Terry H. Anderson takes the position that the activism of the 1960s inspired citizens of all types to demand changes that transformed politics, culture, society and foreign affairs in America. The activism of the 1960s caused the United States to become a more inclusive and democratic nation. Anderson admits that even though the activists of the 1960s may not have achieved everything they set out to do, they still had a profound positive impact on the United States. In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, and Fair Housing Rights Act were passed which helped minorities tremendously. The protesting university students of the 1960s helped to question the roles the administration and students play in colleges. Students questioned that history should be told from the perspective of the white male European and in response universities decided to offer classes outlining the histories of African Americans, Chicanos, Native Americans, Jews, and women. The antiwar movement helped to produce a population that no longer just blindly followed the President, but rather questioned his actions when warranted. This is evident in the fact that 80% of the population opposed the Vietnam War in 1973. Today’s parallel can be seen in the displeasure many Americans have about the invasion of Iraq. Without the questioning of the Vietnam War the citizens of today may not have questioned the actions of President George W. Bush. Women also made strides due to the activism of the 1960s. From 1970 to 1990 the proportion of women who were business managers, physicians and professors increased from 5% to 33%. Overall, while the activism of the 1960s did not fix all the inequities that existed in society, many groups of people made many strides forward.
Peter Clecak takes the position that the cultural and political revolutionaries of the 1960s failed to revolutionize themselves or American society and discovered that they were powerless against the prevailing social order. Clecak uses the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and Yippies to illustrate his point that these small activist groups were just that, small groups which had little impact on the greater American society. Clecak says that the political revolutionaries focused on the negating the worst parts of current American society when they should have been looking to build a better future. The Yippies were a countercultural group that mocked the current status quo. However, their goal of creating a cultural revolution caused them to not have a “long-range political” goal which hurt their ability to make real change. Also, the Yippies’ mantra of doing one’s own thing backfired on them. Even though the first Woodstock saw the death of two people as well as the clogging of local highways, Hoffman who led the Yippies could only see the youthful energy. Clecak’s main critique for the both Yippies and SDS was their inability to mobilize politically in order to create any sort of meaningful change.
When analyzing the arguments made by both authors I tend to agree with the position taken by Terry H. Anderson which claims that the activism of the 1960s produced a better nation. Clecak takes a very cynical view of the activism of the 1960s. The main flaw in his argument stems from the fact that they only focused on the ineffectiveness of the Yippies and SDS. However, the question being asked is whether the activism of the 1960s in general helped to make the nation a better place. The improvement experienced by minorities and women through the passage of laws and the increase of women in professional positions is direct evidence that the United States became a better nation due to the questioning done in the 1960s.