by Skip Stone
Landmark Hippy Events
This chapter reviews some of the major events of the hippie movement. These events defined the nature, objectives and results of our counter-cultural assault on the establishment. Anyone who participated in these events shared at least some of the hippy beliefs, and should consider themselves a part of history.
War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
The strength and power of the Peace movement was nowhere more evident than during the numerous antiwar protests staged around the country. Students, teachers, women, children, veterans, writers, singers, activists, pacifists, radicals, even parents and grandparents took part in the effort to end the war in Vietnam. Although many of these protesters would never be considered hippies at home or work, the leaders of this country, and the conservative elements all chose to derisively label the participants "hippies". Indeed if desiring an end to war and speaking your mind made you a hippy, so be it. This labeling only served to further divide the country. If hippies are looked down upon, then by labeling all the protesters thusly, politicians could safely assume that they didn't represent the REAL America, and ignore their opinions.
They could also justify using heavy handed, sometimes brutal tactics to breakup peaceful demonstrations by denying the required permits to march or assemble, thereby turning the right to protest into an illegal act. Many thousands of young people were arrested, and now have criminal records, and many of those have lifetime scars and injuries as a result of the beatings they received at the end of a policeman's baton or a guardmen's rifle butt.
Millions of mind guerrillas...
Students spearheaded the antiwar movement, since they were the ones who were being drafted and dying in Vietnam. The SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, helped organize and coordinate protest activities in cities around the country. They held teach-ins on university campuses informing students about what was really happening with the war, and how to protest effectively.
It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no military son.
Students seeking to avoid the military draft and service in Vietnam had few options. Student Deferments were cut back drastically. It was next to impossible to get Conscientious Objector status. Some students burned their draft cards in protests then evaded the draft by running to Canada. As veterans came back from 'Nam, either because their tour was up, or due to injury, they began to take part in the anti-war movement, and many threw their medals over the Capitol's fence.
A thousand people in the street. Singing songs and carrying signs...
Almost all the protests were relatively peaceful. Many arrests were due to the sit-ins taking place on government or private property. Since Peace was the highly sought goal, peace was the way to achieve it. More radical elements did try to stir up trouble. This was partly due to desperation, but also because some radicals had revolutionary ideologies, which required an armed struggle to succeed. The Black Panthers and the Weathermen struck fear in the hearts of many with their violent tactics. Most hippies did not support their dubious methods.
How successful was the anti-war movement? It certainly raised awareness among all Americans, especially the media. Unfortunately our government didn't know how to end it and still save face. So it continued to drag on, while the peace talks went nowhere.
It was amazing just how many years and casualties it took before the U.S. government finally stopped the war and withdrew from Vietnam (1973). Our country was unable to accept defeat, and still refuses to admit just how big a mistake was made in Vietnam.
This brings up the question, what does it take for the people of a democratic country to legally protest government policy and be heard and acknowledged by our elected officials, and not be oppressed and silenced? Since the voters never get to set policy, how can we change it if we feel it is wrong? Don't say to elect someone different! When was the last time a candidate lived up to his/her campaign promises (what few they bother to make anymore)?
Why do those who protest and those who organize protests automatically come under government scrutiny, have their private lives invaded, have a classified file listing their every move, and likely have their personal correspondence monitored?
These actions serve two purposes. To limit free speech and persecute those who practice it. This hasn't changed since the war days. Yes, now we have the Freedom of Information act, but that hasn't stopped the federal and local governments from spying on individuals simply because they speak their minds, and protest the activities of the government. There are hundreds if not thousands of government employees who do nothing but monitor and sift through the personal lives of American citizens.
Why does the government feel so threatened? Well, there are terrorists, and conspirators, and drug dealers who break laws. But I'm discussing activists who protest government policies. Nowadays if something is illegal, and you choose to protest that fact, it is assumed that you are engaged in or promoting an illegal activity, and therefore warrant closer scrutiny. Just the act of opposition to government policy is now being looked upon as illegal activity itself. That puts us one big step closer to dictatorship, and Big Brother.
