50 Year After Summer of Love: San Francisco’s Hippy Heartland Struggles Hold Spirit of Peace & Love

This year, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love.” There were many global center where the Summer of Love occurred, but San Francisco, was the biggest and most active global center, around the Haight Asbury area of San Francisco. The Summer of Love was a social phenomenon that occurred during the summer of 1967, when as many as 100,000 people, mostly young people sporting hippie fashions of dress and behavior, converged in San Francisco‘s neighborhood Haight-Ashbury. Although hippies also gathered in many other places in the U.S., Canada and Europe, San Francisco was at that time the most publicized location for hippie fashions.[1][2]

However, UK’s press, the Guardian, reported that there have been many changes to the Haight Ashbury area over the years, and now there is the problem of crime. Guardian’s headline for the article is: “San Francisco’s hippy heartland struggles to hold on to the spirit of peace and love.” The article is presented in this blog post, towards the end of the post.

If you are not familiar with Hippies, the following is from Wikipedia:

Hippies, sometimes called flower children, were an eclectic group. Many were suspicious of the government, rejected consumerist values, and generally opposed the Vietnam War. A few were interested in politics; others were concerned more with art (music, painting, poetry in particular) or religious and meditative practices.[3]

A hippie (or hippy) is a member of a liberal counterculture, originally a youth movement that started in the United States and the United Kingdom during the mid-1960s and spread to other countries around the world. The word hippie came from hipster and was initially used to describe beatniks who had moved into New York City’s Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. The term hippie was first popularized in San Francisco by Herb Caen, who was a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle.

The origins of the terms hip and hep are uncertain. By the 1940s, both had become part of African American jive slang and meant “sophisticated; currently fashionable; fully up-to-date”.[1][2][3] The Beats adopted the term hip, and early hippies inherited the language and countercultural values of the Beat Generation. Hippies created their own communities, listened to psychedelic music, embraced the sexual revolution, and used drugs such as marijuana, LSD, peyote and psilocybin mushrooms to explore altered states of consciousness.

In January 1967, the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco popularized hippie culture, leading to the Summer of Love on the West Coast of the United States, and the 1969 Woodstock Festival on the East Coast. Hippies in Mexico, known as jipitecas, formed La Onda and gathered at Avándaro, while in New Zealand, nomadic housetruckers practiced alternative lifestyles and promoted sustainable energy at Nambassa. In the United Kingdom in 1970, many gathered at the gigantic Isle of Wight Festival with a crowd of around 400,000 people.[4] In later years, mobile “peace convoys” of New Age travelers made summer pilgrimages to free music festivals at Stonehenge and elsewhere. In Australia, hippies gathered at Nimbin for the 1973 Aquarius Festival and the annual Cannabis Law Reform Rally or MardiGrass. “Piedra Roja Festival“, a major hippie event in Chile, was held in 1970.[5]

Hippie fashion and values had a major effect on culture, influencing popular music, television, film, literature, and the arts. Since the 1960s, many aspects of hippie culture have been assimilated by mainstream society. The religious and cultural diversity espoused by the hippies has gained widespread acceptance, and Eastern philosophy and spiritual concepts have reached a larger audience.

A July 1968 Time Magazine study on hippie philosophy credited the foundation of the hippie movement with historical precedent as far back as the Sadhu of India, the spiritual seekers who had renounced the world by taking “Sannyas”. Even the counterculture of the Ancient Greeks, espoused by philosophers like Diogenes of Sinope and the Cynics were also early forms of hippie culture.[17] It also named as notable influences the religious and spiritual teachings of Henry David Thoreau, Hillel the Elder, Jesus, Buddha, St. Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, and J.R.R. Tolkien.[17]

