Hippies' proud legacy: peace, love, activism

June 21, 2007|By Larry Atkins

What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?

That's the question that we should be asking in light of the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

Hippie values and culture have been taking a beating over the past few years. However, while the hippie movement had its flaws, there is much about it that should be honored, cherished and celebrated.

Forty years ago, the hit song "San Francisco," written by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas and sung by one-hit wonder Scott McKenzie, sounded the clarion call of that era: "If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair." And come they did, in droves. Hundreds of thousands of young flower children flocked to Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco for the summer. They got high, listened to music and didn't bathe much.

It was hippie culture that spawned the pro-environment movement, including the establishment of Earth Day in 1970. Though they were mocked by many as tree huggers, hippies' culture led to the philosophy of taking care of the Earth through recycling, organic food, vegetarianism and forest preservation.

They had a positive philosophy of loving your neighbor. A sense of optimism and hope prevailed. They embraced ethnic and cultural diversity and tolerance. They spoke out against greedy capitalism, racism and government imperialism. There was a healthy questioning and distrust of the government and corporations. Young people spoke out and went to protest marches against the Vietnam War. Unlike the complacent generations before them, they stood up for what they believed in and were not apathetic. Young people believed that they could change the world for the better.

There was creativity in hippie music and art that endures today. Songs by the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are still played on the radio and continue to influence contemporary artists.

The hippie culture is often commercialized or derided. On the one hand, it's a bummer to see the commercialization of the hippie spirit. Companies frequently use 1960s music to sell cars and sneakers. Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is now played as background music for IRA and mutual fund ads. In another commercial for financial services, actor Dennis Hopper - once a counterculture icon - mocks 1960s ideals by saying, "Flower power was then, your dreams are now." One South Park episode, titled "Die Hippie, Die," had hippie-hating Eric Cartman drive a tank through a crowd of drugged-out hippies to try to stop a music fest. And of course, conservative talk-radio hosts take every chance they can get to bash, mock and ridicule the supposed permissiveness and naivete of 1960s liberals.

To be sure, hippie culture had its low points. The movement's biggest flaw was that it was fueled by heavy doses of marijuana and LSD. As David Crosby told Time magazine last year, "I think we were right about everything except the drugs. We were right about civil rights; we were right about human rights; we were right about peace being better than war. Most of the causes we espoused then were correct."

Indeed, despite the mockery and the commercialization, there are many efforts to recapture the charm, spirit, energy and vibrance of the hippie culture. Go to any outdoor summer music festival and you're likely to see a lot of tie-dyed T-shirts. Mega-outdoor music festivals such as Lollapalooza, Live Aid and Woodstock '94 have tried to recapture the spirit of 1960s "be-ins" and festivals such as Monterey Pop and the original Woodstock. Current anti-war protests also evoke memories of that era.

During this 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, there's no need to celebrate by dropping acid or going a week without a bath. Instead, emulate the best of what the 1960s counterculture offered. Be more open-minded to people different from you, work to protect the environment, or have the courage to speak out against the government. Embrace your inner hippie.

Larry Atkins teaches journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University. His e-mail is larryltatkins@aol.com.

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