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“Thinking globally”: Political movements on the left in Massachusetts, 1974–1990

Robert E. Surbrug, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines activist movements on the left in Massachusetts in the decade and a half after the end of United States involvement in the Vietnam War. The study focuses on three movements that were particularly strong in Massachusetts: the movement against nuclear energy in the latter half of the 1970s; the campaign for a nuclear weapons freeze between the United States and the Soviet Union in the early 1980s; and the Central American solidarity movement which campaigned against United States intervention in Central America during the 1980s. Massachusetts became a stronghold of all three of these movements and played an important role in transforming them into national movements. The movements against nuclear energy, nuclear weapons and U.S. intervention in Central America demonstrate an altered continuity from the radical protest movements of the 1960s and challenge the notion that activism on the left faded away with the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, soldiering on only in fragmented “identity” politics. The movements against nuclear power, the arms race and U.S. intervention in Central America grew out of the radical politics of the 1960s and sought to learn from the successes and excesses of that decade. In varying degrees, these movements sought to blend the radical perspectives of the New Left, the moral witness and non-violent direct action of the civil rights movement, and the new values and lifestyle of the counterculture. New movements growing out of the 1960s such as feminism and environmentalism further shaped the trajectory of these post-1960s movements, which sought to go beyond the self-destructive revolutionary militancy of the late 1960s student New Left to create broader based movements which pursued the universal vision of the 1960s left through community based activism. In so doing, these movements had a significant impact on mainstream liberals in Massachusetts, such as Senator Edward Kennedy, Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O'Neill and Governor Michael Dukakis. The confluence of strong activist movements and powerful liberal politicians in Massachusetts made it certain the state would have a significant impact on national politics in the 1970s and 1980s.

Subject Area

American history

Recommended Citation

Surbrug, Robert E., "“Thinking globally”: Political movements on the left in Massachusetts, 1974–1990" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3110557.