“As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss. First, the permeating and victimizing fact of human degradation, symbolized by the Southern struggle against racial bigotry, compelled most of us from silence to activism. Second, the enclosing fact of the Cold War, symbolized by the presence of the bomb,brouth awareness that we ourselves, and our friends, and millions of abstract “others” we know more directly because of our common peril, might die at anytime. We might deliberately ignore,or avoid, or fail to feel all other human problems, but not these two, for these were too immediate and crushing in their impact, too challenging in the demand that we as individuals take the responsibility for encounter and resolution.” (Tom Hayden 323)
The 1960s was the first time Americans saw the generation gap that we are all too common with today. This was the first time that the ambitions and principles of a generation (the Baby Boomers) greatly differed, and even challenged, those of the previous generation. Young adults were no longer striving for the same goals as previous generation. This led to a toxic “us vs. them” mentality that has caused civil unrest since. But what caused this particular generation to become so utterly dissatisfied with American society?
Many Baby Boomers were involved with the Civil Rights Movement and anti-poverty programs and became passionate about social idealism. It became their mission to fix the apparent flaws in their society that earlier generations treated lackadaisically. Initially, this idealism focused on changing the arbitrarily rigid structure and rules of universities but transformed to protesting the Vietnam War and the draft. Student groups wanting to cement their new vision formed the “New Left” political party. The “New Left” wanted social and political changes to be determined by well-educated and younger individuals, unlike the “Old Left” that put too much power in the too few hands of capitalist groups. The Port Huron Statement was written by a “new left” student group that called for immediate action to tackle the injustices plaguing society such as racism, poverty, corruption and the government’s abuse of power (Vietnam, the draft). For the first time, students across the country organized and vocally expressed their outrage through demonstrations. The older generation did not understand and merely saw young adults as rebels and troublemakers for rising against the previously established social order.
“… a circular marked “Private and Confidential” was issued by the three banking houses of Drexel, Morgan & Company, Brown Brothers & Company, and Kidder, Peabody & Company. The most painstaking care was exercised that this document should not find its way into the press or otherwise become public…. Why this fear? Because the circular was an invitation … to the great railroad magnates to assemble at Morgan’s house, No. 219 Madison Avenue, there to form, in the phrase of the day, an iron-clad combination. … a compact which would efface competition among certain railroads, and unite those interests in an agreement by which the people of the United States would be bled even more effectively than before.” (Zinn,256)
At this time, the emergence of oligopolies was considered a feat of financial ingenuity, as well as the bane of consumers and workers. For so long companies had been competing to get the most customers and to reap the highest profits. Eventually, they discovered the path to success, while counterintuitive, was to collude so they could focus on manipulating their consumers and workers for higher profits. Zinn believed that the railroad magnates coming together sealed the fate of Americans: the tycoons and their corporations would go uncontested while the working class would inevitably suffer through cruel conditions. The title of the era as “The Gilded Age” is fitting as a select few reached unparalleled heights of success while underneath, most Americans lived through the harshest conditions. Saying the working class “would be bled even more effectively than before” was not just a metaphor. In 1889 alone, over 22,000 railroad workers were killed or injured. Because the companies were working together, workers could not seek better wages or working conditions at a different company. Such became the case with most labor jobs. On top of paying meager wages, these companies would charge exorbitant prices thereby effectively putting these wages back in their own bank accounts. As a result, these companies owned and controlled Americans.
Soon companies gained control of Americans not just on an individual level but on a federal level. The United States government stood by and allowed the greedy corporations to operate while infringing upon the rights and well-being of Americans. Zinn compares the government at this time to a Marxist definition of a capitalist state, “pretending neutrality to maintain order but serving the interests of the rich.” (Zinn,258) Under Grover Clevelend, the Federal bank had ran out of gold reserves. The large private banks working together saw this economic vulnerability as an opportunity for growth and took control over millions in government bonds. The government’s dependence on big banks became clear as it served to protect the interest of these banks as opposed to its constituents. Thus these industries were able to operate with little to no accountability and regulations. By working together, the heads of the banking, oil, steel and railroad industries earned a lasting influence on America.