George Wallace | Johnson Campaign Poster | Richard Nixon | Shirley Chisolm

POLITICS: Power to the People

By 1960, there's a TV in almost every American living room, bringing newly visible images of war, poverty, racism, and nuclear threat. Harder to see (except in hindsight) are a number of domestic and global forces building up a storm of political activism.

The '60s begin with a race for President, and John F. Kennedy wins by promising to keep the U.S. ahead of the Soviet Union in the Space Race and Cold War. America's new President is young and charismatic; the First Lady is sophisticated and fashionable. The nation is on the brink of a fresh political era, with the old era of segregation on its way out.

Four years later, the campaign focus moves from Cold War to active war. Candidate Barry Goldwater supports bombing in Vietnam, and loses the Presidential race by a landslide. The mood of the electorate changes by '68, when Nixon's vague claim of "secret plans" to end the war and his law-and-order campaigning help him clinch the last national election of the decade.

All through the '60s, political awareness is seen as a civic duty. Voter turnouts are higher in the 1960s than in any other decade since WWII. Party conventions are must-see TV, because the Presidential nominee could be almost anyone. For instance, Shirley Chisholm, a black woman, receives over 150 delegate votes in '72. But by the end of the 20th century, due in part to Democratic Party reforms, state primaries are the key to nomination; conventions are just a formality.

A Vote is a Civil Right

In theory, all American men over 21 have the right to vote after 1870. In fact, it takes multiple laws in the '50s and '60s, plus a constitutional amendment in '64, to remove barriers for black voters.

Young adults are next in line for the vote. In 1964, the first male Baby-Boomers turn 18-old enough to be drafted and sent to Vietnam—but three years too young to vote against the war. Each year, more Boomers add to the pressure, and in 1971, a Nixon-supported constitutional amendment drops the voting age to 18, taking some steam out of the antiwar movement.

Young, Angry, and Experienced

As the '60s grind on, campuses become a breeding ground for political activism. A far cry from the docile kids of the '50s, the student body now includes the first working-class kids to attend college, and newly admitted minorities. Many worked for the civil rights movement, and now shift their attention to the political goals of the New Left, and groups like the SDS.

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