The 1950’s gave to America certain ideals and values that were strongly followed and enforced, some of the people in the following generation took those ideals and attempted to destroy them. Most of them were just teenagers or young adults, but they all agreed that the lifestyle and beliefs that their parents and most other adults established didn’t make sense and needed to be changed. These kids started to defy authority and soon were getting encouragement from popular bands, actors, and authors. As the 60’s went on, adults kept trying to put an end to this resistance, but the anarchists started to join together to create a movement that stood up against society and tried to change it. The people creating this movement became to be called the counterculture. The children of the counterculture fought for change by rebelling against the standards of society by using drugs, protesting political issues, and expressing their free love. Music and fashion helped them make their impact.
The 1950’s brought great economic growth and with it the dream for a perfect life in a perfect country. Many people got married young and had children quickly, moved into suburbs, and found good jobs. They expected nothing else but for their children to go to college and follow in their footsteps. Adults had faith in the American government, and believed that any hard working, dedicated and honest man would succeed, and of course, they thought that their children would conform to their traditional values. Young adults were expected to look and act a certain way. Young men had to have their hair cut short, be clean shaven, and dress in suits or nice clothes all the time. Young women should always wear the right amount of makeup, have their hair done, and wear skirts or dresses even when they are at home.#1
The children of these flawless parents grew up listening to what their own futures would hold and most weren’t given a choice in how they went. Their naive parents thought that they could mold their lives but it just ended up pushing their kids further away. Their kids had no reason to believe in their ways or follow them, destroying their parents’ dreams. As the adults kept attempting to change their children’s path, most kids were struggling for freedom and started doing more and more extreme things so that they wouldn’t be associated with their parents’ beliefs. They stopped dressing like their parents and both girls and guys wore sandals everyday with tight jeans that flared out at the ankles called bellbottoms. Many wore outrageous, colorful, controversial clothing to shock the mainstream society. They wore flowers in their hair as a sign for peace and love, earning them the nickname “flower children”. The kids thought that their fashion trends as well as ideas were with it, or hip, so they named themselves “hippies”.#2
A Hippie was never alone. They joined together with a common bond to demolish the current values and replace them with values of freedom, peace and love. Their ideas spread fast and soon enough, kids from all over the country had stopped listening to their parents because now they could choose which life to live, and most of the people around them were changing their minds as well. Life seemed so much easier and happier the new way. Before long, all it took was the need to be free and a sense of belonging and you could be moving away from home with out guilt. “David Burrin went to Harvard by default. ‘Well I wanted to go to college. I didn’t think about anything else.’ After graduation, he went to study anthropology, then a six month stint as a medical student. After all that, David left his home and conservative girlfriend and caught a plane to California to join his friend in Berkeley. ‘I lived on the streets and had almost no money, but I had a sense of freedom and I felt like I belonged. ‘”#3
Many Hippies moved out of their homes and in with others who had the same beliefs. Many counterculture youth settled in urban neighborhoods such as Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, Telegraph in Berkeley, and East Village in New York. Living around each other created a special bond. Maggie Gaskin, a former hippie spoke about Haight- Ashbury, “I feel that they’re my people…to see someone who is a hippie was a marvelous thing, because it was instant communication, instant love and helping…and to see a hippie down there, there’s this instant big smile and happy vibration, and wonderful communication and it’s like that all the time.”#4 Because of this bond, it wasn’t uncommon for hippies to move in together. Despite society’s standards for a normal family, many Hippies formed communes and moved to isolated areas such as the mountains of California and wide open spaces of New Mexico. These communes rejected the normal life style and tried to build a totally self efficient environment, many communes were constructed on farms where people grew their own food and created their own schools.#5
Most of the hippies living in communes as well as others believed in “free love”, or casual sex, and had many sexual partners with the idea of no strings attached and no emotional breakups. Many thought that the idea of getting married and staying with one person was dumb and selfish. “If I were to stay with this man, and we promised to never see another, then what if our soul mate comes along? We would be so wrapped up in tradition that we couldn’t follow our destiny”#6 Hippies believed in sharing everything, from love and peace, to sexual partners and drugs.
Drugs were taken often and openly within the Hippie communities. The drugs of choice were mainly marijuana, or weed, and LSD, usually called acid. Weed was smoked so freely that people would start burning a joint while walking down the street and it wasn’t uncommon to see people having acid “trips” almost anywhere.#7 The fact was that the drugs brought the flower children closer together as a group, while fulfilling one of their goals, doing what the mainstream wasn’t. Acid was extremely popular with hippies, giving them illusions of everything they wished for: peace, love and happiness. Also, psychedelics weren’t widely available before the early 60’s. There was peyote around, but not much in circulation.#8 So it was a pretty sure guess to say that their parents never took any, another slap in society’s face.
