Sir Thomas More had his tongue in his cheek when he wrote
about Utopia. He was kidding when he described his “perfect”
island where everything was ideal. The very name, utopia,
means “no place” ał the nonexistent land of
man’s dreams. But no one told us that utopia wasn’t
real. Even if they had, we wouldn’t have believed
them because deep inside, we all wanted that idealistic
life to be real. Somewhere along the line we decided that
utopia must be possible. So with all ardor and enthusiasm,
we made our plans, dreamed our dreams, and set out to find
a place for our own free society. We could not find an island
like in More’s 16th century dream, but we settled
for something a little bit less - Haight-Ashbury!
What magic these two words had in our minds! A society
of free young spirits founded on love, peace, and freedom,
where equality and fraternity could just be! From far and
near we grabbed our backpacks and left home. We dropped
out of school and hit the road.
By air, foot, bikes, or hitching, our 20th century exodus
had begun. Our Moses was Timothy Leary. Our Promised Land
was San Francisco across the Golden Gate.
When we arrived, we were accepted. No one asked any questions.
No one made any demands. No one was watching. No one had
to prove anything. We were just ourselves and everyone was
happy. We were really living our dreams. We could come and
go as we pleased. We could wear what we pleased. There were
no deadlines, no grades, no projects, no points to score.
We did not care about money, no one was trying to impress,
material things didn’t matter. Only people mattered.
Easy alliances were formed. Love was free. No demands. No
commitment. Old taboos were ignored, barriers knocked down
and spirits were high. No one was killing anybody, and people
It happened in Monterey, June 1967. The first Rock festival
was born, giving birth to Woodstock, Isle of Wight, Altamont,
Atlanta, and an endless procession ever since! All day and
night the music rocked & rolled on and on. We listened
with remarkable fortitude for days. At the festivals we
could sense what seemed to be the endless love we had always
hoped for. In fact, a revolution of love was beginning.
We could feel it everywhere. The world would never be the
same. We were determined to make this hope, this life, this
togetherness last forever.
Joan Baez called it togetherness, and she was right. Men
and women throughout all generations have been looking for
that bond of love that would make them one. The desire for
an end to estrangement and hostility runs deep in the human
soul. The toughest nut will crack under the right pressure
and the hardest heart will yield to love, understanding,
and a little kindness. The most estranged and antagonistic
person will respond to interest and concern, once his suspicions
have been allayed. This togetherness is what we wanted and
what we thought we had found.
was the life of the flower children, the beautiful people.
If we needed anything, we would just ask someone. If they
had it, they would share it. If they didn’t, no one
thought any less of them. We panhandled to meet pressing
needs and sold our art to the curious. But, it was the curious
from plastic mainstream America that began to undermine
our utopia. Tourists arrived by the thousands. They looked
at us “hippies” the way kids look at giant pandas
in the zoo.
“Look, a real live hippie.”
“He’s got nice eyes.”
“He stinks. Let’s buy some beads.”
These sensation-seeking, middle-class American tourists
with their pudgy stomachs swamped the serenity and devoured
the distinctiveness of our youthful dream on Haight Street.
As time went on, we flower children became more and more
the center of attention and a phenomenon the media quickly
exploited. Things started getting crazy as more and more
people came to San Francisco and the good vibes produced
by Orange Sunshine began to give way to paranoia and an
increased fear of “The Man.” The Buffalo Springfield
captured this sense with these words from their famous song, For What It’s Worth:
Paranoia strikes deep.
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you’re always afraid.
Step out of line the man comes
and takes you away.
You better stop now.
What’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down!
Old-fashioned greed began to show its ugly head among
us, and we began to insist on our rights and our own individualities.
It didn’t take long for many of us to see what was
coming. Heroin and speed dealers moved into the Haight,
the riot squad invaded our district, beating anyone they
could find, and the utopian state sank in a pool of blood
when the killing started. The peace we thought was ours
began slipping away as an elusive dream. Like everywhere
else and everyone else, we, the “love people”
and “peace people,” were seeing in ourselves
the same rotten seed we thought we’d left back home.
But where could we go and what could we do now? Go back
home? No! We had made a few mistakes, but the dream was
still attainable. It became clear that the peace we wanted
couldn’t be found in the city. So we headed for the
hills. Alternative people USA! We would do it! There is
hope! We will make it! There is true love and true peace!
A guru will show us the way! Which one should we follow?
Who offers the best vibrations? Everybody seemed to have
their own answer, their own separate trip.
As we went down endless roads wherever our own trips led
us, there was an increasing sadness growing in our hearts,
a sadness brought about because most of our dreams and visions
proved to be unattainable. The highs went away and our experiments
with community failed.
Then, we began to ask the question, “What is the
use of anything at all?” The reality of people living
in peace and unity as God intended is what we were looking
for. But we needed to know how to find it. Our generation
is going mad because we can’t find it after so many
years of looking for it. We hated authority because the
authority we observed growing up was filled with hypocrisy,
prejudice, and glory seeking. We had our fill of the kind
of authority that says, “Don’t do as I do, but
do as I say.” What was needed was good authority to
make it happen! We needed leaders who could lead us by their
example and who wouldn’t compromise.
We wanted to conquer the world with love and bring the
healing balm of peace to this earth, but there was no foundation,
no blueprint to bring our vision into a lasting demonstration.
Our love failed.
Some people turned to Jesus in search of this foundation
of love. The Jesus of the Jesus People seemed hip enough,
but didn’t have the power to bring about the life
either. We turned on the TV and heard Christian preachers
talking about how we should live ał something we knew that
they knew nothing about. A life of love and unity is what
they promised, but we knew we were not going to get it because
those making the promises weren’t doing it either.
Someone said, “A student will be like his teacher
when he is fully trained.” So all we could see was
another form of Christianity.
So what’s the use getting our hopes up in one more
empty sermon? Who wants to claim to see like the blind teachers
leading us? “If the blind lead the blind, they will
both end up in the ditch.” Can their Jesus save others
when he can’t save them? And if they are just saved
from hell but not saved from this wicked society, who wants
that salvation anyway?
We aren’t blind! A plastic Jesus who makes his plastic
converts comfortable in a plastic society headed for destruction
is what we detested and despised. The utter failure of this
“salvation” was the very cause of our rebellion.
Their failure to produce the “utopia” they spoke
of is what drove us to Haight Ashbury in the first place!
So now where are we to look and in what place can we find
a hope that does not disappoint us? Where is the real love
of God that can fill our hearts? Preachers or teachers who
promise us that we can know the Source of love and the Author
of peace and the meaning of Truth, but are divided among
themselves, cannot communicate love, peace, and unity to
anyone’s conscience. Mere mental concepts are all
they can offer since they have a life filled with the same
old selfishness and greed that we took to Haight-Ashbury.
So where do we go from here? I’m so tired of chasing
after rainbows only to find a false light at the end of
my journey. How can I ever find my elusive dream?