We set policy and govern based on numbers, money, and statistics without regard to the needs and feelings of the people behind the stats. This is a great failing of our emerging technocratic system. Once upon a time our justice system actually examined the person who committed a crime and looked at the circumstances, the person's contributions to society, testimonies of friends, etc. before sentencing. Very often people would be let off with a warning. Now we have mandatory minimum sentences, which treat people like a statistic, not human beings, thus making a mockery of justice.
We must reform this system before it gets further out of hand. Government has too much power over individuals. Agencies are given mandates that conflict with civil rights and the right to privacy. Our leaders seek to protect their own interests and positions at whatever cost to individual freedom. This is not how our system is supposed to work. We have it within our power to change this. The safeguards built into our system by the Bill of Rights and the legal system must be used to protect our common interests. We must exercise the power we have been granted. We must become a self-governing nation, or lose our freedoms to a Police State.
Ken Kesey, the Hell's Angels and the Acid Tests
You're either on the bus or off the bus.
Ken Kesey, the bestselling author of One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest and Sometimes A Great Notion, was at the forefront of the Psychedelic Movement. He participated in some early LSD experiments at Stanford University, and managed to abscond with some of the drug, which he used to turn-on everyone he met. At his place in La Honda, California, Kesey hosted a ongoing party of friends who called themselves the Merry Pranksters.
In 1964, Kesey gathered together his Pranksters and loaded them into a bus (now an icon of the Hippy movement) with the destination sign reading "Furthur". They took off on an LSD fueled psychedelic cross-country journey that spanned not just a continent but two social movements, the Beats and the Hippies. This bringing together of such personalities as Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac with Kesey, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), was a symbolic passing of the torch from one movement to the other.
Then, one day in August 1965, Hunter S. Thompson (author, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), rolled in, escorted by a gang of Hell's Angels. Kesey welcomed and treated the Hells Angels as individuals, not representing some kind of threat. As usual he turned them on to LSD (the first time for them). Also at Kesey's place that fateful day were Allen Ginsberg and Richard Alpert, two of the more gentle philosophers of the beat/hippy/psychedelic movement. You'd expect some kind of fireworks with such a mix of energies and ideas.
Incredibly, the Angels fell under Kesey's spell (like everyone else), and thus began a long relationship (4 1/2 years) between the Hells Angels and the Hippy Movement. It was defined by Hell's Angels providing security and bodyguards for many hippy events, rock stars and concerts in those years. There is little doubt the Hell's Angels were heavily involved in distributing the drugs that many hippies consumed during that period. The relationship soured after the disastrous 1969 Altamont concert where they provided security for the Jefferson Airplane and the Rolling Stones. A man waving a gun was killed right in front of the stage, by the Angels, who were absolved of responsibility. The film Gimme Shelter was used in evidence and it's clear the Angels were just doing their job in a very difficult situation. The incident was just one of many violent episodes that year.
Kesey along with his Merry Pranksters inspired and coordinated the Acid Tests (see below). Kesey had several brushes with the law, went on-the-lam in Mexico, and returned to face the music. Kesey and the remaining Pranksters now take his famous bus on an annual tour around the US and England. They are followed by an ever growing entourage of hippies.
The Acid Tests
Kesey promoted the LSD trip as a new way of experiencing everything. His psychedelic bus, the parties at his house, and the acid tests were all experiments with mind expanding anarchy. Those who participated in these events were true adventurers, explorers of the unknown. It's hard to measure the impact of these events, but we were soon to see some of the results surfacing in San Francisco (see below). Kesey eventually held a graduation ceremony for the core Acid-Test participants. They were given a certificate verifying they had survived.
The Acid Tests inspired Stewart Brand, who produced the Trips Festival party in San Francisco in January, 1966. It was a three-day festival of music at Longshoreman's Hall with dancing and a light show that would simulate "an LSD experience without LSD". Kesey and the Merry Pranksters showed up, (along with the Grateful Dead, and lots of real acid) as this was the most public of the acid tests. The success of this event inspired Bill Graham to start holding these parties on a regular basis at the Fillmore Auditorium.
