Summer of Love

The Summer After

(British Library display remembering 1968)

As the saying goes, if you remember it, you weren’t there. I was young enough in 1968 that I remember seeing the news on TV.

1967 had been proclaimed “The Summer of Love.” I remember hearing the song on the radio, “Are You Going to San Francisco? Be Sure and Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair.” Young people (many of them teenage runaway as young as 13 or 14) from all across the country came to the Haight-Ashbury district to “make love, not war.”

1968 was a horrible year: the assassination of Martin Luther King in April, followed by riots in the streets, and then in June the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Protests against the Vietnam war turned ugly. Instead of blaming the politicians who made the decisions to continue the war, protesters turned against the soldiers.

The young who were turning on, tuning in, and dropping out didn’t vote; and the older generation who were tired of the hippie war protesters elected Richard Nixon president. In 1969 the musical “Hair” proclaimed the dawning of the Age of Aquarius when harmony and understanding would prevail. In May of 1970 four students were dead in Ohio in the Kent State Massacre.

The flower power generation had some noble ideals. They wanted peace and love; they wanted to end poverty and racism. But they made some tragic mistakes.

1. They thought they could expand their consciousness by using chemicals. Many did not survive the drugs they experimented with. Other old hippies are still stumbling around today with their bodies and brains weakened by drug abuse.

2. The looked for love in all the wrong places. The “free love” they celebrated was often exploitive or abusive. There was a lot of talk about love, but not much commitment. Some learned the lesson, “It’s cheap, but it ain’t free.”

3. They directed their energy in the wrong places. Cursing and spitting on young soldiers returning home from Vietnam did not help bring the war to an early end. Dropping out did not bring about positive social changes.

By 1972 there was a new movement breaking out all along the beaches of California and spreading east from there–the Jesus movement. It turned out that the man from Galilee who wore sandals and long hair, who said “learn from the flowers,” and “love your enemies” offered an alternative both to the drug culture and the establishment. His followers learned the secret of a natural high.

There are a lot of us old Jesus Freaks still around. Most of us got respectable haircuts and jobs somewhere in the 80s. We raised families and got involved in traditional churches. But some of us haven’t completely lost the vision of an alternative to materialism and empire, a world of peaceful and beautiful communities inspired by the teaching and the presence of Jesus.