As we get older, we live through and remember more of the historical events that shape the world we live in today. A few examples in my own case:
The end of the Vietnam War – check.
The election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK followed by the election of Ronald Reagan in the US, and their special bond – check.
The fall of the Berlin Wall – check.
Celebrating the new millennium – check.
However, there are other events that I lived through but have no recall of, and yet I must recognize were an important influence on American and British culture and so an important influence on my life.
Here is a prime example: next week Oct. 6, it will be the 50th anniversary of the "Death of the Hippy" ceremony in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. This marked the end of what became known as the "Summer of Love," when as many as 100,000 of the youth of America, known as flower children and hippies, traveled to Haight-Ashbury to create a non-conformist counter culture. The idea was to build a society based on rock music, art, creative expression, politics, drugs and the freedom to love.
The mid-1960s had already seen a number of long-haired young people gathering in cities around the world embracing alternative lifestyles by "dropping out," "tuning in" and rejecting their parents and grandparents’ views, values and lifestyles. This rebellion thrived on the concepts of communal living, political decentralization, environmental awareness and "making love, not war."
Hippy culture embraced foreign travel as a means of finding oneself, and backpackers travelled and lived as cheaply as possible on the "hippy trail," often through Europe and the Middle East on to India. (For more information visit www.the60sofficialsite.com.)
I was a year old when the Summer of Love happened and living in the very respectable, even repressed, London suburbs with a deeply conventional family who distrusted this new way of living. Most people felt the same way. Yet it is widely agreed that this movement acted as a catalyst for a new era of social change, even if many of the excesses of the time were proven to be rather a bad idea (which is British understatement for a disaster).
This was a time of great change and upheaval and was happening against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, feminism, rising Cold War tensions, the Civil Rights Movement, and inner-city race riots.
The mock funeral for the Summer of Love on Oct. 6, 1967, signified that this great experiment was not a great success. By that time, after several months of the hippy invasion, the city of San Francisco was struggling with crime, violence, addiction, malnourishment and homelessness. This grand new society was simply not sustainable and many of the young participants simply drifted away or went home to resume their lives, studies, work and, in a broader sense, to conform.
It is, however, undeniable that this movement changed mainstream culture and altered music, fashion, the role of women in society, environmentalism and more. Looking at this from a personal aspect, I grew up a few years later in an era when it was acceptable to challenge the status quo.
I was certainly not a rebel, nor ever wanted to "drop out," but I did grow up knowing that it was OK to enjoy being a woman and to pursue a career other than the traditional teaching, nursing or secretarial options. It was OK to travel, OK to have new and modern tastes and OK not to marry the first man who asked me. A few years earlier, all these things would have been frowned upon, and a generation before that, almost impossible.
I will leave you with that thought, as well as a quote from American journalist William Hedgepeth, who now lives a quiet retirement in the north Georgia mountains. In 1967, he was Look magazine’s youngest writer, and he was sent undercover "Inside the Hippie Revolution" in San Francisco. Following his experience, he said, "Consciousness is irreversible, I never wore a suit again."
God bless America!