Be-In, San Francisco 1967
It was billed as a Gathering of the Tribes, the First Human Be-In. On January 14, 1967, 50,000 beautiful people gathered at the Polo Grounds to listen to Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), Dick Gregory, Jerry Rubin, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder talk about life, love, enlightenment and peace. San Francisco rock bands the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service entertained the crowd. The diggers were there handing out free food, some of which may have been laced with LSD.
This was a highly charged, symbolic event that brought together the political, spiritual, literary, musical and shamanic leaders of a generation. At the time it seemed like a good thing to do. Just get together and experience the vibes. Looking back we can see that it was a chance for us to view our numbers, to feel our power, to communicate our love, and to outline the agenda for a movement. That was the subtext. Allen Ginsberg said we should use our "flower power" peacefully. Timothy Leary said we should "turn-on, tune-in and drop-out" of the social program. Jerry Rubin encouraged us to get active on the political stage. Ram Dass urged us to "Be Here Now" and find enlightenment in the moment. The musicians made us dance and reminded us that life can be fun.
Many who participated in this seminal event look back and remember a special light that surrounded them during the Be-In. Inside this collective experience in the light there was a tremendous feeling of community, togetherness and oneness. But then the light faded and they found themselves back in the park, listening to music, separate once again. But that feeling was to linger as winter led to spring….
Monterey Pop Festival: 1967 June 16-18, 1967
Billed as "Music, Love, and Flowers", the Monterey Pop Festival was that and so much more. Festival attendees were urged to "Dress as wild as you choose". This was the first big rock festival, a showcase for the West Coast music scene. 200,000 showed up for the three-day non-profit event in California at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, the site of the annual Monterey Jazz Festival.
Organized by Lou Adler and John Philips of the Mamas and Papas, with the help of rock impresario Bill Graham and others, Monterey attracted the cream of musical acts. It was Paul McCartney who suggested both Jimi Hendrix and The Who (in their first American concert). Other performers included Eric Burdon & The Animals, Simon & Garfunkel, Canned Heat, Big Brother & The Holding Company with Janis Joplin, The Steve Miller Band, The Byrds, The Jefferson Airplane, Ravi Shankar, Buffalo Springfield, The Grateful Dead, Scott McKenzie, and of course The Mamas & The Papas.
The event turned out to be the biggest rock concert of its day. It was a prelude to the larger rock festivals to come in later years. The crowd was treated well, the event was highly organized and ran pretty smooth. Hawaiian orchids were handed out at the gate, ushers showed people to their seats, and a special batch of purple Owsley acid was available. A typical San Francisco light show added to the psychedelic feel of the festival.
For three days the fans were treated to some of the best music by young creative talents at their peak. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin made rock history as they both blew the crowd away with music that touched our souls. Before Monterey, they were almost totally unknown in the U.S. But Janis Joplin was the first to steal the audience's heart with her rendition of Big Mama Thorton's blues tune, "Ball and Chain". No woman singer before or since has been able to pierce your heart with emotion like Janis.
Pete Townsend and Jimi Hendrix got in a fight over who would follow whom. Pete lost the coin toss, so his band went on first, smashing their guitars, their instruments and the stage for their patented climax. Jimi needed no such stunts. He wooed the audience with his mastery, his control over every sound possible from a guitar. His soulful, yet gut wrenching sound tore through virgin ears and immediately everyone knew, that music would never be the same. But just to top Townsend, Jimi set his guitar on fire - after making love to it.
Ravi Shankar played a mesmerizing three-hour set that saw the audience respond with a very long standing ovation. His performance instantly made him an icon of Indian music. Some bands like the Byrds and the Mamas and the Papas were about to breakup, and their performances reflected the discontent.
Monterey Pop was made into a movie which initially had limited success on its first release. Now it's considered a classic documentary of the period thanks to the premiere performances of Janis & Jimi. The Festival also inspired other promoters to book multiple acts at large outdoor venues, as the psychedelic rock scene swept the country. It succeeded due to the professionalism of the organizers. As the precursor to Woodstock, it showed that there was a big market for outdoor concerts. And it was just the beginning of a summer to remember….
