This July, Repair the World is teaming up with an awesome organization called Ask Big Questions (an initiative of Hillel) to ask the big, burning question: Who is in your community? Today’s answer comes in the form of a mini-history lesson, looking at the world of civic engagement and social movements in America from the 1950s to today. Take a trip to the past to see how things have changed over the years.
1950s Civic engagement was at an all-time high in the years after World War II. Union membership and participation was at an all-time high. People stopped by to visit their neighbors, volunteered at school, and joined clubs, churches and synagogues. Meanwhile, the beginnings of the modern feminist and civil rights movements were beginning to stir.
1960s This is the decade that changed everything. People felt empowered in entirely new ways to change their worlds for the better. They demonstrated in the streets, at colleges, and at city halls to protect the rights of all people, regardless of their skin color or gender, and to change the status quo of oppression. Martin Luther King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech to 250,000 civil rights supporters in 1963. The National Organization of Women (NOW) was founded in this decade. So were the Peace Corps and Americorps, which enabled people to make a difference at home and abroad.
1970s Kicking off with the first Earth Day in 1970, this decade solidified the already-brewing movement to protect the planet. Meanwhile, people continued to raise social consciousness, protesting against the Vietnam war and fighting for the increase in rights for women and people of color.
1980s This decade was known as the “Me decade,” and was characterized by low volunteerism and civic engagement. And yet, many important social movements run by dedicated people flourished during this time. A few examples: spurred on by the emergence of the AIDS epidemic, a new movement towards LGBT rights and healthcare rights reform was pioneered in the 1980s. The movement to end Apartheid in South Africa also inspired and engaged countless people in this country and globally. In the Jewish community, a movement started the decade before to help the Soviet Jews immigrate and find religious freedom reached important heights.
1990s The media portrayed young people in this generation as apathetic, irony-obsessed slackers. Meanwhile, Robert Putnam wrote his seminal work about the decline of civic life, Bowling Alone, during the 1990s. But there were bright spots too. Thanks to Rock the Vote, founded in 1990, the 1992 election ended the 20-year decline in youth voting. The 1990s saw an increase in non-profit organizations, and the end of the Cold War brought a renewed interest in peace building work. It also saw the rise of the anti-sweatshop labor movement. Meanwhile, 1990 was the year that Teach for America was founded, a program that empowers young people to make a difference through teaching.
2000s The rise of the internet and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter drastically changed how people interact with one another. Some people argue that the internet divides us, while others say it creates more bridges for connection and civic engagement than ever before. On the positive side, it has emerged as a useful tool for staying in touch with our communities, political organizing, and for spurring on movements and aiding disaster relief efforts. Meanwhile, this decade saw the rise of service learning as an educational model, and the continued fight for human rights, particularly around LGBT rights.
2010s While we are still in the first half of this decade, it is clear that young people are more socially, politically, and civically engaged than ever. What do you think the rest of this decade holds for civic engagement? Let us know on our facebook page or by tweeting @repairtheworld and @AskBigQs.