The New Left: A Movement of Change
Jordan Hunter The New Left: A Movement of Change Some people have characterized the New Left as an era of youth revolts and radical movements. However, the New Left was a combination of everything that took place through the 1950’s to the mid 1970’s.
It was an age that consisted of women and gays questioning their roles and rights in society to African Americans fighting to gain equal rights and ban segregation.
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Many people in the world today and back then would argue that there is no such thing as the New Left, but how could you not recognize something that changed history and the way the world viewed citizenship, equality, and human rights? I definitely believe that the New Left Movement existed and that all the people and organizations that Gosse categorized with this movement belong there. One of the major radical movements in the beginning of the New Left was African American’s fight to gain all the ideologies America said they were about.In the Declaration of Independence it is stated that all people are “created equal” and have “inalienable rights”, so many people, especially of other races, questioned why they were not as equal as whites in society. African Americans were made to be completely separated from whites by society and the laws it had put in place by using public facilities, schools, businesses, and even transportation to make this happen. As the separation progressed many movements and protests began to arise in order to put an end to the discrimination and achieve equality.The Montgomery Bus Boycott was one of the many protests that took place during this radical movement.
In this document Rosa Parks gives her account of how she refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white man and was arrested because of it. Refusing to give up her seat was just one of the small movements Parks did in order to show the world how unequal America had become, even over a simple seat on a bus. This movement also gave African Americans the attitude of “Well, let’s fight it out-if it means going to jail then go to jail (4). As this attitude began to spread across the country, so did the rise of many important African American leaders. Perhaps, the most well known of these was Martin Luther King Jr. MLK was about gaining equality and human rights for African Americans, but doing so in a peaceful way; that’s why so many people admired him and what he preached. He led many campaigns throughout much of the 1960’s which began to slowly gain results.
One of the major things MLK and his followers were campaigning for was a civil rights bill to be passed.Many walks, rallies, and protests were held in order to get then president, John F. Kennedy, to propose the bill and have it pass. In the year of 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama the climax of the civil rights campaign was reached, forcing JFK to commit to proposing a civil rights bill. However, because of how big and radical this campaign was, MLK was arrested and made to spend the night in a Birmingham jail. There he wrote a letter in response to an advertisement from white clergy asking him to shut down the campaign.In the letter, MLK explains why African Americans were campaigning for this and that they wouldn’t stop until they achieved what they had been working so diligently for (13).
As a result of the campaign in Birmingham and the letter MLK had written, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. The act banned public and private discrimination against African Americans and any other racial, ethnic or minority group. It also banned excluding someone from a job or a public accommodation because of the way they looked or where they were from and worshiped.This act changed many things for African Americans and other minorities’ lives, especially when it came to utilizing good jobs (16). Another major radical movement of the New Left was women’s fight to gain the same rights as men had in society. Many women had become fed up with the idea that their only place in life was to cook and clean and only worry about things like her looks and status in society. Most women in America were well educated and held very important jobs, granted they were in a man’s organization.
One of women’s first steps to call attention to the growing movement was the publication of Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique. In Friedan’s book she discusses how society has given a step by step guide on how a woman should act, dress, and live her everyday life. She explores how womanhood has lost focus of the equality so many women had devoted their lives to achieving and why women couldn’t recognize that they weren’t being given the same fairness in choosing their lives as men were (12). After the publication of The Feminine Mystique many women soon began to question their roles in society.In the year of 1964, two women, Casey Hayden and Mary King, started a collection of women’s thoughts on being excluded from any role of power other than running a household and catering to their families needs. The spread of women’s thoughts and arguments on every aspect of the growing debate soon began to spark the birth of many women’s rights groups (21). One of the most well known women’s rights groups was the National Organization for Women, otherwise known as NOW.
NOW’s goal was to call attention to the fact that so many women had been living a dependent lifestyle for the past generation.They focused on how women could hold jobs on their own, provide for themselves, and have a choice in their sexuality, marriage, and reproduction. Women were beginning to understand that they were going to have to take matters into their own hands and fight for equality since “there is no civil rights movement to speak for women, as there has been for Negroes and other victims of discrimination. The National Organization for Women must therefore begin to speak…(23). ” The growing debate over sexuality was also becoming a major radical movement during the New Left.Many people were beginning to discover their true nature, but were too afraid to let the public become aware of it for the fear of being excluded from society. However, in 1950 a man by the name of Harry Hay and other members created a “ homophile” group called the Mattachine Society that concentrated on giving gays confidence in coming out and still being an important part of society.
Their goal was to unify, educate, and lead people of the gay community and those who were heterosexual and did not fully understand the reason for the “homophile” group (1).As the growing rate of gays grew, so did their desire to participate in politics and have a powerful role in helping with the movement. America wasn’t fully comfortable with this want, because they had the idea that gays were not fully capable of doing the same job as a heterosexual person involved in politics. Many others didn’t want to see a civil rights act be passed for gays because they believed they should be kept separate from society simply because they were different.Due to this growing attitude of American citizens, the GAA, Gay Activists Alliance, was created that made gays a force in liberal politics nationwide. The group was open to anyone, gay or heterosexual, and focused on the liberation of gay rights (38). The road to gaining equality for gays was very long and took a great deal of time to achieve.
Martha Shelly’s speech at the Women’s Strike for Equality rally was a major stepping stone that achieved the rights that gays had been fighting so long for.At the rally, Shelly talks about how one should not be afraid to come out because it may make heterosexuals feel uncomfortable. Shelly urges all gays to be comfortable in their own skin and be proud of who they are; and for all heterosexuals to wake up and realize that gays do exist and that they should just accept that they do (35). Although I have argued that majority of the groups that were considered to be a part of the New Left definitely do have a right to be recognized as part of the movement, there are some that I do believe have no purpose of defining the New Left.During this movement, so many groups expressed their desire for fighting for equality and freedom, but doing so in a non violent matter. One example of a group that did not act in a non violent manner that helps prove my argument was the student protestors at Kent State University in Ohio (41). This group of students were protesting the Vietnam war, but ended up bombing the ROTC building because it had to do with the army and their goal was to do away with the Vietnam War and anything that had to do with it.
However, the bombing only created more violence which went completely against what America was against. Another group that went completely against what the New Left was about was the creation of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (22). The purpose of this party was to carry around weapons and roam the streets in groups to appear violent in hopes that it would scare the white society and politics into giving them the equality they were seeking.Malcolm X was a strong advocator for this party and for promoting the attitude that all “true revolutions are violent (15). ” All of this violence was completely opposite of the way MLK and other African American activist groups had been protesting and fighting. Other groups of people that believed violence was the answer to getting what they wanted had no place in being part of the New Left simply because the New Left was all about seeking change in non violent ways and never having to resort to that manner to get what everyone was wanting, equality and freedom.The new Left was made up of several different types of groups, people, leaders, protests, rallies, and movements; but they all had one thing in common, which was the want and need of equality and human rights.
The New Left was all about seeking change and I believe that everyone and everything that did belong as part of the New Left achieved just that in memorable and just ways.