The Summer of Love: San Francisco, 1967
If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear a flower in your
San Francisco has always had a different attitude marked by tolerance. During the late 1950s and early '60s, it was a bohemian hangout. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and other writers, artists and musicians lived and partied hard in places like North Beach and across the bay in Berkeley. In 1964, the University of California in Berkeley was home to the Free Speech Movement. So it was the perfect setting for a revolution in style, attitude, and consciousness.
Things really started to develop when Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters held Acid Tests in the area in 1965. These parties where Electric Kool-Aid (spiked with LSD), psychedelic music by the likes of the Grateful Dead, and the first light shows appeared, was the spark that lit a thousand candles. Those candles lit many more at events like The 1966 Trips Festival which added guerrilla theater, mime performance, and body paint to the psychedelic ritual.
By 1967, things were really coming together, the music, the drugs, and of course thousands of beautiful people. That year started with the "Gathering of the Tribes, the first Human Be-In". Businessmen in the Haight began to realize that there was something going on in the city that was attracting thousands of young people. They decided to actively promote the upcoming summer as "The Summer of Love" to give business a push.
Made up my mind to make a new start.
San Francisco is one of the most magnificent cities in the world. Golden Gate Park is the cultural heart and gathering place. Just off the park's Panhandle, lies the Haight district. What a scene it was in 1967, with fabulous psychedelic music, light shows, free flowing drugs, new fashions, and young people everywhere. Haight-Ashbury tried to accommodate the influx and developed according to the needs of these cultural pioneers. Many of these hippies were runaways, and usually broke. Free clinics, free food (thanks to the Diggers), free clothes and crash pads all helped what was an overwhelming situation. Since the vibe was loving and sharing, you can add free sex and drugs into the mix.
But the hype went too far. They started doing Greyhound tours of the Haight. Small town straights looked out of the bus windows upon something so alien, it was like visiting a colorful, cosmic zoo, complete with running commentary. The media played it up, and the kids came in droves to be a part of the scene.
On June 16th, the Monterey Pop Festival drew national attention by showcasing
the San Francisco sound with groups like the Grateful Dead, Big Brother
and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and the Jefferson
Airplane. Both Janis & Jimi were relatively unknown until their legendary
performances at Monterey. On June 21st the hippies held a Summer Solstice
party in Golden Gate Park. By June 25, the day the Beatles debuted the
song, "All You Need Is Love" on T.V., 100,000 flower children were gathered
in the Haight-Ashbury area living it. On July 1st, the Beatles LSD inspired
Sgt. Pepper album hit # 1. On July 7th, Time Magazine's cover story was
"The Hippies: The Philosophy of a Subculture". On August 7th, George Harrison
paid the Haight a visit with his wife, Patti. On Aug 26th, Jimi Hendrix's
"Are You Experienced?" hit the charts.
The Haight at its peak was the center of an LSD fueled revolution in consciousness, music, art, fashion and lifestyle. The novel experiments that were tried during these years were not failures. They opened doors through which we discovered our true selves and our common humanity. Sure there were bad trips, rip-offs, diseases, run-ins with authority, but these were isolated incidents and a small price to pay for being part of a revolution.
Within a few years, the media attention moved away, and so did many of the hippies. Some went back home, some moved to communes around the state, some traveled to other hippy havens. There was a gradual decline in the Haight Ashbury area, but today it's come back somewhat and now it's a nostalgic tourist attraction and once again a hippy mecca.
The Democratic Convention: Chicago 1968
Our demonstrations shall be entirely peaceful....
It was to be a peaceful demonstration against the continuing War in Vietnam and the fact that the Convention was a farce, since the outcome had been predetermined. Earlier that year, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. With our popular, peace loving leaders gone, the nomination of Hubert Humphrey, and rejection of the peace platform would be another serious blow to activists.
