Give Peace a Chance -Haight-Ashbury and the Summer of Love

in History/Music/Spirituality/Theosophy

“Come on people now, Smile on your brother, Everybody get together, Try to love one another, Right now.”  The chorus to the song “Get Together” by the Youngbloods, released in 1967, exemplified the aspirations of the youth of that time, disillusioned by what they considered the ‘warmongering’ older generation.  The injustice of the Vietnam war caused many to rise up in protest and to try to promote peace and love in place of death and destruction.

Thousands of young people, later known as “Hippies”, descended on the Haight- Ashbury region of San Francisco on January 14th 1967 for what was known as a “Human Be-In”.  Similar events occurred around the world during that year.

The event was announced by  Haight-Ashbury’s Hippie newspaper, the “San Francisco Oracle”: “A new concept of celebrations beneath the human underground must emerge, become conscious, and be shared, so a revolution can be formed with a renaissance of compassion, awareness, and love, and the revelation of unity for all mankind.”

The Hippies of the time also became known as “Flower Children”, as the flower became  a symbol of the peace and love they were trying to promote.  There are pictures of young people presenting flowers to armed soldiers as a rather beautiful expression of the impulse they had started.  There is no doubt that the movement rose out of genuine feelings of concern for the planet earth and may even have been influenced by beneficial entities behind the scenes.

In the midst of this were a group known as the “Diggers”, taking their name from English Protestant dissenters in the 17th century CE, who believed in economic equality.  The name “Diggers” arose from their attempts to farm on common land. The San Francisco Diggers opened stores which simply gave away their stock; provided free food, medical care, transport and temporary housing; they also organised free music concerts and works of political art. Some of their happenings included the Death of Money Parade, Intersection Game, Invisible Circus, and Death of Hippie/Birth of Free.

Music played a large part in that year, many ‘bands’ appearing at various venues across the USA and the world in general. Of course the Hippie culture has achieved notoriety due to the use of drugs and the promotion of ‘free love’, but this was never the main aim of the movement, more of a bi-product for some. Bob Weir, guitarist with the rock band the “Grateful Dead”, remarked: “Haight Ashbury was a ghetto of bohemians who wanted to do anything—and we did but I don’t think it has happened since. Yes, there was LSD. But Haight Ashbury was not about drugs. It was about exploration, finding new ways of expression, being aware of one’s existence.”

In a gathering of several thousand there are bound to be many negative elements, as it is a coming together of young people from many walks of life and levels of comprehension of the goal.  Many were there merely for a good time, but others entertained serious spiritual aspirations.  The cry was “Make Love not War”, which was certainly a better alternative if not a satisfactory solution in the long run.

It was in Bangor in Wales in September 1967 that the Beatles attended a seminar by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation Movement.  Early the following year they travelled to his ashram in India and joined others who were training to be TM teachers.  These included the Scottish singer Donovan, the actress Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence, ‘Beach Boy’ Mike Love and flautist Paul Horn.  The visit had varying degrees of effect on the participants; a few would pursue the Spiritual Path after the visit, others fell away.  Prudence Farrow became a TM teacher and has pursued that course for many decades as well as working in the film and theatre industry behind the scenes. Later in her life, Farrow earned a BA, an MA, and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley where she majored in Asian studies. At the ashram she would sit for hours in her room meditating.  The Beatles would serenade her with the song “Dear Prudence” which contained the lyrics:

Dear Prudence
Won’t you come out to play?
Dear Prudence
Greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful, and so are you
Dear Prudence
Won’t you come out to play?

John Lennon said at the time: “She’d been locked in for three weeks and was trying to reach God quicker than anyone else”.

Donovan became a troubadour of the Flower Power Movement and Paul Horn produced some beautiful flute music inside the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramid.  George Harrison would later go on to an affiliation with the Hare Krishna Movement.  Through their music they have spread the message to millions over the years and many have listened and been inspired in various ways.

If we can go beyond the negative elements of the Hippie Generation and get to the essence, we can clearly see this desire to create a utopia, a Universal Brother and Sisterhood of Humanity regardless of race, creed, sex caste and colour.

John Lennon and his partner Yoko Ono went on to promote peace in a more political and artistic way with their “Bed ins for peace” and their “Bagism”.  According to Wikipedia Bagism is: “…a satire of prejudice, where by living in a bag a person could not be judged on their bodily appearance. Bagism was created by John Lennon and Yoko Ono as part of their extensive peace campaign in the late 1960s. The intent of Bagism was to satirize prejudice and stereotyping. Bagism involved literally wearing a bag over one’s entire body. According to John and Yoko, by living in a bag, a person could not be judged by others on the basis of skin colour, gender, hair length, attire, age, or any other such attributes. It was presented as a form of total communication: instead of focusing on outward appearance, the listener would hear only the Bagist’s message. “

Most of us know John Lennon’s mantric song:  “All we are saying is Give Peace a Chance.”

