Youth and the protests of 1968 & 2024

Recent protests on American campuses regarding the situation in Gaza have been marked by widespread student activism and institutional responses. These protests have seen students engage in various forms of activism, including walkouts, sit-ins, and the establishment of “Solidarity Encampments.” For example, at the University of Pittsburgh, students declared a “Liberation Zone,” while at the University of Texas at Austin, a significant walkout and sit-in led to the deployment of state troopers and arrests of students. Similarly, at Yale University, a group of graduate students initiated a hunger strike to protest the university’s investments related to the conflict​.

The scope and intensity of these protests have drawn parallels with historic campus activism, such as the anti-Vietnam War movements, reflecting a strong and historically unprecedented solidarity with the Palestinian cause. This activism has challenged mainstream narratives and pressured university administrations to reconsider their financial and ethical positions concerning the conflict in Gaza​.​

The protests of 1968 were a worldwide escalation of social conflicts, predominantly characterized by rebellions of the youth and student movements against the established authorities, entrenched norms, and societal structures. Although the technologies differ, the underlying principle of using available means to spread messages and organize protests remains consistent. The 1968 protests utilised pamphlets, underground newspapers, and public speeches, while today’s movements harness social media platforms like TikTok.

Both periods reflect times of significant cultural and political awakening among the youth, driving a reevaluation of societal values and priorities that often clashed with those held by older, more conservative or traditional political figures. In 2024, social media platforms, especially TikTok, have played a pivotal role in shaping and amplifying the protests on American campuses concerning the situation in Gaza. TikTok, known for its short, impactful videos, has become a crucial tool for students to disseminate information, rally support, and mobilize peers both locally and globally.


HAPPENING NOW: Columbia students have formed a human chain around the Palestine solidarity encampment at Columbia University

♬ original sound – BreakThrough News

Role of Social Media

  1. Information Dissemination: TikTok allows for rapid sharing of protest activities, human rights messages, and on-the-ground situations, often bypassing traditional media channels that might be slower to cover such events or could portray them with a different bias.
  2. Mobilization and Coordination: The platform enables organizers to coordinate protest actions and mobilizations quickly. Calls for walkouts, sit-ins, and other forms of protest can go viral, ensuring high participation rates and immediate action.
  3. Awareness and Education: Many users leverage TikTok to educate others about the complexities of the Gaza situation, including historical context and current events, thus broadening the understanding and engagement across a diverse audience base.
  4. Solidarity and Community Building: Social media fosters a sense of community and solidarity among students from various campuses, which strengthens their resolve and provides a sense of belonging and mutual support in their activism efforts.

Differing Attitudes between Students and Establishment

The activism and use of social media by students regarding issues like the situation in Gaza reflect a broader generational gap between young people and the ageing generation of politicians. This gap manifests in several key areas:

  1. Technological Fluency: Young people are digital natives, comfortable leveraging social media platforms such as TikTok for advocacy and mobilization. In contrast, older politicians may not be as adept or may underestimate the power of these platforms in shaping public opinion and driving political activism.
  2. Communication Styles: There is a stark difference in communication preferences. Youth tend to favour quick, visual, and direct forms of communication accessible via social media, which contrasts with the more formal and traditional communication channels preferred by older politicians.
  3. Approach to Activism: Young activists often advocate for rapid change and are more willing to challenge established structures directly and vocally. The older generation may prioritise incremental changes and diplomatic approaches, which can seem overly cautious or out of touch to younger activists.
  4. Issues and Priorities: There is also a divergence in the issues that different generations consider urgent. Young people frequently push for progressive agendas on climate change, social justice, and international conflicts more aggressively than many older politicians, who may have different priorities or more conservative approaches to these issues.

As in 1968, the generational divide reflects broader cultural differences. This generational divide is crucial in understanding the dynamics of current political and social movements. It highlights the challenges in bridging diverse perspectives and experiences but also underscores the potential for significant societal shifts as younger generations gain more influence. This gap indicates a transformation in political engagement and advocacy, driven by the unique capacities and perspectives of the digital age.