Each night, America watched as the airwaves broadcast the events from Chicago. The whole Democratic Convention and the nomination of Humphrey/Muskie took a back seat to the events unfolding on the streets outside. Yippie leader, Abbie Hoffman had called for 500,000 protesters to demonstrate in Chicago. In response, Mayor Daly had 12,000 policemen stationed around the Convention center. He got another 6,000 National Guard; 7,500 U.S. army troops; and 1,000 FBI, CIA & other services agents to deal with only 10,000 unarmed peaceful protesters who showed up.
Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman's Yippies did threaten to "roar like wild bands" through Chicago and spike the city's water supply with LSD. But these were just the usual media grabbing pranks they used. Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, leaders of the SDS and David Dellinger were the organizers of the larger protest. All these men were later part of the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial.
The Whole World is Watching!
Apparently, there was a planned conspiracy to teach the demonstrators a lesson. On the one hand the protesters were ordered out of the park where they gathered. On the other hand all the streets leading away were blocked by bayonets and machine guns. It's clear the strategy was to surround and beat the shit out of the demonstrators. First hand reports indicate the unflinching brutality that was meted out not only to the young protesters, but also to reporters, cameramen, and passersby. Priests and ministers, and even Allen Ginsberg had come to ensure that the protests were peaceful. But the anger rose as the police tactics and violence took their toll. More demonstrators turned out each day, but each day they were met by more police and National Guardsmen. It was a police riot that appeared on TV and was witnessed by millions.
Humphrey lost his presidential bid, no thanks to the way the events in Chicago were handled. Mayor Daly also faced a lot of fallout, and lost some power. The Yippie and SDS leaders went on trial for conspiracy and inciting riots. The trial became a stage where Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin satirized the whole hypocrisy. The conspiracy charges were dropped, and the inciting a riot convictions were overturned on appeal. The heavy-handed tactics by law enforcement in Chicago convinced many militant factions that we were at war. They soon adopted more violent ways, using bombs to get their message across.
It seems that violence begets violence, and our society is one of the most violent on the planet. Hippies use non-violent means to protest. However it has been shown that when the use of force is applied to break-up peaceful protest, the cycle of violence increases on both sides. Apparently the powers that be have learned this lesson to some degree. Thanks to the preponderance of recording devices, and events like the beating of Rodney King, it's become somewhat easier to see that the perpetrators of violence are brought to justice, regardless of what kind of uniform they wear and that the victims are compensated.
The New York State Freeway's closed, man. Far out!
Possibly the most defining moment of the Hippy Movement was the Woodstock Music Festival, held on Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, New York on Aug 16, 17 & 18, 1969. Despite organizational problems and major hassles, it lived up to its billing of "Three Days of Peace and Music".
This event marked the peak of the flower power/hippie movement. Prior to Woodstock, there had never been a concert with 70,000 people, much less 500,000. Originally planned to accommodate about 100,000 people, organizers did their best to deal with the growing horde.
Good morning! What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000.
But it was the horde itself, along with a few groups like the Hog Farm and the Merry Pranksters who kept things under control. There were few if any policemen on the site, and surprisingly they weren't needed! There was no violence either at the festival or in the surrounding communities. No burglaries either. The worse crime seemed to be trespassing which most people did to get to and from the site.
We all sang the songs of peace
The big attraction of course, was an outstanding music event. On the bill were Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, The Jefferson Airplane, Crosby Stills & Nash (in their second public performance), The Grateful Dead, Santana, Joe Cocker, Ravi Shankar, Richie Havens, Creedence Clearwater Revival and many more popular musicians of the day.
We must be in Heaven!
The flower children didn't let the heat, rain and mud dampen their enthusiasm. Like the organizers, they too were unprepared. Some had to walk 20 miles to get to the site since the N.Y. Thruway was closed. Many didn't bring enough food or drink for three days, and it was nearly impossible for trucks to get to the site to resupply the vendors. To get through, they shared everything, their food, their drink, their drugs, their shelters, even their clothes. They stuck it out, got off on drugs and each other, grooved to some of the best music ever, got lost in space, and found themselves part of a magical moment in the history of a movement.