Most hippies overlooked the danger of taking acid, and enjoyed the effects such as hallucinating and the false feelings of love and freedom. They used it to enhance the sensations of everything, from talking to friends, looking at pictures, and listening to music. Acid gave people the sense of unity, and created friendships between people that disappeared with the drug. Taking drugs wasn’t a scary thing for most, it was cool and exciting. “Dropped some speed this morning, which put me over 60° too far to the left. I’ll drop some Percodan [a pain killer]- that’ll cool me a few degrees. I’ll smoke a little grass to flatten it out. A little opium will fringe the edges. A little acid to kind of get me to tizzly down, and then I’ll drop some thorazine [a steroid] to really put the whole thing into the pressure cooker.” This was said to Peter Cohon from one of his friends, and at the time, the thought that his friend might overdose never crossed his mind.#9 Drugs were just accepted and weren’t questioned with in the Hippie communities.
Drugs were taken for recreation, for bonding, and as the war in Vietnam continued, for easing the frustration and fear of getting drafted. “As the fall semester moved on, a barely controlled panic was beginning to become a bond between students, who increasingly tended to “feed their heads” (as Jefferson Airplane urged in “White Rabbit”) as an antidote to the fear of getting blown off in Vietnam. Drugs were an escape.”#10 One of the few ways for draft deferment was passing grades. Very tough to get with out a clear mind. Ironically, many students smoked and drugged their way into Vietnam.#11
Although the American government kept saying that the war should be ending soon, more and more young men kept being drafted as news of numerous deaths were being reported. This caused Hippies to mistrust the government. Hippies didn’t believe that the U.S. should be involved in the affairs in Vietnam in the first place. It was a mistake that thousands of Americans had to pay for with their lives. To display their disapproval of the government’s actions, hippies joined together in protests and demonstrations in hopes of gaining recognition for their belief. This rebellion was encouraged by popular bands and singers. In a song entitled “I Don’t Stand Alone”, the singer, Perry Friedman sung disturbing lyrics encouraging people to join together and object the fighting in Vietnam. “I saw the moving pictures Of homes in napalm flames, I saw men burning children, Men with American names. To fly those wicked missions, I’d never leave my home, And I know I’m in the right, judge, And I don’t stand alone.”#12 This song gave hippies confidence to stand up to the government during a time when many were being called on to fight in Vietnam.
Adults in mainstream society were stunned when the young men being drafted said they wouldn’t go. The end of the war seemed so far off, that going to fight was like a death wish. The young men weren’t just scared, they were sticking to their beliefs. “ When General B. Lewis stated in early October, ‘I cannot see an end to the war’, a week later a new kind of war protest begun. As David Miller of Manchester, New Hampshire burned his draft card on the steps of the Induction Center on Whitehall Street in New York City.”#13
Although some hippies were confrontational, burning draft cards or American flags and “screaming stop the war!”, other protesters were more interested in making a gentle statement for peace. They often marched in silence, caring peace signs. Both types of protesters were often harassed by government troops, who were mainly made up of young men who were once part of the hippie movement. “No one even tried to make sense of it; teenage students placed flowers in the gun barrels of teenage National Guardsmen. When one Guardsman dropped his riffle, removed his helmet, and quietly sat down in the middle of the Bancroft and Telegraph intersection saying, ‘I can’t take it anymore,” he spoke for millions”.
#1 Information on Mainstream Culture and the Counterculture; ©Teachers’ Curriculum Institute, Palo Alto CA, 1998. Page 6.
#2 Information on… Page 7
#3 Whitmer, Peter O. Aquarius Revisited © Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, NY 1987 Page 110
#4 Wolf, Leonard Voices From The Love Generation ©Brown and Company; Boston, MA 1968 Page 89
#5 Information on… Page 7
#6 Fugerez, Leslie Sixty Images of the 60’s ©Collins Publishers; Chicago, IL 1993 Page 69
#7 Fugarez, Leslie 60 Images of the 60’s ©Collins Publishers, Chicago, IL 1993 Page 45
#8 Wolf, Page 42
#9 Wolf, Page 133
#10 Gallagher, Charles Visions of Vietnam © Harlequin Company, Chicago, IL 1985 Page 89
#11 Gallagher, Page 92
#12 “I Don’t Stand Alone” by Perry Friedman. © 1968
#13 Gallagher, Page 179