Social Movements in the US

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Social Movements in the US essay

“The second half of the twentieth century in the United States was marked by historical socio-political changes that permanently revolutionized the American cultural space. Just after the end of World War II in 1945, our country entered a new era, experiencing a sharp growth in population, a successful economy, and an increased standard of living. Towards the end of the 1950s, a sense of uniformity spread among the representatives of the American community, thus leading to the emergence of many progressive movements whose main thought was to break away from this conformity. However, it is the 1960s and 1970s that will be remembered as especially-tumultuous decades in a number of ways. Standing as an era of breakthroughs, it had a great impact on lives of marginalized people, and, most notably, people of color and women.

The major protest movements began with the Civil Rights Movement that took root in the 1950s, but greatly expanded in power in the 1960s. It produced one of the most prominent American social activists of the 20th century, Martin Luther King, Jr., and fought to end long-standing political, social, economic, and legal practices that discriminated against black Americans. Having originated among representatives of this community in the South, it strongly criticized racial discrimination and segregation, or the separation of whites and blacks, in every aspect of their lives. As an example, in 1960 black Southerners frequently had to sit in the back of public buses, were refused service in majority of public places like restaurants or hotels, attended racially segregated schools, were restricted to the lowest paying and lowest status jobs and were effectively denied the right to vote.
Finally, under the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited segregation in public accommodations and made discrimination in education and employment illegal, and a year later, in 1965, it passed the Voting Rights Act, which suspended the use of any voter qualification devices that prevented blacks from voting. Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement inspired later movements for social change, both by motivating Americans to fight for improvement and by using methods of direct action, such as protest marches, rallies, and nonviolent civil disobedience tactics like sit-ins.

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The Student Movement that was the next major social change movement to rise in the 1960s. Composed predominantly of white college students, it worked primarily to fight racism and poverty, increase student rights, and to finish the Vietnam War. At the core of the student movement was a belief in participatory democracy, or the idea that all Americans, regardless of their social status, should decide the major economic, political, and social questions that shaped the nation. The students hoped to give power to the people so that they could fight for their own rights and for political and economic changes.

The Women’s Movement began in the late 1960s. During the 1950s and early 1960s, society pressured women to marry, have and raise children, and take care of the house. The prevailing view was that women’s abilities in the workplace and in public life were limited by their physical fragility and by their roles as mothers. Women were expected to stay at home and to depend on men to provide their financial support. The women’s movement was not a unified force with a single ideology or goal. Some activists fought for equal job opportunities; others focused on changing relations between men and women. They questioned traditional gender roles and tried to change society’s view that a woman’s worth was based on her physical attractiveness. An important issue for many women was control over their bodies. Abortion was illegal in almost all states, rapes were rarely prosecuted, and domestic violence was widely accepted as a private matter. By the mid-1970s, feminists had achieved some change. In 1971 Congress banned discrimination against girls and women in schools. In 1973 feminist lawyers won a Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, in which the justices ruled that women had the constitutional right to choose to have an abortion.

In the 1960s laws in most states prohibited homosexual acts. State and federal laws often made it illegal for gay men and lesbians to work for the government, and private employers routinely discriminated against them. The armed forces did not allow gay men or lesbians to serve. And most Americans felt it was acceptable to scorn, ridicule, and even physically harass homosexuals. As a result, gay Americans usually hid their sexual preference.

A large gay rights movement began only in the late 1960s, when citizen activism had become more common due to the civil rights movement and other social change movements. The gay rights movement had a dual agenda: to gain acceptance of homosexuality and to end discrimination against homosexuals. Activists sought to make homosexuality acceptable to the larger society and thus encourage gay men and lesbians to reveal their homosexuality. Once homosexuals were open about their sexual identity, then gay activists believed that they could work to end legal and social discrimination against homosexuals in American society through protests and lobbying.

Americans’ concern about the natural environment has a long history, but only in the late 1960s when so many Americans had become politically active did a mass movement emerge that focused on protecting the environment. Biologist Rachel Carson contributed to this awakening with her best-selling book, Silent Spring (1962). She detailed the use of chemical insecticides that killed birds, fish, and animals and endangered the human species.

In 1970 some 20 million Americans gathered for what organizers called Earth Day to protest abuse of the environment. Hundreds of thousands of other Americans staged protests and rallies around the nation. In response to growing citizen protests, Congress passed the National Environmental Act in 1970. The act created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate environmental health hazards and the use of natural resources. All told, in the 1970s Congress passed 18 new laws to protect the natural environment, including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, which established national air- and water-quality standards. At both a local and a national level, citizens joined forces to conserve natural resources, use and develop alternative, cleaner forms of energy, demand strict regulation of toxins, and promote a general awareness of the interconnectedness and interdependency of all life.

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Social Movements in the US. (2021, Apr 24). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/social-movements-in-the-us/