The first signs of modern “proto-hippies” emerged in fin de siècle Europe. Between 1896 and 1908, a German youth movement arose as a countercultural reaction to the organized social and cultural clubs that centered around German folk music. Known as Der Wandervogel (“wandering bird”), the hippie movement opposed the formality of traditional German clubs, instead emphasizing amateur music and singing, creative dress, and communal outings involving hiking and camping.[18] Inspired by the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Goethe, Hermann Hesse, and Eduard Baltzer, Wandervogel attracted thousands of young Germans who rejected the rapid trend toward urbanization and yearned for the pagan, back-to-nature spiritual life of their ancestors.[19] During the first several decades of the 20th century, Germans settled around the United States, bringing the values of the Wandervogel with them. Some opened the first health food stores, and many moved to southern California where they could practice an alternative lifestyle in a warm climate. Over time, young Americans adopted the beliefs and practices of the new immigrants. One group, called the “Nature Boys”, took to the California desert and raised organic food, espousing a back-to-nature lifestyle like the Wandervogel.[20] Songwriter eden ahbez wrote a hit song called Nature Boy inspired by Robert Bootzin (Gypsy Boots), who helped popularize health-consciousness, yoga, and organic food in the United States.

Like Wandervogel, the hippie movement in the United States began as a youth movement. Composed mostly of white teenagers and young adults between 15 and 25 years old,[21][22] hippies inherited a tradition of cultural dissent from bohemians and beatniks of the Beat Generation in the late 1950s.[22] Beats like Allen Ginsberg crossed over from the beat movement and became fixtures of the burgeoning hippie and anti-war movements. By 1965, hippies had become an established social group in the U.S., and the movement eventually expanded to other countries,[23][24] extending as far as the United Kingdom and Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, and Brazil.[25] The hippie ethos influenced The Beatles and others in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, and they in turn influenced their American counterparts.[26] Hippie culture spread worldwide through a fusion of rock music, folk, blues, and psychedelic rock; it also found expression in literature, the dramatic arts, fashion, and the visual arts, including film, posters advertising rock concerts, and album covers.[27] In 1968, self-described hippies represented just under 0.2% of the U.S. population[28] and dwindled away by mid-1970s.[23]

Along with the New Left and the Civil Rights Movement, the hippie movement was one of three dissenting groups of the 1960s counterculture.[24] Hippies rejected established institutions, criticized middle class values, opposed nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War, embraced aspects of Eastern philosophy,[29] championed sexual liberation, were often vegetarian and eco-friendly, promoted the use of psychedelic drugs which they believed expanded one’s consciousness, and created intentional communities or communes. They used alternative arts, street theatre, folk music, and psychedelic rock as a part of their lifestyle and as a way of expressing their feelings, their protests and their vision of the world and life. Hippies opposed political and social orthodoxy, choosing a gentle and nondoctrinaire ideology that favored peace, love and personal freedom,[30][31] expressed for example in The Beatles‘ song “All You Need is Love“.[32] Hippies perceived the dominant culture as a corrupt, monolithic entity that exercised undue power over their lives, calling this culture “The Establishment“, “Big Brother“, or “The Man“.[33][34][35] Noting that they were “seekers of meaning and value”, scholars like Timothy Miller have described hippies as a new religious movement.[36]

 

 The Guardian reported (source)

San Francisco’s hippy heartland struggles to hold on to the spirit of peace and love

On a beautiful sunny morning in San Francisco, Stacey Griffith and her daughter, Ariana, are pointing an iPhone skyward to take a picture of the pole on which the Haight and Ashbury street signs intersect. They are visiting from Chicago on a 15th birthday trip for Ariana. “The Haight Ashbury is just such an iconic place for American and world history,” says Griffith. “I wanted her to see it and be part of the area where it all began.”

Fifty years ago the word hippy was coined to describe the kind of young people who flocked to Haight Ashbury to find themselves and gave birth to a counterculture that changed America and the world. The area is heading for the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Summer of Love when the influx of dreamers reached its peak and the world took notice. But some local residents think all is not well in today’s Haight Ashbury, a vibrant, affluent neighbourhood of varied and colourful wooden Victorian and Edwardian houses where the marijuana fumes on the street can overwhelm. The neighbourhood’s history, clement weather and parks also draw young, homeless free spirits from across the US.

Three people who had been part of that community have been charged with two murders. Canadian tourist Audrey Carey was killed in nearby Golden Gate Park, where many of the Haight’s homeless sleep. Yoga teacher Steve Carter was killed just north of the city, over the Golden Gate Bridge. The deaths have sparked a fierce debate about Haight Ashbury’s rough sleepers and the tolerance of a place long famed for peace and love. “We understand there is going to be a certain element of alternative lifestyle here, but there has rarely been such a huge density of antisocial criminal behaviour,” says Michelle Leighton, of the Buena Vista Neighbourhood Association on neighbourhood safety issues. It has increased significantly in the past six months, she says.

