The student movement was the next major social change movement to develop in the 1960s. Many of its early organizers had first become politically active in the early 1960s working alongside blacks in civil rights protests. The student movement worked primarily to fight racism and poverty, increase student rights, and to end the Vietnam War. At the core of the student movement was a belief in participatory democracy, or the idea that all Americans, not just a small elite, should decide the major economic, political, and social questions that shaped the nation. In a participatory democracy, citizens would join together and work directly to achieve change at the local level. The students hoped to give power to the people so that they could fight for their own rights and for political and economic changes.
In 1960 a small group of young people formed Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). By 1968 some 100,000 young people around the nation had joined this organization. The SDS gained strength from the Free Speech Movement that occurred at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964. Berkeley students protested after university officials banned political leafleting on campus. They complained that they were treated like numbers, not people, at the overcrowded Berkeley campus. Other students around the country formed similar protest organizations, demanding an end to restrictive campus rules that failed to treat them like responsible individuals.
During the presidential primaries of 1968, thousands of student volunteers worked for Eugene McCarthy, who ran for the Democratic Party nomination on the issue of ending the war in Vietnam. By the early 1970s, student activists helped organize the environmental movement and the women’s movement.
However, some student activists were frustrated by the escalating Vietnam War, widespread poverty amidst great...