8.12 Youth Culture of the 1960s

7 min readjanuary 8, 2023

Robby May

Robby May

AP US History 🇺🇸

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War, Disillusionment, and Youth Politics

Before the Vietnam War, support for US foreign policy and globals wars remained mostly unanimous amongst youth. During WWI and WWI, all age groups felt a sense of unifying nationalism and patriotic duty to support and contribute to the war effort with the motivation to protect democracy and freedom globally. The Vietnam War however started to shift the foundation of this sentiment, making people, especially youth, question whether our meddling in foreign affairs was truly protecting anything or anyone. As the war dragged on and the public became increasingly aware of the high costs and questionable justifications for American involvement, many young people began to question the government's foreign policy and the country's role in international affairs.
As the war continued, more and more young people became involved in protests against the war and began to speak out against the government's actions. Many young people saw the war as an example of the United States' imperialistic foreign policy and a violation of the principles of democracy and self-determination. They also saw the war as a symbol of the government's willingness to sacrifice the lives of young Americans for questionable goals.
The Vietnam War had a lasting impact on the youth of the United States and their views on foreign affairs. It sparked a new wave of activism and questioning of government actions, and many young people became more skeptical of the government's foreign policy and more critical of American involvement in international conflicts.

The New Left

This newfound passion for activism left to the rise of the New Left was a political movement that consisted young people, students, and intellectuals who were disillusioned with traditional liberal and socialist politics and sought to bring about radical social change.
The movement also criticized policies which politicians and lawmakers labeled as "liberal" for doing too little to fix domestic issues in the United States and diverting attention to focus on immoral foreign affairs overseas.
The New Left was driven by a number of social and political issues, including the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the growing economic and cultural divide between the wealthy and the poor. Many members of the New Left saw these issues as interconnected and believed that they could only be addressed through radical, systemic change.
The New Left was characterized by its commitment to grassroots organizing, participatory democracy, and non-violent direct action. It sought to empower ordinary people and give them a greater say in the decisions that affected their lives.

Port Huron Statement

The Port Huron Statement was a political manifesto that was adopted by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at its founding convention in Port Huron, Michigan, in 1962. The statement was written by Tom Hayden, a student activist who would later become a prominent figure in the New Left and the anti-war movement.
The Port Huron Statement outlined the beliefs and goals of the SDS, which was a student organization that sought to bring about social and political change in the United States. The statement called for a more participatory democracy and a society that was more inclusive, equitable, and just. It also criticized the Cold War and the arms race, and argued that the United States should work towards disarmament and a more peaceful world.
The Port Huron Statement was influential in shaping the ideas and tactics of the New Left and the student movement of the 1960s. It helped to define a new generation of young people who supported leftist ideals and facilitated motivated grassroots efforts to help combat political and socioeconomic issues.


Protests of the New Left went hand in hand with a new counterculture movement, a social and cultural phenomenon that emerged in the 1960's characterized by a rejection of mainstream values and a rebellion against the traditional social, political, and cultural norms of the time. It sought to create a new way of life that was more individualistic, expressive, and liberated. It was fueled by a number of social and political issues, including the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the women's liberation movement. It was also influenced by the emergence of new forms of art, music, and literature that challenged traditional norms and values.
Members who expressed counterculture values were known as "hippies" or "flower children". They rejected the materialism, conformity, and consumerism of mainstream society and sought to create their own alternative culture based on values such as freedom, peace, love, and harmony. It was expressed by young people through rebellious styles of dress, music, drug use, and for some, communal living. their apparent dress included vibrant colors long hairstyles, tie-dye, beads, and jeans.  The folk music of Bob Dylan gave voice to the younger generation’s protests, while the rock music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Janis Joplin provided the beat and lyrics for the counterculture.

Woodstock Music Festival

In 1969, a gathering of thousands of young people at the Woodstock Music Festival in upper New York State reflected the zenith of the counterculture. It was a three-day music festival that took place in August 1969 in Bethel, New York. It was one of the most iconic events of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and is often seen as a symbol of the peace and love movement of the era. The festival was attended by over 400,000 people, who came from all over the United States and beyond to see some of the biggest names in rock music perform. The lineup included artists such as Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, among others.
The Woodstock Music Festival was notable for its peaceful and cooperative atmosphere. Despite the large crowds and limited resources, there were few incidents of violence or disorder at the event. Instead, the festival was marked by a sense of community and a celebration of music and the counterculture movement.
The Woodstock Music Festival had a lasting impact on popular culture and is often seen as a defining moment of the 1960s. It is remembered as a celebration of youth, music, and the counterculture movement, and it continues to be celebrated as an iconic event in the history of rock music. The result of experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD or becoming addicted to various other drugs also destroyed the lives of many young people.

Summer of Love

The "Summer of Love" refers to the summer of 1967, when a large number of young people flocked to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to participate in the counterculture movement and embrace a lifestyle of peace, love, and free expression. It provided free sex, free drugs and free medical care to all that attended (the later required to have with the former two). It was characterized by a spirit of experimentation and a rejection of traditional values; many young people who participated rejected consumerism, conformity, and the materialism of mainstream society.
During the Summer of Love, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood became a hub of activity, with young people from all over the country coming to join the counterculture movement. The neighborhood was filled with music, art, and political activism, and it became a symbol of the counterculture movement and the youth rebellion of the 1960s.
The Summer of Love is often seen as a defining moment in the history of the era and is remembered as a celebration of youth, music, and the counterculture movement.

Sexual Revolution

One aspect of the counterculture that continued beyond the 1960s was a change in many American’s attitudes towards sexual expression. Traditional beliefs about sexual conduct had originally been challenged in the late 1940s and 1950s by the pioneering surveys on sexual practice conducted by Alfred Kinsey. His research indicated that premarital sex, marital infidelity, and homosexuality were more common than anyone had suspected, these findings fueled the flames for the sexual revolution.
During this time, traditional taboos and restrictions on sexuality were challenged and new forms of sexual expression and behavior became more accepted. There was a significant increase in premarital sex, extramarital sex, and the use of birth control, and traditional gender roles and expectations were also challenged.
The sexual revolution was fueled by a number of social and cultural factors, including the women's liberation movement and the widespread availability of the birth control pill and medicine to treat venereal diseases, which contributed to changing attitudes about casual sex.. It was also influenced by changes in the law, such as the legalization of abortion and the overturning of sodomy laws.
Overtly sexual themes in advertisements, magazines, and movies made sex appear to be just one more consumer product. Premarital sex, contraception, abortion, and homosexuality became practiced more openly.
The sexual revolution had a significant impact on American society and culture and helped to bring about significant changes in attitudes towards sexuality and relationships. It continues to be a subject of debate and controversy, with some people arguing that it has had a positive impact on society, while others believe that it has contributed to the decline of traditional values.

Lasting Effects

The counterculture movement had a significant impact on American society and culture in the 1960s and beyond, including:
  1. Social and cultural change: The counterculture movement helped to bring about significant changes in attitudes towards a range of social and cultural issues, such as sexuality, gender roles, and relationships.
  2. Political activism: The counterculture movement was an important force for political activism and social change. Many young people who participated in the movement became involved in protests and other forms of activism, and their efforts contributed to a range of social and political changes, such as the legalization of abortion and the temporary end of the war draft.
  3. Artistic and cultural expression: The counterculture movement was characterized by a spirit of creativity and artistic expression, and it helped to give rise to new forms of art, music, and literature that challenged traditional norms and values.
  4. Lifestyle changes: The counterculture movement also contributed to a number of lifestyle changes, such as the adoption of more relaxed and informal fashions and the emergence of new forms of recreation and leisure activities.
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