The Rebellion of the Youth in the 1960s

The universal symbol of peaceful protest during the 1960s.
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In 1946, 3.4 million babies were born in the U.S., more in a year than ever before. This was followed by 3.8 million in 1947. After 1954, 4 million babies were born every year until 1964, when the baby boom, as it was called, began to taper off. The baby boomers born in the ‘40s and ‘50s came of age in the 1960s and almost immediately began to rebel.

1 Revolting against Affluence

Since millions of baby boomers were raised in the affluent suburbs that had sprung up after the war, they began their rebellion against the materialism of their youth. For many, rebellion took the form of joining the Peace Corps or fighting for civil rights. The Free Speech Movement, born on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, came about because students were rebelling against a ban on campus political activities. With charismatic leaders like Mario Savio and supported by folk music icons like Joan Baez, the movement spread to other campuses and helped inspire protests against the growing war in Vietnam.

2 Anti-War Protestors

The chief source of rebellion for the baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s were the protests against the war in Vietnam, a war that defined the era. Almost no young person in the 1960s, man or woman, was unaffected by it. There were many people who enlisted or were drafted and fought in the war, almost 2.6 million Americans served in Vietnam, and more than 50,000 would die there. However, those young Americans who did not support the war gathered in the streets for massive anti-war demonstrations, such as the one that took place in October 1967, when 100,000 protestors gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. Protests against the political and authoritarian systems that supported the war -- such as the one at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago -- soon turned violent.

3 Turning On, Dropping Out

Those who didn’t turn to politics to rebel protested in another way with drugs. Millions of young Americans decided to “tune in, turn on, drop out,” in the words of counterculture guru Timothy Leary, as a rebellion against the straight, alcohol-imbibing culture their parents had belonged to. Long-haired hippies became a common sight on American streets, as did the smell of marijuana wafting through the nation's parks. Millions of young people tried mind-altering hallucinogens such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, DMT and mescaline that literally bent reality. Hand in hand with the drugs came another cornerstone of the ’60s rebellion: music.

4 Protesting With Rock 'n' Roll

Music in the ’60s was a way to rebel not just against the music of a previous generation, but against the confining pop strictures of early rock 'n' roll itself. Sixties rock took on extraordinary musical creativity with bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds and dozens of others, while poets like Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and Neil Young found their chief expression in music. Music fused together all the facets of the counterculture -- the search for equality, the anti-war movement and drugs -- and spread among teenagers who had access to the advanced musical technology of the time: transistor radios, eight-track car stereos and FM broadcasting.

Based in New Jersey, Joseph Cummins has been a freelance writer since 2002. He has written 17 books covering history, politics and culture. He has a Master of Fine Arts in writing from Columbia University. His work has been featured in "The New York Times" Freakonomics blog, "Politico," "New York Archives" magazine, "The Carolina Quarterly," "The Michigan Quarterly" and elsewhere.