The Power of a Movement
According to Dictionary.com, counterculture is defined as the following: “The culture and lifestyle of those people, especially among the young, who reject or oppose the dominant values and behavior of society.” The teenage years are synonymous with the idea of rebellion: for years teenagers have taken the norms of society and rejected them, disregarding conformity and creating a culture based off of rule breaking. The “hippies” of the 1960s first immortalized this free-spirited ideology that would inspire teenagers for generations to come. The genesis of the hippie movement, which was spawned from the dissatisfaction of politics and middle class values, inaugurated the development of a nationwide counterculture that youth embraced, as it fostered the rejection of societal norms and gifted teenagers with a social independence that they had not had not yet possessed.
Ken Kesey, a seemingly normal, middle class man soon to be deemed the “prophet” of an acid revolution, happily volunteered for a government run experiment on the newly discovered drug, LSD. From his very first acid trip, he was convinced that he was exploring a part of the last and greatest frontier: the many states of the human consciousness. The journey of Ken Kesey and newly-formed group, self-titled the “Merry Pranksters”, became the starting point of the hippie movement. Ken Kesey hosted parties in his home in La Honda, California, in which he would lace the Kool-Aid bowl with LSD. These were called the Acid Tests. Kesey publicized these parties with posters reading, “CAN YOU PASS THE ACID TEST?” and inviting popular bands such as Grateful Dead to participate. It was a time of experimentation, and no one had any foresight into the movement they were about to start (Wolfe).
The Merry Pranksters decided to take their religious practice of dropping acid on the road; the group traveled the nation in their psychedelic bus named “Further” spreading the message of love and peace. The name “hippie” did not come until much later,.
This journey in the mid-60s inspired many to become apart of the beautiful people that happily rejected the norms created by the decades before them. As Ken Kesey famously says, “You’re either on the bus or off the bus, and many rebellious youth of America decided hop on this “bus” of freedom and expression (Helmore).
Deriving from the word “hip”, hippies used their new cultural platform in society to address political and environmental issues. This cultural renaissance manifested itself in various protests against the Vietnam War, what was promised to the public to be a somewhat easy war, yet spiraled into a bloody detriment, killing nearly 60,000 Americans (“Statistical Information about Casualties of the Vietnam War”).
In March 1966, 50,000 anti-war protesters gathered to express their feelings on America’s involvement in Vietnam. In 1967, 100,000 people protested in Washington DC and in 1971, 300,000 people returned to prove their point again, along with many veterans who publicly threw away their medals and ribbons (“Protests against the Vietnam War”). Reigning as the easiest method of shedding light onto social issues, the endlessly practiced art of protesting embodied what it meant to be a hippie.
The hippies also helped in the launching of the ecological movement. U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson noticed the power of the successful anti-war movement, and inspired by their social activism, organized the first Earth Day, hoping to increase public awareness of environmental issues (Turner). On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans filled city streets and local parks with environmentally-friendly messages, celebrating the beauty of the earth as well as warning about the growing threat to the environment. Thousands of universities held protests about the environmental harm, drawing national attention to their causes. Earth Day also led led to the establishment of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the creation of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. Unlike the politically divided war movements, the environmentalist movements maintained the hippie mentality while uniting people of all political parties to partake in the saving of the world (“Earth Day: The History of a Movement”).
As the Vietnam War came to an end, and some hippies dove deeper into drug addiction and alcoholism while others began families and careers, the colorful hippie movement started to lose momentum.
There is no doubt that America was transformed in the 60s, and the impact of the hippie movement cannot be ignored. What started out as an exploration of freedom with the aid of drugs and music promptly transitioned into a culture of social activism; the hippies fought racism, liberated sexuality, inspired environmentalism, and helped to end a war while simultaneously encouraging individuality, self-pride, and love (“How the Hippies Changed the World”).
Gone are the days when a counterculture had such meaning and purpose in society. The youth cultures of today may be inspired by hippies, but despite having the Internet as a powerful means of communication, they fail to match the tactile power and unity that distinguishes a “style” or “fad” from a movement. Some would argue that hippies were an exasperation to society, but it was necessary to cause a disruption of conventionality in order to be heard. Hippies accepted the liberation that comes with being a young adult and put it to use, culminating a renaissance of individuality and freedom of speech, using the world as a platform to express their views. This generation of an anti-establishment mentality popularized a peaceful, loving ideology that lived long past the decade. The hippies paved the way for countercultures to come, but no other counterculture would top the political significance and social activism that was synonymous with the hippie name.