The People of This Generation: The Rise and Fall of the New Left in Philadelphia

The People of This Generation: The Rise and Fall of the New Left in Philadelphia

The People of This Generation: The Rise and Fall of the New Left in Philadelphia

The People of This Generation: The Rise and Fall of the New Left in Philadelphia


At the heart of the tumult that marked the 1960s was the unprecedented scale of student protest on university campuses around the world. Identifying themselves as the New Left, as distinguished from the Old Left socialists who engineered the historic labor protests of the 1930s, these young idealists quickly became the voice and conscience of their generation.

The People of This Generation is the first comprehensive case study of the history of the New Left in a Northeast urban environment. Paul Lyons examines how campus and community activists interacted with the urban political environment, especially the pacifist Quaker tradition and the rising ethnic populism of police chief and later mayor Frank Rizzo. Moving away from the memoirs and overviews that have dominated histories of the period, Lyons uses this detailed metropolitan study as a prism for revealing the New Left's successes and failures and for gauging how the energy generated by local activism cultivated the allegiance of countless citizens.

Lyons explores why groups dominated by the Old Left had limited success in offering inspiration to a new generation driven by the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War. The number and diversity of colleges in this unique metropolitan area allow for rich comparisons of distinctly different campus cultures, and Lyons shows how both student demographics and institutional philosophies determined the pace and trajectory of radicalization. Turning his attention off campus, Lyons highlights the significance of the antiwar Philadelphia Resistance and the antiracist People for Human Rights--Philadelphia's most significant New Left organizations--revealing that the New Left was influenced by both its urban and campus milieus.

Combining in-depth archival research, rich personal anecdote, insightful treatment of the ideals that propelled student radicalism, and careful attention to the varied groups that nurtured it, The People of This Generation offers a moving history of urban America during what was perhaps the most turbulent decade in living memory.


The 1960s: Post-Cold War and Post-Memoir

In the early 1960s a new generation’s voice would emerge across the nation, responding to the kinds of themes highlighted in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) Port Huron Statement of 1962: the threat of nuclear confrontation, the contradictions between American affluence and minority and Third World poverty, the contradictions between American commitments to equality and inclusion and the ugly realities of racism and segregation, and the sense that suburban affluence rested on a mix of hypocrisy, alienation, and meaninglessness. in Philadelphia, that New Left voice would face a number of challenges, some held in common with movement activists nationwide, others specific to this city. First of all, it would need to come to grips with the host of older radical voices that were struggling to recover from the dual blows of McCarthyist assault and the failures of Communism with the invasion of Hungary and the revelations of Stalin’s crimes by Nikita Khrushchev at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956. Second, it would need to determine its relationship to the extensive Quaker organizational structures unique to Philadelphia. Third, young radicals would inevitably and necessarily overlap with and sometimes be at odds with the reform movement as it revitalized the city’s liberals. How would New Leftists, who tended increasingly to define “corporate liberalism” as the enemy, accommodate themselves to a liberal reform movement in Philadelphia under assault from the right-wing, ethnic populism personified by notorious mayor Frank Rizzo? Fourth, New Leftists would have to work out relations with the emerging African American activists, beginning with Cecil B. Moore of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as well as those involved with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Fifth, those seeking to build a movement based on participatory democracy would have to deal with the ways all the above relations influenced . . .

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