Returning to Haight- Ashbury, the influx of so many people caused numerous problems as the area was not equipped to deal with such a large influx of people. Although the motivation was laudable the reality was different. Overcrowding, homelessness, hunger, drug problems, and crime afflicted the neighbourhood.

Many people left in the autumn to resume their college studies. On October 6, 1967, those remaining in Haight-Ashbury staged a mock funeral which took the form of a Digger “happening”, “The Death of the Hippie” ceremony.  Mary Kasper explained the message of the mock funeral as: “We wanted to signal that this was the end of it, don’t come out. Stay where you are! Bring the revolution to where you live. Don’t come here because it’s over and done with.”

Of course, things didn’t end there.  Between August 15th and 18th 1969 the Woodstock Music Festival was held on Max Yasgur’s Dairy Farm in the Catskill Mountains North West of New York City.  It was billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Music”.  After the concert, Max Yasgur, saw it as a victory of peace and love. He spoke of how nearly half a million people filled with potential for disaster, riot, looting, and catastrophe spent the three days with music and peace on their minds. He stated, “If we join them, we can turn those adversities that are the problems of America today into a hope for a brighter and more peaceful future …”

The ideals behind the Hippie movement were altruistic and have had a much deeper affect on society in general than first realised.  They challenged the gross materialism of the time and the often violent approach to the world’s problems.  The motive was good and motive counts for a lot, even if the actual application is faulty at times.  What occurs in the inner planes of being is sometimes a lot different than the physical manifestations.

It was an effort to rekindle a reign of peace, love and harmony on the planet, a reaction against what was perceived as injustice in the world.  Thousands were inspired to at least try to do something about the problem and to get the attention of the media and society in general, which they succeeded in doing. The plan to hold a 50th anniversary free concert in Haight-Ashbury in 2017 never materialised due to revised rules and regulations by the San Francisco Parks and Recreation department. A watered-down version was arranged but no emphasis on the core values of the Movement.

However, during the summer of 2017, San Francisco celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love by holding numerous events and art exhibitions. In Liverpool England, the city staged a ‘50 Summer’s of Love’ festival based on the 50th anniversary of the June 1, 1967 release of the album ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ , by The Beatles.

So, the legacy continues and if we take a bird’s eye view of the events of that year, we can see it as one more attempt by the forces that protect and help humanity to bring peace to a troubled world.  That some of the participants may fall well short of the ideal will not affect the overall message delivered. If sceptics say that the world has not profited by these efforts then we have to look at the many Spiritual and New Age movements that have arisen since that time. When the Spirit in us is threatened there is a reaction against it, as we are all essentially ‘Spiritual Beings on a Human Journey’ and the Great Heart of Humanity arises to protect itself against anything that threatens it.

Speaking personally I was very much inspired by those times and it may have been as a result of attuning myself to the more Spiritual aspects, sorting the ‘wheat from the chaff’ that led me on to an interest in Buddhism and later to Theosophy which taught all the things that the Hippie Movement did, but in a much deeper and more organised manner.  I was only 14 in 1967 but already had developed an interest in Spirituality but had not really grasped the idea of Brotherhood and compassion which “Flower Power” Movement embodied.

HP Blavatsky throws light on the subject in an article entitled “The Tidal Wave”: “Amid all this external discord and disorganisation of social harmony; amid confusion and the weak and cowardly hesitations of the masses, tied down to the narrow frames of routine, propriety and cant; amid that late dead calm of public thought that had exiled from literature every reference to Soul and Spirit and their divine working during the whole of the middle period of our century–we hear a sound arising. Like a clear, definite, far-reaching note of promise, the voice of the great human Soul proclaims, in no longer timid tones, the rise and almost the resurrection of the human Spirit in the masses. It is now awakening in the foremost representatives of thought and learning; it speaks in the lowest as in the highest, and stimulates them all to action. The renovated, life-giving Spirit in man is boldly freeing itself from the dark fetters of the hitherto all-capturing animal life and matter. Behold it, saith the poet, as, ascending on its broad, white wings, it soars into the regions of real life and light; whence, calm and godlike, it contemplates with unfeigned pity those golden idols of the modern material cult with their feet of clay, which have hitherto screened from the purblind masses their true and living gods. . . . “

And so it is that hope springs eternal in the human breast and such Movements as the one Initiated at Haight-Ashbury will always arise to challenge the attempts of materialism to quell the Spirit that is what we all truly are in essence.





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