The rise of the 1960s counterculture began with inter-generational tensions surrounding U.S. involvement in Vietnam, experimental drug use, sexuality, and differing attitudes toward authority and consumerism. Members of the counterculture, typically middle class youth popularly known as “hippies,” began to express their rejection of mainstream America through an exploration of rock music, psychedelic drugs, non-western spirituality, alternative arts, sexual freedom, and communal living.
Counterculture beliefs focused on the individual and the immediate, with little thought of consequences. In their attempts to construct an optimistic, even utopian, society built on peace and love, youth were attracted to the idea of a collective—a gathering of the like-minded. On January 14, 1967, people flocked to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco to rally against a new law criminalizing LSD. Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, LSD guru Timothy Leary, and rock bands the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Grateful Dead were among the speakers and performers. It is estimated that 30,000 people gathered for this “Human Be-In,” intent on achieving higher consciousness, whether it be personal, political, or environmental. Members of the counterculture continued to arrive in droves in the Bay Area, the hub of the movement, forming communes and coming together for cultural gatherings and musical performances during 1967’s “Summer of Love.”
With their adoption of an anti-establishment lifestyle, young members of the counterculture rejected the societal values of their Eisenhower-generation parents. The movement petered out by 1970, but left its mark on American popular music, arts, and media.
Image: John Thompson. American, born 1945. Flower Child, 1967. Screenprint printed in color on paper. Published by Astro Posters, Berkeley, California. Purchased. Photo by Petegorsky/Gipe.