Public Comment

Commentary: Imagine a Day Without Hippies

By Winston Burton
Friday July 28, 2006

Some people have told me that the recent developments on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley (the closing of Cody’s Books and decline of business in the area) are indicative of young people’s rejection of a dead culture—Hippies. Well, I for one am still alive and kicking! 

Last week I was driving my 12-year-old son to his music lesson, listening to NPR. It was a beautiful day and all was right with the world, and then he said something, out of the clear blue sky, that chilled me to the bone. “I hate hippies”! “Why,” I said? “They’re losers! They messed up my future with their hippie revolution—sitting around half-naked on blankets flashing that stupid peace sign. We should have dropped the bomb! Then there wouldn’t be any wars and I wouldn’t have to go to Iraq or some other crazy country when I get older,” he said. I told him, “Your solution is simplistic, but accurate—probably not, and though I’ve personally experienced violence I’m not an advocate of war. I’m still a Hippie! I took part in sit-ins, be-ins, demonstrations, marched with, Martin Luther King, and heard Malcolm X speak. I saw Jimi, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin and The Doors—live! Once a hippie always a hippie!” “Wrong,” he said, “You’re not a hippie anymore, you’ve been de-hippiefied. You wear ties to work, have short hair and drive a Volvo station wagon.” I tried to explain to my son that being a hippie was not about how you looked but what you do. “Hippies have values: peace, love, brotherhood. Growing up in a gang-infested neighborhood in West Philadelphia it was the Hippie movement that made us lay down the gun and pick up the peace pipe.” “No matter what you say you can’t change my mind,” he said. “A closed mind is almost worthless,” I responded, getting irritated. “You sound like a Republican!” I wondered where I went wrong. 

One thing my son said that stood out was his reference to the Hippies as a revolution. We did change the world, but we stopped short. We joined the Democrats and organized religion, got paid off and ripped off, and became a part of the status quo—a by-line in history. We should have held out, changed the agenda and started our own party—The Hippie Party! Our platform could’ve reflected values like free speech, non-violence, equal rights, love thy neighbor, free love, music, dance, art, the environment, self medication and enlightenment.  

What would a Hippies political party look like? Think of the endless possibilities! Politicians like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush should join (Bill said he never inhaled and Hippies never exhaled, Bush was a known user). Jimmie Swaggert and Jim Baker who loved multiple partners would join. Who obviously was more against joining the Armed Forces than Rumsfield and Dick Cheney who never served in the military—doves in hawk clothing. The NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball and all other sports franchises—notorious proponents of steroid and drug use would join. Everyone in Hollywood, and the music industry would join. Advocates of healthy eating and the environment like Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey and Alice Waters would join. Who wouldn’t join? The only two people who may not are Jerry Farwell and my son, but he’s only 12! 

To me the Beatles were one of the biggest catalysts for the Hippie revolution. Middle class white kids who decided to grow there hair long, and emulate the Beatles, were ostracized by their parents—thrown out, cut off from the will, only because they wanted to grow their hair long. Sure there were the beatniks and the bohemians, but that was contained to a small segment. But when mainstream America battled their kids over the length of their hair—the fight was on. Young people rebelled, left home, and realized that their parents were wrong about a whole lot of other stuff too—like racism, sexism, classicism. The grip that parents held over their children, honor thy mother and father no matter what, was broken, and millions of kids never returned home! You can be sure if your parents threw you out because of your hair, bringing someone home of a different culture or color would not get you invited to Christmas dinner. When my brother and I brought white kids home to our all black neighborhood it truly tested the strength of family and neighborhood bonds too! But ultimately we won—an integrated world. There can be no progress without tension! 

Let’s bring the peace sign back—flash it, defeat the gang signs, we can win this time!  

San Francisco has long ago past away as the center of the Hippie nation. Today our challenge is to bring together the urban Hippie (Berkeley) and the rural Hippie (Santa Cruz). I didn’t move to Berkeley because of the shopping experience, but the human experiment! In spite of what Rodney King said maybe we can all get along! Shop Telegraph! Buy your books, buy your beads, and buy your bongs there! 

People around the country let’s come out of the closet, we’re fighting each other over dumb stuff! Who can join the East Coast Hippies and the West Coast Hippies? Forget the Blue State, Red State rhetoric there’s plenty of Hippies in the Midwest too. I’ve seen them, I lived there. We need a leader. Who can unite us? Who is qualified to re-invigorate our Hippy revolution? I’d volunteer myself, but my kids have swimming lessons, and I’ve got a mortgage to pay. 

So the next time you see me, if you’re on board, flash the peace sign. A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. Our kids need us!  

Peace and power to the people!  


Winston Burton is a Berkeley resident.