Flower Power

It was the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967, and we who were here remember it all like it was yesterday….It was the era of Flower Power, and I was graphically reminded of it yesterday when I saw a stunning Facebook collection of photos from that actual time and place, now sealed away forever in our memories and our hearts where it remains forever young, fresh and vibrant…To quote Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….The best of times because of the hope and promise and vitality of a whole generation of youth, the worst of times because of the constant nightmare of war in some far away place called Vietnam that our American government was pursuing for all the wrong reasons….

I have used many of these pictures from Face book to illustrate the life we lived and what it actually looked like at that particular intersection of space and time…. If only I had owned a cell phone camera (which of course hadn’t even been invented yet), or even a Brownie Hawk eye, to take snapshots of all the faces, all the places, to remember better all the traces of a time now long gone, sealed away in a time capsule of memories, of the way we were….But the important thing is, we WERE there, and we did make a huge difference!

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Looking back on those days from the present perspective of 2015, we were quite technologically primitive actually….To the best of my knowledge, there was not even cable tv, not that anybody hip watched television anyway, no we all listened to underground FM radio, which was itself new, radical and ground breaking at the time, and besides all the cool music it gave us just enough news of the world to make us realize how lucky we were to not be involved in it anymore…

There were certainly no cell phones, computers, I pads, Kindles, tablets etc. because nobody had ever even thought of the internet as a concept back then…No it was all about a simpler place and time, and there was that war raging somewhere in far off Asia in a place called Vietnam, none of us had ever even heard of this place before, which we protested against, some of us more active politically in marches and sit ins, most of us more passively by by just dropping out, turning on, and tuning in….

We dropped out of the mainstream of America in the 1960’s as the proxy wars like Korea (before our time, in the 1950’s) and Vietnam raged on….Vietnam was a real personal item, because the deluded government was actually trying to draft young men and ship them overseas to a country nobody had ever heard of in defense of democracy…Or at least their twisted idea of democracy, which although the government architects of the Vietnam war like Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara later belatedly admitted was an outright mistake, were hot and heavy at the time about drafting every young man they could to fight this absurd, politically motivated war…

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How do you convince somebody who just dropped 500 mikes of Owsley acid and then went to a concert at the Fillmore and saw Janis Joplin or Grace Slick or Jerry Garcia that it was a good idea to give it all that up for a long ride to a short life in the middle of a steaming hot tropical jungle, put in a position of kill or be killed? To say goodbye to your old lady, maybe kids, all your friends and give up all those foggy summer days and chilly summer nights in the Summer of Love in 1967 where every minute of every day was alive and vibrant and infused with the reckless vitality, the hope and promise and strength of youth…

It made absolutely no sense at all, so we turned to Flower Power as our way of expressing our feelings and beliefs, our resentment at being considered so stupid, our response to this attempt at forced government manipulation of our private lives, this was considered kidnapping by the government, and the rallying cry at all the protest movements was “Hell no, we won’t go”…..It wasn’t going to happen, the old “my government right or wrong” mentality was being phased out….As cultural icon Muhammad Ali said when they tried to draft him “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong”

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But most of us were not activists, we were a remarkably apolitical mass of young people, and we just wanted to be left alone to live our lives….Sex, drugs and rock and roll were our credo, these elements comprised our value system and got us through the difficult times, and we believed that love was the only drug that really mattered….The music we listened to had a huge, major impact on our lives, and all of the bands were anti-war…The peace sign was being flashed a hundred times a day, it was a greeting, a farewell, and an affirmation of our way of life…

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Being actively peaceful was reflected in our daily lives, we met and mingled and shared and cared about each other, we panhandled tourists and straights, we sold each other drugs on the street to keep ourselves going, we shopped at the Digger’s Free Store on Waller street or ate free food at the Digger’s once a day mass feedings in the Panhandle right off Haight street and in Washington Square in North Beach…. North Beach itself had once been the cultural center of the beatniks, the hippie forerunners and spiritual mentors who first planted the seeds of rebellion and questioning the ultimate authority of the government back in the 1950’s…For some of us, it was the only meal of the day…

But back as early as 1966 the mass migration from North Beach to the quiet, peaceful working class neighborhood of the Haight Ashbury, snuggled right up next to the beautiful Golden Gate park, was already happening…The Gathering of the Tribes in January of 1967 marked a turning point that once put into motion could never be reversed….As per my Google sources:

Announced on the cover of the first edition of the counter-culture zine San Francisco Oracle, the “Gathering of the Tribes” or “Human Be-In” as it came to be known, was the prototype of all 1960’s counter culture celebrations. The Human Be-In precipitated the legendary Summer of Love, and made San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury the epicenter of the burgeoning hippie movement.

Many of the Haight’s best musical acts also performed, including the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service. It was at the Human Be-In that Timothy Leary coined his famous phrase, “Tune in, Turn on, Drop Out”. LSD was provided en mass by the legendary chemist Stanley “Bear” Owsley.

The Diggers provided free food to the crowds, which were estimated in excess of 30,000. It was this huge number of spontaneously gathered celebrants that attracted national media attention to the psychedelic Haight-Ashbury community, and made everyone involved realize that a profound new movement in American culture was being born.

The ethos of this new movement was a fundamental questioning of authority, a focus on individuality, decentralization, ecological awareness, and consciousness expansion through cultural openness and the use of psychedelic drugs. These ideas transfixed mainstream culture, and the phenomenon of the “hippie” burst full force into the public consciousness, transforming a generation.”

This was where it all really began, and this was the beginning of the end for the old style government, the antiquated “America, Love it or Leave it” mentality…Leave it? Hell No! This was OUR country and it had strayed off course, and like the original rebellious colonists who fought the harsh British colonial government policies, we hippies decided to fight back with Flower Power….Peace, love and non-violence were the new order, and we embraced these concepts fully and completely…

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Now, almost 50 years later, we can see that the quiet revolution we started back then in the Summer of Love has changed main stream America in so many ways from what it was back then to what it is now….There is still a lot of fixing to be done, to be sure, but our generation was the first to stand up and be counted, to say NO to blind obedience to misguided government policies, and through our collective efforts we changed an entire society….

I LOVE America, and always will, this is MY country, (and yours) but I also will never forget my roots and Flower Power in the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967, and how we transformed an entire country and it’s thought processes through the power of love…. To paraphrase Dickens again, “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times…. “Peace and love!

For more information on the Human Be-in see: magicbussf.com/january-14-1967-the-human-be-in-aka-gathering-of-the

For more blogs by John Whye, see http://www.johnwhye.com

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