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” a" 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 were beautiful.
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.
This 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 a" 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?