The Homeless Youth Alliance estimates about 200-300 homeless people live in Haight Ashbury. San Francisco has one of the largest homeless populations in the US, but Haight Ashbury section has a distinct demographic. It has its share of the severely mentally ill and people who have hit rock bottom. But the homeless are distinctly whiter and younger and often say they choose Haight Ashbury for similar reasons to the tourists and the hippies before them. “They are looking for something,” says Stan Flouride, a resident of over 30 years who conducts walking tours of the area. He calls them “houseless” rather than homeless.

Residents groups claim that population has changed. There are more users of methamphetamines – “tweakers” – and more crime and aggressive and intimidating behaviour, they say. Leighton’s group wrote open letters to San Francisco’s mayor and police chief, among others, in October imploring them to strengthen policing in the area.

“Take the Haight’s degradation seriously before there is another murder and the neighbourhood is removed from every tour book and guided tour,” one read. That plea has the backing of the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association (HAIA), one of the main driving forces that got a new law on the books in 2010 that makes it illegal to sit or lie on the pavement anywhere in San Francisco during certain hours.

The calls for a tougher stance towards Haight Ashbury’s community of homeless dreamers has influential support. The district’s elected representative on the city council, London Breed, and the local police chief have sworn to do something. After a vocal community meeting in October, police presence on the streets of Haight Ashbury has shot up. “I have a large number of folks in the Haight telling me they are scared,” says Breed. “I am not just arguing for policing, but policing is a big part of it”. Having won that victory, HAIA’s president Ted Loewenberg says he would like to see the top of Golden Gate Park nearest Haight street, where many homeless sit in the day, redeveloped.

Haight Ashbury’s street sleepers say they have noticed attitudes becoming more hostile. “We’re now officially the bad guys,” says Rebecca, 25, a native San Franciscan and second-generation street kid who has lived homeless on and off in the Haight since she was 19. She lives with her boyfriend, who arrived from Washington state a little over a year ago, drawn by the mythos of Haight Ashbury. Both are now part of a programme which they say shows how homeless people who come to the area want to look after a place they have adopted as home. Local charity Taking It To the Streets, run by Christian Calinsky, a piercer from one of Haight Street’s many tattoo parlours, turns homeless people such as Rebecca into ambassadors for the neighbourhood. In return for cleaning up the streets, they receive hostel housing. Calinsky says claims of more homeless people in Haight Ashbury are mistaken and probably come from a misunderstanding of the ups and downs in the local population which has a large transient element. It rises in the summer and drops in the winter, he says.

There’s another annual slump about now as people leave to work trimming the marijuana crop in northern California, he says. Mary Howe, of the Homeless Youth Alliance, says claims of increasing crime and disorder are false: “I feel like I have seen a decrease in crime and a definite decrease in hard drug use in the last couple of years.” She notes that, compared with other areas with visible homelessness, the Haight has a high home-owning contingent. It is a question of services, too. Public toilets and portable showers would give people dignity, says James Sword, president of the Haight Ashbury Neighbourhood Council. The YHA was forced to close its permanent building, which offered a reprieve from the streets for people, in late 2013 after the landlord decided to renovate. It now does its outreach on foot or with a mobile unit. Howe hasn’t been able to find another location.

Amie Nenninger, a resident of 15 years raising her two kids in the neighbourhood, was recently a victim of a crime: her bike was stolen from behind her locked gate. But she’s refraining from making assumptions about who it was. Respectful coexistence is her attitude to living in the Haight. “The homeless here are part of our community,” she says.

What happens next in San Francisco regarding homelessness remains to be seen. The mayor – up for re-election in November – has said the homeless must leave downtown for the Super Bowl festivities starting this January. But detailed plans are yet to emerge or where they will go instead. The BVNA’s Leighton worries the increased policing in the Haight won’t last.

In any case, notes Calinsky, the Haight and the city needs to prepare for the 2017 anniversary because it won’t just be tourists coming to celebrate 50 years since the Summer of Love. He expects young homeless people from around the world flocking to usher the counterculture past its half-century, “and it’s going to be a madhouse”.

 

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