Scholars who study protest movements say that such movements arise at times when they feel “relative deprivation.” What this means is that they feel that they are not as well-off A) as others in their society and B) as they expect to be. It is important to pay attention to both of these factors. The first factor was present for many groups long before the 1960s. It was during the ‘60s, however, that the second factor came to exist for them.
The African American Civil Rights Movement was the first major protest movement in the ‘60s. It came from a sense that African Americans could actually expect to gain rights in that decade when they would have had little or no hope before. During the Cold War, the United States claimed that democracy was better than communism because it offered freedom for all. During WWII, the US had claimed moral superiority over the racist Nazi regime. These types of rhetoric could be used by African Americans as a way to claim their rights. These types of rhetoric helped make it more likely that whites would support them. African Americans also felt more like they had fallen behind in the ‘60s. The white community was experiencing a huge economic boom and the black community was not. Thus, Factor A (from above) and Factor B both increased for African Americans in the ‘60s. This led to the Civil Rights Movement.
The other movements experienced Factor B largely as an effect of the Civil Rights Movement. That movement made it clear that society was changing. If society could change for African Americans, then why not for women, Hispanics, and gays? This led to a greater feeling of relative deprivation for these groups as well.
Please note that this is a very brief summary of the causes of these movements. There are many more factors that played into the rise of each movement. However, the basic cause was a rising feeling of relative deprivation.
The 60’s were a time of political and social upheaval largely because of the events that preceded them.
America had been through a lot. We faced World War I, The Great Depression, and World War II in quick succession. World War II in particular changed the makeup of the social fabric of America. Women began to work out of the home, and to demand more and more rights. At the same time, they demanded rights for others—including civil rights for blacks. Influential figures like Martin Luther King emerged.
The Civil Rights and the Vietnam War were tumultuous movements in terms of social conflict. People had to choose sides. It was no longer okay to sit back and pretend nothing was happening. People were tired of war. They were tired of inequality. Everything we had taken for granted was changing.