Presidents and Protesters: Political Rhetoric in the 1960s

By Theodore Otto Windt Jr. | Go to book overview

6
A Rhetorical Sketch of Protests Perspectives

The 1960s will be known in American history as a decade of protest and remembered for the generation that gave temporary rebirth to a genuine radicalism. Rebellion after rebellion erupted on campuses and in streets across the land. People organized into groups demanding their cause be heard. Groups merged into movements, gained publicity, then splintered into factions, each contending with others for prominence, power, and truth. Dissension rent the fabric of American society. Public strife threatened political life as Americans turned upon one another with a vengeance seldom experienced since the War between the States.

Though protests of one sort or another have been a special feature of American society since its inception, no previous generation produced such a wide range of sects and so many different rhetorical forms in such a short period of time. One reason for the proliferation of these forms may have been the perceived inadequacy of conventional political language to express protesters' concerns and demands. Another reason, one repeatedly charged by protesters, was that the prevailing political language had become so corrupt that it was merely a tool to keep officials in power and thus was no longer relevant to the events it was supposed to explain. As a result, in the 1960s American political language not only expanded, it seemed to burst apart at the seams. Powerful emotions exploded, and conventional political language seemed inadequate for their expression, thereby provoking the exploration of a variety of rhetorical forms that became defining features of the decade.

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