In the late sixties, in an era sometimes called “the counter-culture revolution”, I was occasionally a “weekend hippie”. I suspect there were many of us. Why only weekends? Well, it’s one thing to believe in social change, but an entirely different thing to actually “become it”.
I could look back and ridicule that wishful thinking, but that wouldn’t be fair. We were at least wishing for a better world, a world full of love and kindness and generosity.
Being a “hippie” – to us – meant “being natural” (being “real” we used to say). Being real was something new. We believed that until then, people had been role-playing. And they had. We believed most people were “uptight”. And they were. Of course we couldn’t see that in ourselves. Much was published and discussed at the time, about the idea of “becoming free”, leaving behind the constraints of the pretentious roles we had been trained into.
Anyone who didn’t buy into this was uptight. And oh, what faith we had in this new way of “just being”. It was going to change the world. Just shower people with love, and they were bound to change. How could they not? Of course we were not role-playing, we insisted. Even if it only occurred weekends.
During the week, 9-5 at the office, we women didn’t dare to wear pants to work, let alone jeans – the uniform of the “love generation”! But come Friday night, uncork the wine, get out the “mary jane”, subsequently known as “weed”, “pot”, etc – and the loving was easy. I’m not sure the mafia had discovered pot back then, and there was a surprising amount of tolerance by law enforcement for a period of time. The worst reaction might be rolling the eyes and perhaps a comment like “you’re going to get in trouble one of these days”.
We went bra-less – the new symbol of freedom among young women – let our hair flow free, embroidered flowers on our jeans, and hung around on the front steps getting to know our neighbours. “Love” was in, uptight was out. I think we felt that the world would be defenceless in the face of so much warm, fuzzy love. And of course we were dreaming in Technicolor.
I remember that some of us – many in our late twenties or early thirties – would stroll down St Catherine St in Montreal arm in arm and “love bomb” people: smile at strangers and say “we love you”. When I look back, I realize it was a kind of religion and we were looking for converts. Hare Krishna*, dancing and chanting in their orange robes, was one new religious organization that seemed to represent this social value, and attracted many of those yearning for all that lovin’.
It was a period of optimism and hope, reinforced by an era of relatively socialistic governments in the western world. I was among the most hopeful, but all that hope was about to be snuffed out – with extras for me.
Towards the end of ’68, exciting symbols of hope clashed with symbols of the end of hope. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April; Bobby Kennedy in June. The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in August. The birth control pill – such a wondrous symbol of the first real freedom for women – was formally outlawed by Pope Paul VI.
And for me, the end of a marriage, and the realization that my sweet mother was dying. All of this changed, we all faced reality and ‘moved on’.
We have been through a long winter of reactionary decades, that has seen conservative governments prevail most of that time in “the West”. And in the U.S. – the “leader of the free world” – we’ve seen, some would say, the hi-jacking of democracy by Wall Street, with deregulation of the financial world leading eventually to terrible losses and desperately high unemployment through much of Europe and North America. Democrats have disillusioned Americans. Liberals disappointed Canadians. The United Nations disappointed those who hoped for peace, as NATO became the world’s dominant “policeman”. Certainly “hope” has not dominated in recent times.
But tiny signs of those old dreams of loving and caring are ever so quietly beginning to bloom. The seeds of hope are not dead. France has just thrown out Sarkozy, in favour of a socialist government. Republicans are losing favour in the U.S., Canadians are looking at their NDP with more respect and interest than ever before. And the “Occupy” movement shows signs of becoming the new “counter-culture revolution”.
What gives me even more hope is those baby boomers from the sixties, now retiring. They are healthier and more ‘conscious’ than previous generations upon retirement, and are looking for meaningful activities in their lives. They want to make a difference, and they can. While our parents’ generation might have idealized lying around on a beach on their retirement, many in the ‘boomers’ generation would be bored to death by that idea. And they have matured. They know that social change is slow, takes patience, and that dreams of loving and caring are not to be ridiculed. They make life worth living.
As for me, my sweet mom’s values and attitudes live on in me; I am lucky enough to live in an amazing, progressive community; and I have nothing better to do for the rest of my days, than to try to change the world. And the best part: I am surrounded by wonderful people who are doing the same thing in their own way. Yes, the dream lives on.