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What is America? To define the two hundred thirty something years that are this nation with one event is to unfairly condense a history that is so deep and complex into something that cannot even being to compare with it. America is Woodstock. Even Woodstock, which in itself is an intricate event, cannot measure up to the magnitude of the history of the United States of America. Maybe the idea of Woodstock, the idea that a generation’s tribulations and triumphs can be summed up into one concert of love, freedom, and peace, can begin to represent America. If America is an amalgamation of all parts of its history, then any one event viewed objectively could theoretically represent it. Maybe Woodstock did not define all of United States history; but it defined an era. Woodstock, the great rock concert from Friday, August 15th, 1969, until the early hours of Monday, August 18th, demonstrated how half of a million downtrodden hippies could bring out the greatest ideals of the greatest nation. The ideals exposed at Woodstock were not all positive, but they were the most prominent ideals this nation. Maybe the reason Woodstock was so powerful was not because it only lasted a little more than three days, but because the ideals is showed persist throughout American history. Those five hundred thousand hippies were the Woodstock Nation, and simultaneously a small and large part of the American Nation. Those five hundred thousand may not have made up a majority of the population, but they represented the majority of the population. They represented it all. The good, the bad, the ugly, the ideal, the appalling, the startling, the unusual, and everything else in between. America is shown in the continuing ideals of free speech, protest, and optimism exposed at Woodstock. However, American did not just happen at Woodstock. America happened all the way back from the pre-Columbian era until the present, and will keep happening in the future. America was founded on the basis of protest and free speech. As British colonies we issued the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, starting a nation full of free thought and ideas. We protested our being controlled by Britain and issued a document speaking to that. Even before that, protest was rampant. The Navigation Acts, and later Stamp Acts and Townshend Acts, which put duties on American goods, caused unrest within the colonies and caused a protest. British goods were boycotted and Congresses of the people were created to address these concerns. We instigated the slogan of “no taxation without representation,” a prime example of free speech in the early colonies. Benjamin Franklin, an important political figure, published an early newspaper promoting protest and influencing colonists. Thomas Paine, the writer of the pamphlet “Common Sense,” invigorated the nation with a nationalist and rebellious feeling. The Boston Tea Party was a crucial example of insurgency and ultimately the American Revolution was a major example of uprising as well. The Constitution demonstrated the importance of free speech, protest, and assembly, by guaranteeing them in the first amendment in the Bill of Rights, and proving that free expression is the backbone of
Jeremy Keeshin America. Throughout all of this, there was optimism that America as a nation would succeed. As America progressed into the 19th century, ideas in the country swirled around and protest and speech flourished. The Second Great Awakening and Enlightenment got people around the country to begin thinking again, and with their newfound ideas they started to vocalize abolition as well as other reform movements. Transcendentalists such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote and started to protest for the bettering of the American society and increase in the intellectual facets of America. This Enlightenment thinking, coupled with the debate on the hot topic of states rights culminated in the protest called the Civil War. The Civil War was the peak of protest in the 1800s. The North was embattled with the South and vice versa, and the strongest ideals of the country were revealed at this time. Views on slavery were exposed and written about and the media became more important than ever before. After the Civil War, the country started to become ripe with yellow journalism. This was a new way for the media to attract and influence its readers through sensationalist writing. Newspapers, the key component in free speech, started to gain momentum and this time and become more influential throughout the country. The next great expression of free speech, protest, and an optimistic view for change in the nation came in the 1950s with the actions of the Civil Rights Movement. As discrimination against African Americans and injustice grew in the nation, the search and protest for equality began to get publicity. With the influential speaking of Martin Luther King, Jr., civil disobedience and organized protest started to become a means to gain a voice. “Sit-ins” were held as well as bus boycotts to protest the unfair treatment against blacks, and Jim Crow laws. The protests staged were catalysts to pass laws and get Supreme Court cases arguing the segregation and unfair treatment of African Americans. In 1954, the case Brown v. Board overturned the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson by saying that “separate is inherently unequal.” The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968 banned discrimination throughout in employment and sale of housing, respectively. This was how the nation was changed by protest. Protest was at the root of all of the change in American society. The ills were found, people spoke out and protested them, and that was what made the change happen. These First Amendment rights that are guaranteed to all of the citizens allow them to freely speak their mind and make a difference to the society. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his “I Have a Dream” speech, was the ideal example of speaking and protesting for reform. Near a million gathered to protest and express their views for the change that should be America. The Civil Rights campaign had the idealistic view that their goals could be accomplished, and that was what enabled them to be. The 1950s and 1960s were changed by people who took their ideas of change to heart, and through expression of speech and protest, revolutionized America. Another major part of the 1950s was the resurgence of the media with the use of the television. The radio had previously been the staple in the American home, but the new product as its replacement was television. Now there was a new means for people to express themselves and influence the country. Television sitcoms portraying the ideal American family helped to cultivate the optimism and bolster the conformity of the 50s. Talk shows and situations comedies were the new way for people to connect and view the nation. The television media affected presidential debates, such as the one between Nixon
Jeremy Keeshin and Kennedy during the 1959 election. The media helped form the way that the country would view Kennedy, and helped move him to his victory. While all of these events shaped the United States of America, Woodstock did it in a new way. Woodstock was about the youth expressing the ideals of the nation. Woodstock was about taking the principles of free speech, free thought, protests, and idealism to a level never seen before. The counterculture gathered to express their discontent with the war, and their love for peace and music. The piercing anti-war lyrics and songs about love and peace epitomized an era. Not only did it do that, it epitomized the United States of America. What is America? It is how people can rally together, no matter what the time period, location, or conditions, and prove a point and instigate change. It was done in the Revolutionary War, it was done during the Civil War, it was done during the Civil Rights movement, and it was done during Woodstock. With the First Amendment as their instrument for reform, citizens of the United States have sought to make America what it is. They have made it into a country that revolves around the idea of free speech, protest, and idealism. America is Woodstock.
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