Activism Didn’t Die

Alex Li’s assertion in his 6/10 letter that “activism died on the vine” after the end of the Vietnam war is a popular narrative not supported by historical evidence. Lee refers to the 5/13 guest viewpoint, “Fifty Years After: The Vietnam Anti-War Movement in Eugene.” I am a co-author of that column.

Sociologists Richard Flacks and Jack Whalen studied the political engagement and career paths of former U.C. Santa Barbara anti-war activists in their 1989 book, Beyond the Barricades: The Sixties Generation Grows Up. In addition, sociologist Doug McAdam examined the values and politics of student activists 15 years after their participation in the civil rights movement, and specifically, the 1964 “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi — a campaign led by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to register new Black voters.

These and other scholarly studies of post-Vietnam and civil rights activism reach similar conclusions: Those who were most active in these movements in the 1960s continued their activism and participation in anti-imperialist movements, such as opposition to American intervention in Central America; the renewed labor and civil rights movements, particularly support for the United Farm Workers and Justice for Janitors; and the new social movements such as the environmental, food justice, feminist/LGBTQ and disability rights movements.

Moreover, many former anti-war and civil rights activists became (low) paid staffers or volunteered for local progressive institutions and nonprofits founded in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including food co-ops, rape crisis centers, free medical clinics, Legal Aid, housing co-ops, alternative print and radio media and faith-based community organizing to address poverty and racism.

I hope Li can review these studies. The changes that occurred due to the 1960s social movements were profound, though insufficient to entirely uproot inequality and racism and curb American intervention in Third World nations. Nonetheless, history suggests that one generation’s achievements build upon those who came before.

Marty Bennett

Sonoma, California