Struggling to Make the World a Better Place: Exploring Some Experiences of Activists in the Auckland Progressive Youth Movement (1965-1977)
The 1960s and 1970s were an unprecedented period of social activism and protest in Aotearoa New Zealand and many other countries. The thesis traces the development of the two major movements of the time, those against the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa, and examines the backgrounds and experiences of a selection of former members of Auckland Progressive Youth Movement (PYM). PYM was an activist group often at the forefront of protests against the war and apartheid, as well as against other local and international injustices. The emerging of the NZ movements has been examined within the framework of prominent theories on the development of social movements. In the process the influences and organisations involved are detailed and examined. The process gives a broad perspective on the growth of the two most significant protest streams in the 1960s and 1970s. It also traces the flow on effect which helped precipitate numerous movements that followed, in the later 1970s and beyond. Central to the study is the question of how young people came to be involved in PYM. The study presents the stories of 25 former PYM members. Fifteen of these are taken from one-to-one interviews and the other ten from participant contributions to a survey. The data shows widely differing backgrounds and influences. The study matches these against the existing theories regarding becoming involved in political activism and also compares specific data with results of USA studies. As part of this investigation, participants have described how they viewed the social, political and economic climate at the time they became involved in PYM, and also why they felt that protest activity was appropriate. The chapter on the latter topic also explores the issue of the efficacy of protest action and the legacy of the 1960s and 1970s movements. Study participants were asked about memorable experiences of their time in PYM, and overwhelmingly responses included issues which I have combined under the title of “repression” (using Boykoff’s (2006) modes of suppression). This category encompasses the actions of police, media and the Security Intelligence Service. The associated literature shows that the Auckland experiences were by no means unique, and also gives explanations for some of these experiences. The issue of differences and conflicts between groups within the movements also featured significantly in the contributions from participants. The study outlines these contributions and uses available literature to explore the historical contexts and roots of these differences in a way that recognises the unavoidable disagreements over fundamental issues but also the potential for cooperation in a common struggle against injustice. The thesis explores participant recollections of issues of race, gender and sexuality in the movement at the time. It also investigates how participants viewed the long-term vision of PYM, and the later life trajectories of participants in terms of continued activism, employment choices and positive and negative reflections.