The Summer of Love didn't last long but it had a long-term effect. It was 1967 and 100,000 young people swarmed the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco to create a new culture of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
Atlanta had its own Haight -- the stretch of Peachtree in Midtown from about Fifth to 14th streets. People gathered at Mother's, a bar that attracted hardcore bikers who had discovered LSD, or at the Twelfth Gate, a coffeehouse that featured live folk music. But mostly, they convened in the streets, sometimes swarming Piedmont Park for a "love-in" or an antiwar rally.
In June of that year, the Beatles, who had begun studying Eastern religions and gobbling LSD, released their psychedelic opus, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." In my bedroom in sterile Sandy Springs, I played the album over and over, wishing I could "turn on, tune in and drop out," as Timothy Leary, LSD's apostle, suggested the year before.
It was in April of '67 that Martin Luther King Jr. outraged many of his own supporters by delivering a speech opposing the war in Vietnam. In October, thousands marched on the Pentagon to protest the war, which eventually killed more than 50,000 Americans and a million Vietnamese. The following year, many showed up at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Police abuse of protestors is indelibly inscribed in the memory of that convention.
The Summer of Love, in short, was about political foment, as much as it was about psychedelic transformation of consciousness -- a real phenomenon despite the fact that the drugs also screwed up a lot of people's minds. That formulation of the personal and political as inextricably interwoven persisted at least until the 1980s.
Which brings up my point. I've been reminiscing about the Summer of Love because two marches are planned in Washington, D.C. to protest Bush's plan to accelerate the Iraq war. The first is Jan. 27, sponsored by United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of diverse progressive organizations. A march on the Pentagon is planned March 17 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the original march and the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
Nearly all observers of such events have noticed they are mainly attended by baby boomers -- participants in the original counterculture. People in their 20s, the majority in the Vietnam antiwar movement, are a scarce minority in the current movement.
I suspect the difference is the draft. In 1967, it was still in effect, and the young had a vital personal interest in ending the war in Vietnam. If you were fit for service, the only way to avoid it was with a student deferment. Now, though, those who are dying in Iraq are largely men and women from the economic underclass who volunteered -- many just to pick up some extra cash and benefits in the National Guard.
Moreover, they live in a culture that has nothing of the 1960s' utopian aspirations. The antiwar movement naturally grew out of the counterculture's mocked but mainly sincere valuation of "peace and love." That literally millions of young people experimented with drugs like LSD undoubtedly helped establish those values. Leary's call to "turn on, tune in and drop out" was, contrary to the usual understanding, a call to reject the dominant culture's values and engage in the effort to transform them.
Our culture today has greatly abandoned the communitarian values of the '60s. (Remember "communes"?) The war in Iraq simply doesn't touch people the way the Vietnam conflict did, in large part because of the lower fatalities, thanks to improved military medical care. But we aren't allowed to see the caskets of the dead, and the media, run by post-boomers, simply aren't interested in the suffering of the Iraqi people themselves. The alternative press, which was begun in the '60s, has largely mainstreamed itself into the same kind of nervousness that characterizes the media to which they were once starkly contrasted.
It's part of aging to look back on the past as the "good old days." It's also a common and incorrect assumption that societies necessarily evolve. In fact, throughout history, societies have fallen into regressive values and ultimate dissolution. You can't postulate evolution without the idea of the survival of the fittest. America is well on its way to losing that position.
I hope younger Americans soon wake up and, without returning to the hippie-dippy excesses of the '60s, at least turn an eye toward the unprecedented suffering the current administration is causing here and abroad. Attending one of the two upcoming marches might be a place to start.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.