The people of this country should be proud of these kids
Woodstock, like the sixties themselves can never be repeated again. Attempts to capture the spirit and feeling fall short, leaving us to wonder just what was it about this event, and the people involved that made it so special.
Tragedy at Altamont
On Dec. 9, 1969, the Rolling Stones, put on a free concert to mark the end of their highly successful American Tour. At the last minute, the location was changed to Altamont Speedway, a drag strip 40 miles east of San Francisco. The program included Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Dead (who decided not to play), and the Stones.
The poor planning of this event led to some major problems. First, a raceway is not the best venue. Secondly, the stage was built quickly, and it was low and close to the audience. Lastly, the Hell's Angels were chosen to provide security and were paid with $500 in beer. When 300,000 people showed for the event, it was very crowded.
The film "Gimme Shelter" documents some critical events at concert. It's clear that the crowd was in an unusual frame of mind for a concert. The happy, smiling beautiful people seemed to be outnumbered (at least near the stage) by zombie like space cadets. The scene was tense as the Angels had their hands full trying to keep people from rushing the stage. Marty Balin of the Jefferson Airplane got in the middle of things and was knocked out by an Angel. The overall vibe wasn't improved when the Rolling Stones took the stage. Their selection of music included violent songs like "Street Fighting Man" and "Sympathy for the Devil".
And as I watched him on the stage,
During the Stones' performance, a man started towards the stage waving a gun. The Angels showed no mercy and the man was killed. Fearing a riot, the Stones continued their set, but left quickly afterwards. Charges against the Angels were dropped, as it was justifiable homicide. The Angels were just doing their job.
The tragedy at Altamont might've been avoided with better planning. Was the fact that it was a "free concert" contribute to events? Were there some "bad" drugs that added to the overall negative vibe? Did the location at a motor speedway make the situation worse. Was it too crowded? Did Altamont mark the end of the innocence for the Love Generation? These questions remain unanswered.
There is no doubt that all the publicity surrounding the concert contributed to the decline in festival type events. Certainly the relationship between the Hell's Angels and the hippies soured.
Kent State Massacre, 1970
Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we're finally on our own.
On April 30, 1970, President Nixon announced that he would expand the war by invading Cambodia. This set off campus protests nationwide. Being the good student activist, I attended one at my school. I remember students getting very angry. I know I felt more emotion than I'd experienced in a long time. Instead of winding down the war, it seemed like we were getting deeper. We had been told for years, that unless we win this war, the evil communist system would spread throughout Southeast Asia. Now it appeared the domino theory was right, but it was the U.S. doing the invading.
What made students mad was the fact that if the war expanded, our chances of getting drafted increased. Also it seemed all our protests for years had been in vain. Nixon and the military machine were going to do whatever they wanted, regardless of how millions of Americans felt.
All protesters should be put into concentration camps.
The situation on college campuses was getting serious. But at Kent State University, in Ohio, a series of events led to the calling in of the National Guard. Kent State was actually more conservative than other campuses in Ohio, but the invasion into Cambodia alarmed students everywhere. On May 2nd the ROTC building was torched. Firemen attempting to control the blaze were stoned, and their hoses slashed. The Guard arrived hours later. The authorities assumed it was outsiders, particularly the SDS, that was stirring up trouble. There were anonymous threats to the town's water supply and to businesses. Curfews were set and when crowds of students assembled, the Guardsmen were used to break them up. The governor said he would "use any force necessary" to quell the disturbances.
When trouble-makers have long hair, use bad language and go
The students quickly resented the tactics being used against them. They resisted by having sit-ins, yelling obscenities and a few threw rocks at the Guardsmen. Students were roughed up and some were bayoneted. On that fateful May 4th, Guardsmen opened fire for 13 seconds killing 4 students and injuring 9 more with 61 bullets. The bloody news was on every newspaper's front page and TV news broadcast accompanied by the image of a young woman, kneeling over a student bleeding to death, crying. Her anguished faced echoed the feelings of a whole generation pleading and questioning…. Why?
More should have been killed.
