The Story of the Hippie Movement

Just like beauty can grow in the most extraordinary places, peace can be achieved in times of war too. There is always a silver lining, no matter how dark the sky is. When you think that everything is as bad as it can get, you will always find something to change your mind. But only if you really want to see behind the clouds and only if love and peace are your real motivation. The hippie movement is now ancient history. Today’s adults consider those times to be long gone, but those who lived to remember Woodstock and the 60’s know and appreciate the only time when the world gathered to fight for freedom.

The Rise of the Hippie Movement

If you are born after 1970 the word “hippie” probably reminds you of dirty young people, sitting in parks, smoking marijuana and singing Pete Seeger’s “Where have all the flowers gone”. You associate the hippie movement with a bunch of smiling faces, driving around in florally painted WV busses, always ready to share hugs with complete strangers. There is so much more behind this stereotype, although if you search the Internet, these photos will pop out first. The truth is: there aren’t many people left who still remember the time when young people were ready to make love over fighting wars, and as young people, we are not really willing to give up our conveniences to fight for a cause like peace. At the time, young people had other things on their minds too, but they chose to try and make the world a better place. The idea did not just pop into their heads out of nowhere. There are many reasons why so many young folks took a stand and refused to confide in governmental decisions. The root of the movement takes place in the early 50’s or the depression after the Second World War. The generations born between the Second World War and the 60’s are known as the “baby boomers” because the birth rate in America started to increase significantly. The wars were over, peace was established, and America could finally start living the American dream. The economy was stabilized, unemployment rates were dropping, trading opportunities with Europe were a big possibility and everyone could afford to have a big, happy family.

But even the American dream is only just a dream. As soon as the Soviet Union won the World Wars, they’ve become a superpower, rising next to the United States. Communism and capitalism were the two contradictory systems, not being able to cooperate. The cold war brought the world to a stage with two concepts: victory and leadership over the world, or defeat and destruction. Since then, the US and SU are both spending billions of dollars on mobilization and arming of military forces. The pending cold war got all American citizens on their feet, alarmed and building shelters, teaching children how to find a harbor in case of an atomic explosion. J. Edgar Hoover (FBI) was persecuting communists and soon, the Communist Party, the Democratic Party and other smaller “left” political organizations had to leave the political scene in order to protect and keep their jobs and family safety. This tense political atmosphere caused unhappiness in many American families, but it wasn’t until the arrest of Rosa Parks and the upcoming 13 months long protest, that the American people realized justice can be realized. Until the protest, black people in Montgomery, Alabama had to enter and ride at the back of the city buses. On December 20, 1956 the boycott ended, when the Supreme Court decided that segregation on public buses is against many constitutional rights. This triumph inspired many people, black and white. Students from many universities woke up and founded the Civil Rights Movement. The Old Left political parties were replaced by the Students for a Democratic Society in 1959. They were the heart and soul of many marches and demonstrations later during the hippie movement. Many people who shared the same values joined these organizations and adopted Gandhi’s view on the world. Peace, anti-militarism, anti-capitalism, anti-totalitarianism and solidarity were the new radical concepts accepted by many men and women, who realized that all limits are imaginary and all rules made up. The current political scene left no room for the dogmatic aims of the newly formed left assembly. This early movement focused only on non-parliamentary opposition and action, directly spreading the visions they had on improving the living conditions of the middle and lower social classes of America.

The Fight for the New Beliefs

Time went slowly by and many people saw the injustice, corruption and hostility of the world they lived in. One by one, they appreciated the idea that if you love the lonely, there will be no loneliness. If you kiss the broken and hug the hurt, their hearts will be mended. They realized that if you befriend the lost we will all find each other. But the beginning of the movement was not so positive. The first few years of the 60’s were actually very disturbing and memorable. Martin Luther King Jr. had managed to raise the African American people from the margins of the society. He refused to stay in black owned hotels when traveling, actions which were criticized by the political top and the white people alike. He believed in a world where all men have the same unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, white or black. He had a dream that one day all men, rich and poor will sit together at a table, because they were all created equal. He had a dream where a man will be judged not by the color of his skin, but the content of his character. He had faith that all jangling discords of the American nation will be transformed into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. For the same cause President Kennedy made his famous speech. His dream was to inform the American people and he encouraged the opposition to point out the government mistakes. He believed that an error becomes a mistake when we refuse to correct it. Kennedy believed that without a debate and without criticism, the government and the country cannot succeed and the republic will not survive.

