We were the crew cut, bobby-socked children of the ’50s and ’60s, who grew up with the boob-tube fantasies of "Howdy Doody", "Leave it to Beaver", and "Father Knows Best." Bubble gum and baseball cards were the height of our desires, and our roots in the middle-class values of the American Dream were as painstakingly tended as a Norman Rockwell painting. We pledged allegiance to the Stars and Stripes every morning at public school, and every weekend we were dressed up by Mommy and Daddy in our permanent-press finery to worship Billy Graham’s god, who was going to make us a success when we grew up. But we grew up in a way that Mommy and Daddy never had in mind.
John F. Kennedy came on the American scene like a knight in shining armor, but in the midst of Camelot, the bubble burst. Then, as the friends we grew up with returned home from Vietnam, scarred and wounded in body and soul, or worse, laid out stiff in a wooden box wrapped in the American flag, our patriotic upbringing began to wither away. Our consciences were slowly awakening to the self-centered evil of the Great Society that we were growing up to give our blood, sweat, and tears to. A cry was forming in our hearts to be free from a system of things that was destroying human life and the earth itself through war and greed-based industry. We had to be free from the political, social, and moral corruption we saw around us. We had to get ourselves out of the passive madness our parents called sanity. We had to get ourselves back to the Garden.
The clarions of a counter-culture became our Messiahs as the Media gave a whole generation of children the prophetic voices of John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan. Our minds were transformed by the alternative visions of Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and Maharish Mahesh Yogi. The prophecy of their messages stirred our souls with the hope that we could return to innocence through flower power, free love, and psychedelic revelations. The Movement began as we slid out of a system of hypocritical double standards and compromised consciences to let it "all hang out" and "do our own thing."
We saw a new age coming of peace and "love, love, love, all you need is love." Even if we didn’t know much about love from how we had been taught as children, we were determined to try all that we could to find out how it worked. We flocked to Haight Ashbury for the Summer of Love, then to Greenwich Village in New York City, 10th Street in Atlanta, and other ghetto neighborhoods in the urban centers of America. Once there we engorged our outer and inner senses with metabolic mind trips on marijuana, LSD, and eastern mysticism. We lived together in open-ended communes sharing our drugs, our thoughts, our bread, and our beds with the runaway hungry youth caught up in the great exodus from the American mainstream. We became Hippies, Diggers, and Yippies as we strolled the streets and parks of the American way, challenging with our flowing locks and sandled feet the very deepest roots of all that was held sacred. We dis-dained the three-piece suits and nylon ties of a plastic Capitalistic Empire based on greed and selfish ambition. Instead we championed the cause of the poor, the minorities, and the freaks of the earth.
We marched and cavorted in the streets, placed daisies in gun barrels, and even tried to levitate the Pentagon for peace. But soon the cities made us easy prey for the profiteering drug dealers. So we began to go with the flow home to Eden. In our VW microbuses and with our thumbs out hitching, we fled to the wilderness of Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, and Vermont. Becoming the people of the earth, we built geodesic domes and planted crops of organically-grown produce. The hope of the age to come was within our grasp as communities sprang up across the nation, sending tender shoots into the fertile, freshly-tilled soil of cosmic unity and natural childbirth.
We stood as a scattered motley people before the east gate of the Garden of Eden, ready to enter into the Utopia our LSD imaginations had envisioned. It became evident that the peace we wanted couldn’t be found in the city. So we headed for the hills. Alternative People USA!!! We can do it if we can just get back to the land! Finally we would find our elusive dream. Communes sprang up everywhere. The most publicized was the caravan of hippies who made their exodus from San Francisco, led by Stephen Gaskin, to settle on 1000 acres in Summertown, Tennessee. In its heyday there were 1200 people there, living together, working together, tripping together, loving together. The Farm was the prime example, the hope that we had been waiting for.
In our out-of-the-way wilderness we were free, we had thought, from the evil system motivated by greedy capitalistic "pigs". Now, we had thought, we could establish the Nirvana of our own creation. But the reality was cold, hard, and undeniable. The system we had so vehemently protested wasn’t the only source of violence and destruction. Go as far as we wanted, to the ends of the earth, to the tops of the mountain roads, the enemy followed us — and it wasn’t just the system. It wasn’t just Spiro T. Agnew, J. Edgar Hoover, and Time Magazine. But it was ourselves — our lusts, our strife, and the evil we couldn’t leave behind.
None of our drugs, our songs, or our philosophies could get us stoned enough to drive away the same old-fashioned greed we were trying to escape. In a few years the communes all across the land collapsed. Too many people were just "along for the ride."
In our communal farmhouses the sinks were filled with filthy dishes, nobody took out the garbage, and the dogs, the cats, and the children roamed in and out through the screen door everybody left open, but nobody fixed. Our passionate anarchy slowly burned down like a marijuana joint, and we were left with the "roach" of our lives. We were becoming passive, apathetic, and numb. We had wanted to find ourselves and we did, but the unstable and transient individuals we discovered caused us to lose hope in ever finding the truly free, un-"hung-up" community. Each new community we drifted to only led us to see the reality that our tribal gatherings couldn’t go beyond the fundamental problems in each of our individual lives.
The result of our communal living and our free love is a generation of bitter and confused children, many lamenting the fact that neither they nor their mothers know who their father is.
The Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in August, 1969, was the climax and the beginning of the end of the Movement. Most of us who were there and most of us who wanted to be there settled back into the system. We went back to school, got jobs in the system, trying to convince ourselves that we were changing the world, making it a better place to live. We were still clinging to our ideals of the ’60s, but they were ideals that we could not realize. We knew there had to be more, but what else could we do? This is where we are today, so where do we go from here?