The reaction of students was nationwide. One third of U.S. campuses were involved in America's first student strike. One hundred thousand students marched in Washington D.C. to protest the shootings and the Vietnam War. On Wall St. in New York, construction workers (hardhats) attacked antiwar demonstrators. And 10 days after the Kent State massacre, police at Jackson State killed two students during violent demonstrations.
The four victims did nothing that justified their death.
There were many investigations into the shooting, each reaching different conclusions. There were claims by the National Guard that there was a sniper, that they were surrounded, that they were out of tear gas. An FBI investigation found all these claims were baseless (thousands of pages of this report are still classified, and unavailable for public view). A county grand jury whitewashed the event placing all the blame on the students and University administration, and commending the National Guard's actions. Ohio's Governor refused to testify as to his role, though many held him responsible for the tragedy.
Some believe the whole event was a criminal conspiracy that involved many people going way up the federal chain of command. The Nixon Administration's reluctance to investigate and subsequent conviction of Attorney General John Mitchell for obstructing justice, and Nixon's own Watergate scandal further supports the contention that this was just one more "dirty trick". Some contend that Yale University was originally the target of the lesson, but a refusal by the Chief of Police there to cooperate made them choose Kent State.
...an open wound on the American Conscience.
The fallout from the massacre deepened the huge divide between generations. The War in Vietnam had found its way into America's heartland. This single event and the judicial, political, and social response highlighted just those very things that students were protesting. The insensitivity towards civil rights, the suppression of legal protest, the resorting to violence on the part of the government, the politicizing of the judicial process, the misuse of power, the cover-ups and conspiracies of corrupt leaders all typified the hypocrisy and lack of ethics in our system.
Eventually a settlement was reached in a civil suit brought against the guardsmen, the Governor and others by the surviving victims and parents of the deceased. An apology was issued. A gymnasium was built on the massacre site despite protests by students and parents of the victims. New rules now define how law enforcement behaves on college campuses and in confrontations with protesters. But really, just how much has changed? Has the system improved, or has it just gotten better at hiding abuses of power?
First Earth Day: 1970
There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.
In 1969, the Santa Barbara oil spill shocked the nation as images of dead seagulls and fish covered in oil splashed across our TV screens and newspapers. In those days no one was prepared for oil spills. There was no special equipment to contain the oil, mop it up, clean the beaches, or save the animals. We could only guess at the long-term consequences of such spills. New wells were popping up along the California coast. Suddenly, everyone realized the threat to wildlife, fisheries, and beaches that such development entailed. It was another unfortunate event that focused America's attention on the environment.
Students were already organized to protest the Vietnam War and the draft. So they were the ones to mobilize for a new cause (it really wasn't new, it's just the timing was right). Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson got the idea to organize students and hold environmental teach-ins at schools across the country. Denis Hayes, a Harvard law student was named national coordinator. The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970. Twenty million people participated, making it the largest organized demonstration in history.
Look at mother nature on the run in the 1970's
I remember in New York City, students were let out of classes early to participate in the many events planned all over the city. They closed Fifth Avenue to cars for the events. 100,000 people showed up for an ecology fair in Union Square. There were demonstrations against polluting companies. Pollution of the land, air and water were primary on the agenda. Some people organized neighborhood clean-ups and planted trees. Congress shut down and folk singer Pete Seeger sang at the Washington Monument. Public speeches, parades, marches, rallies on college campuses, and teach-ins raised awareness of our imperiled ecosystems.
Earth Day got the ecology ball rolling, and by the end of the year the Environmental Protection Agency was established and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts were passed into law. The momentum continued as new environmental organizations like Greenpeace and Earth First! were created while membership in established conservation groups like the Sierra Club mushroomed.
It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but
rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country
and mankind its citizens.
In later years we became aware that the problems of the environment are global in scale. Overpopulation, ozone depletion, global warming, deforestation, and species extinction, are serious problems we all share. In response Earth Day went international, and on the 20th anniversary in 1990, 200 million people in more than 140 countries participated in events that focused on saving the rainforests, eliminating hazardous wastes, recycling and acid rain.
President Clinton has bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Gaylord Nelson for his concern and involvement in environmental issues.