(The following excerpt from Where Have All The Flower Children Gone? recently appeared on psychology.com. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
Is it really 45 years since the Woodstock Festival shook and, some say, changed our world forever? I wasn’t there, but I’ve just read an essay by a local artist who was. It’s an illuminating look back at the event billed as “Three Days of Music, Peace and Love.”
They were called freaks, Hippies, long hairs and Flower Children. Their motto was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” The uniform for both sexes was faded jeans, tie-dyed T-shirts, and lack of underwear. Their music was rock. Together they constituted a movement and a counter-culture, intent on changing the world through peaceful protest––more specifically, bringing an end to America’s war in Vietnam. I agreed with them there, and about civil rights, too. I played the guitar and sang “We Shall Overcome” like Joan Baez (I thought). But drugs and so-called “Free Love” were not my cup of tea. Being over 30 (and not to be trusted), I was too old and far too conventional for all that.
Many were there to foment a revolution against their parents’ middle-class values and the “Happy Days” of the 1950’s. They considered themselves psychological pioneers, experimenting with psychedelics and other mind-altering drugs, outcasts because they dared to mix interracially, subversives because they demonstrated against government policies that denied their constitutional rights, and defied the draft that required them to fight a war they could not believe in.
They were also lawbreakers, coming from college campuses where student unrest over Vietnam had become battlegrounds. (It was less than a year later, in May of 1970, that a confrontation between unarmed, peacefully demonstrating students at Kent State University in Ohio and National Guard troops left four students dead and nine others wounded. Woodstock must have been on the minds of many that day, as it was on mine.)
The size of the crowd astounded even the organizers of the Festival, who had anticipated between 10,000 and 50,000 at most. Nearly half a million showed up. Heavy rain that turned the open field into a mud bath couldn’t dampen spirits as people congregated peacefully in a prevailing atmosphere of brotherhood never seen before.
So, where have all the Flower Children gone, 45 years later? The writer of the essay admits that some of those who were there now say, “It’s dead, man, the movement died.” But others disagree. “We didn’t get our revolution, but we did manage to change the world (a little) for the better.”
If you think back to the “tranquil” 1950s, with entrenched prejudice, repression of minorities––women, among them––and a double sexual standard as American as apple pie, things have changed for the better. I would say the movement is alive and well, considering that it was only 50-some years ago that “Amos ‘n’ Andy” typified our attitude toward people of color, and now a black man is president of the United States.
Today, with shorter hair, more conventional clothes, and a different kind of music on the stereo, the Flower Children of the phenomenon that was Woodstock have grown up. They are now the 60-somethings living among us, with children and even grandchildren of their own. We may have thought they were crazy, back in 1969, but no less an unorthodox innovator than Apple founder Steve Jobs may have said it best: “People crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”