I was ten in the summer of 1967, aka “The Summer of Love.” I did not know anything. I thought Haight Ashbury played outfield for the Philadelphia Phillies. In my mind, California was Disneyland and little old ladies from Pasadena, even though we had relatives out there. Neither did I understand hippies, flower power, or why 300,000 youth would hit the road to go to San Francisco for no reason other than the promise of a “love-in.”
It is only now, half a century later and after having lived in the Bay Area, that I am beginning to understand. That understanding is shaped by news of the world around me: antifascist thugs with nail-spiked baseball bats, white supremacists with swastikas, the resurgence of the KKK, violent ideologues pounding each other senseless at rallies, and YouTubers spewing venom and bile, the twin offspring of bullying.
The “love-in” that occurred fifty years ago may have strained the resources of the city and run its course by early October, when a mock funeral was held complete with coffin and flowers, but it was peaceful. It was hopeful. It was happy. I felt it, even though I had no idea what those hippies were gathering for in protest. And it was a protest. It was also a rebellion against our parents. I was too dependent upon mine to be resentful of them. So, I listened and observed from afar.
Unfortunately, the cultural revolution the love-in gave rise to was not peaceful, even if only on a small scale. Still, you don’t have to behead a king, terrorize a populace, execute a royal family, or conduct genocide to qualify as a violent revolution, whether from the Left or Right. You just have to disrupt systems long enough and often enough to wear down the opposition, which is most of society. And you need ideological justification, which came from the Frankfurt School and its intellectual heirs. I’m sure Herbert Marcuse was worried sick about the cause while sunbathing on the beach in La Jolla, California. The things one must endure for the party.
“When you feel you have right on your side, you can do some pretty horrific things,” admitted a former Weathermen, Brian Flanagan. Of course, this could have fallen just as easily from the lips of a self-possessed Jacobin, Sturmabteilung ruffian, or Antifa thug.
In 1967, I did not have a clue how babies were born, let alone have right on my side. I went around in crisply-starched trousers and bow tie while carrying a copy of Oliver Twist under my arm. A friend still makes fun of my red rain boots. A revolutionary spirit was something I read about in history books. It definitely was not me. Too messy, all that yelling and beheading.
Here is what I have learned since: personality trumps principle. You either have a rebellious personality, or you do not. If you do, you will have no difficulty jeering at the condemned as they pass by in a rickety tumbrel en route to the Place de la Révolution. You might even spit on them. If you do not, you may end up in the tumbrel on your way to the guillotine. It’s as simple as that. Indoctrination, party platforms, printed handbills are all secondary.
By temperament, I prefer to observe, which would have made the Summer of Love a perfect fit for me: a peaceful, revolutionary event that changed the country forever. It would have been my first taste of liberté, égalité, fraternité. If I had a second chance, I would definitely go. I want to make love now, not war.
Haven’t had enough? Go to Robert Brancatelli. For feature image, go to rené van haeften; top image, “Hippy van!” Carol Browne; bottom image, “The Summer of Love,” Thomas Hawk. All images used under Creative Commons license 2.0.