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STUDENTS IN PARIS, 1968 Students hurling projectiles against the police on the Boulevard Saint Germain, Paris, May 1968. Photograph: Bruno Barbey/Magnum

In terms of civilian protests and social engagement, 1968 was a significant time. Throughout the year thousands of young people, mostly students, took to the streets of many cities around the world to openly criticize existing political regimes. It was a seminal moment in the history of political, ethical, sexual and behavioural change - one that affected both contemporary society and future generations.

In the U.S., indignation about the Vietnam War set off the year of insurrection, which rapidly spread across the globe. The war became a catalyst for an uprising amongst the pacifist youth, whose criticism was not only directed at their country’s military intervention, but towards all of America’s imperial values. The core belief system of the middle American, with its overwhelming


adherence to the power of technology and

individualistic capitalism, was now being questioned.

Meanwhile, in Europe different anti-establishment movements were formed in cities across the continent. One of the largest was a series of protests started by students at the University of Nanterre in Paris on 22nd March, directed against the authoritarianism and

anachronistic values of France’s educational system. Promptly, they gained the sympathy of other social sectors and the student movement became a more general opposition to the Gaullist regime. On 13th May, around one million people marched through the streets to protest against the General’s government, and an impasse was reached when more than nine million French people declared themselves to be on strike. Over the following year

the student movement proved to be efficient enough to weaken General De Gaulle, who eventually renounced his presidency after having occupied the post for the previous 10 years.

Influenced by the European movements, students in Latin America also rose up in protest – this time against military rule. However, police forces there acted much more aggressively to combat rebellions than those in Europe and in the U.S. The most violent battle between students and authorities that year took place in Mexico City and became known as the Tlatelolco Massacre. On 2nd October, during demonstrations against military occupation at the National Polytechnic Institute in La Plaza de las Tres Culturas, an estimated 40 people were killed and more than 500 arrested.

The year ended in a mixture of victory and frustration. While every movement may not have seen success, it can still be considered a year of

achievements. This is because, although 1968 may have not directly brought about change, what it did do was alter our collective consciousness as a global society. As Mark Kurlansky wrote in his book, 1968: The Year that Rocked the World: “1968 was the epicentre of a shift, of a fundamental change, the birth of our post- modern media-driven world… It was the beginning of the end of the Cold War and the dawn of a new geopolitical order.” As a result, 1968 set the world in a new direction, reconfigured its social compass and became a symbol of the power that ordinary people can exert when acting in unison


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