But the government didn’t listen. Instead, Medgar Evers was killed and it took the court 30 years to find the right killer and bring justice upon Medgar Evers soul. Fire hoses and police dogs were released on children in a black school in Birmingham. Civil rights activists (Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman) were detained by the police and never seen alive again. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Texas and Robert Kennedy in LA. America’s most eminent figures were discriminatorily defeated but their dream stayed behind, lingering in young people’s cognizance creating hope for a new era of peace. The war in Vietnam, the Caribbean crisis and October crisis in Cuba were escalating and raging out of control. Students from Kent State and Jackson State demonstrated their unhappiness with the political decisions, and an open fire killed six of them. 25,000 people protested against the Vietnam War on 5th Avenue solely, with the company of 14 other foreign and US cities. Over 10,000 people in New York walked the Walk for Love and Peace and Freedom. Another 400,000 people protested against the Vietnam War, marching from Central Park to the UN, objecting the governmental decision to send 448,400 US soldiers in Vietnam. Detroit saw one of the most violent riots on the American history, called 12th Street riot. 43 were dead, more than 7,200 arrested, 1190 were injured and over 2,000 buildings got demolished. Dr. Benjamin Spock and Allen Ginsberg, together with 585 other antiwar protestors got arrested trying to close the Ney York City induction center. The police arrested 200 people and injured 37 in Harvard University during a boycott. The faculty then created a study program for black people and gave them voting rights. Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Dick Gregory and Paul Krassner founded the Yippie party or Youth International Party. In 1968 on August 23th, they nominated a 145 pound pig for president, calling him Pigasus - the Immortal. More and more people became aware that the world cannot stand the conflicts for a long time and they realized that the power is in their voices.

One of the major politically significant hippie movements was the Free Speech Movement. Jack Weinberg from the Berkeley University in San Francisco was collecting money in the campus for the Civil Rights Movement, when the police tried to arrest him, because debating political opinions and topics was forbidden on the University campus. Students from Berkeley surrounded the police vehicle and stayed on the streets for 36 hours, preventing the officers to carry Jack Weinberg to the station. After 800 people were arrested during the protest and the protest still wasn’t near conclusion, the University executives realized that their constraints were impossible and unreasonable. And since January 1965, a place in the campus was designed for political speeches, discussions and sharing opinions. After this success, San Francisco earns its rightful title as the hippie movement capital.

In the Meantime…

Antiwar boycotts, pacifistic protests and more freedom were the driving forces that stir the crowds. Meanwhile, the Beatles were telling us that all we need is love and to give peace a chance. More people agreed with them, not just in America, but all over the world. John Lennon and Yoko Ono got married and spent the legendary week lie-in in Amsterdam in the name of peace. Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Steve Winwood formed Blind Faith, proposing we should all come down from our throne and that things must change. Bob Dylan sang that the cup is full and if we don’t do anything about it, we are going to drown, sinking like a stone, because “The times, they are changing”. And then, the summer of 69 was the greatest summer of love. Woodstock gathered more than 500,000 people for three days full of music and love. Not everyone got to see the main stages and people were abandoning their cars, trying to get to the music and art fair by foot. Food and drinks were in shortage during the first day of the festival, but the locals, together with the Monticello Jewish Community Center managed to make more than 200 loaves of bread for the starved hippies.

For all those who believed that the hippie community is the doom of the society, Woodstock proved them wrong. For a festival of that proportion, with that many “loose” young people, with so much drugs and alcohol, the sight saw three deaths, only one of which was drug related. An 18 year old boy, veteran from Vietnam died from a heroin overdose, the other one was a case of a burst appendix and the third was an accident, a tractor run over a kid. By Monday morning, the festival was over. 20,000 people left behind, still listening to Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, remembering that their dream came alive for at least three days. For three days more than 500,000 people forgot that they live in a world with greedy Wall Street brokers, they made love instead of war and listened to good music instead of the news. The year after, the owner of the farm where the music fair was held, Max Yasgur, didn’t let the revival of the Woodstock festival. The town of Bethel and the New York State created laws against another gathering of that kind and the Woodstock Festival was held for the second time later, in 1999. After Woodstock the hippie movement started to fade. Their philosophy wasn’t accepted by the larger masses and more people were joining the movement only for the drugs. The FBI revealed their study on the dangerous aftereffects of LSD drugs, and cocaine and heroin became more popular. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix died in 1970 and 1971 took the life of Jim Morrison from “the Doors”. Older hippies, yippies, activists, pacifists and environmentalists started to withdraw to search for the peace within, instead of promoting it in the world. New hippies still loomed in the following years, only because being hippie at the time was very “hip”. Protests were still held, not radical like the ones in the 60’s, but rather quieter like sit-ins. And like all other trends, this one too had an end. Former activists had to radicalize in different ways and form different groups, because the political oppression became stronger with each year.

The Weather Underground organization brought bad press to the hippie community, even though they had nothing to do with their peaceful philosophies. They bombed several government institutions and buildings, including the Pentagon. Many hippies moved to Asia, as the place that supported their religious, ethical and philosophical principles. Most of them settled in America. Their cause may be forgotten by now, although they celebrated peace, love and happiness only 50 years ago. For what it’s worth, they have given the birth to the new age culture, music genres like Goa, trance and techno. The art created in that time still influences today’s art, music, and literature. The sex revolution they triggered in those days, enthused many people around the world to request their gay rights, freedom of speech and expression. Their campaigns opened our eyes and minds to think about our planet’s future, and search for alternatives to avoid the governmental regimentation and restriction.

Protesting for days without end might have made the hippies dirty, and their music may sound corny today, but there were no lyrics with prostitutes, guns and how to shoot your neighbors guides. There was only love, respect and kindness.

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