at its core the same, the issues that we’re changing over the last couple of decades,” Tufeld said.