Week 7: The New Left

May 23, 2020

Hello everyone, welcome back! For this blog, I will be discussing the New Left.

The New Left was an American political movement during the 1960s. In contrast to the Old Left, which focused more on issues of class struggle and labor, the New Left paid attention to social issues. These included racial inequality, environmentalism, feminism, and gay rights. The sit-ins of Greensboro, North Carolina in early 1960 would kickstart the activism that characterized the New Left and the sixties as a whole. The quiet determination exhibited by the four still black students Blair, McNeil, Richmond, and McCain at the whites-only Woolworth’s lunch counter reverberated across the United States. Their refusal to get up despite the harassment would demonstrate the power of activism and the possibility of change.

The New Left also included the anti-war activism that would respond to the escalation of the Vietnam War. In stark contrast with the adolescent culture of the 1950s, which was regarded as a passing phase before adulthood (“growing pains” in Todd Gitlin’s words), the youth culture of the 1960s sought out permanent societal change. Whereas 50s beatniks and bohemians eluded society, members of the New Left did the opposite by involving themselves in it as much as possible. And nowhere was this movement gaining traction as much as on the college campus. The college campus remained a prominent site for intense political activism throughout the 1960s, which can be seen through the Columbia University protests of 1968 and the UC Berkeley Free Speech Movement of 1964-65, as well student activist groups such as Students for a Democratic Society. (Fun facts: Phil Ochs acted as the musical director for a Free Speech Movement demonstration in May of ‘65 that had 35,000 participants. Joe McDonald of the band Country Joe and the Fish moved to Berkeley in 1965, finding like-minded progressive individuals.) 

Overall, the New Left would establish a precedence for social activism in various spheres that was ultimately inspired by the civil rights movement.

One Reply to “Week 7: The New Left”

  1. Lois W. says:

    This is quite interesting. The New Left also reminds me of “the Graduate” such that one of the characters (Elaine Robinson) attended UC Berkley which was an area for lots of social activism.

Leave a Reply