Behind the surface: what is Flower Power

Flower Power. People who smoked weed, drank tea all day and listened to ‘mind opening’ music. They protested against war, hunger and poverty in the world and agreed that the human being ought to live in harmony with nature. They wore baggy clothing with lots of colours and patterns or completely the opposite: tight clothing like hot pants and mini skirts. The outfits were completed by wearing headbands and flip-flops.
That’s the view most people have of the Flower Power, but no one really knows where it’s origin lies. Time to find that out.

How it all started
The expression Flower Power was first used by poet Allen Ginsberg in 1965 in his essay titled ‘How To Make a March/Spectacle’. Ginsberg stated that protesters should be provided with ‘masses of flowers’ to give to policemen, press, politicians and spectators. By using props like flowers, candy and music they tried to turn anti-war rallies into a form of street theatre, to reduce the fear, anger and threat that is inherent within the protests. By using Ginsberg’s methods during the protest of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang who supported the war at The University of California Berkeley, the protest received a lot of positive attention. The use of ‘Flower Power’ then became a symbol in the counter-culture movement with the Hippies as the ‘makers’.

The center of the Flower Power movement was the Haight Ashbury district in San Francisco. By the mid-1960’s the area had become a central point for psychedelic rock music. During the Summer of Love in 1967 thousands of hippies came together, popularized by songs as ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)’. The media’s interest grew and exposed the hippie subculture to national attention. The Flower Power movement then became popular all over the world.

A new society
The hippies didn’t agree with the capitalistic and materialistic society who used too much technology. According to the hippies technology led to divergence from nature, artificiality and pollution. People in this society were too focused on work, money, property, status, ensurance and power. Next to that, civility and an excess of rules and restrictions would lead to unfreedom, the suppression of all kinds of feelings and ideas and to spiritual emptiness. All their ideas were built around one main idea: love. They were against war, discrimination and violence. Make love, not war was their slogan during the sixties as protest for the Vietnam War, but has been invoked in other anti-war contexts ever since. John Lennon used Make love, not war as a title for one of his songs.

The desire of the hippies for another society, didn’t express itself in a confrontation with others, nor in political actions to change the whole society. More often they dropped out and went to live somewhere else to start a counterculture and give a good example.

Lifestyle
Hippies were different and this was highlighted by their looks. They all had long, straight hair, even the boys, but afro’s were also very trendy. The long hair was symbolic for being together in the streets, doing nothing and freedom. They thought that short was a symbol for discipline and rules. Men often grew a mustache or a beard, so they didn’t look all girly. Girls barely wore make-up, but at party’s or concerts they were covered with colourful bodypaint.
Their clothes looked very poor and was mostly second-handed. They loved washed out T-shirts and outworn jeans and wore boots or sandals. It wasn’t until 1970 that bright and cheerful colours became fashionable. The clothes had a lot of patterns on it like flowers or circles and they wore sunglasses with large glasses. Eventually they also started wearing platform shoes. You could also recognize them by their  anklets and bracelets.

Hippies didn’t love luxury. Everything had to be as cheap as possible. Expensive, fast cars were a horror and they used their own transport.
The music they listened to was: psychedelic rock, normal rock, blues, country and western, folk and protest songs. Protest songs were simple and emotional and while listening to these, the hippies meditated and used drugs at the same time. They also saw dancing as a form of self-expression and went to a lot of concerts. Mostly those concerts were about ‘being together’.
Hippies drank a lot of tea, mostly herbal tea. They ate vegetarian like legumes and cereals. The food had to be as ‘clean’ as possible, therefore they grew many vegetables themselves.
Sometimes they drank some tequila, but in general the hippies didn’t drink alcohol.

Also, hippies loved to be stoned, using hash and weed. They would meet up in cafés, youth centres and pop concerts. They often lived with others in one house and the interior usually came from thrift stores with oriental accents.
Hippies also had a lot of sex and not only with their one partner. They thought very easy on parenting, so it happened occasionally that they got consciously or unconsciously pregnant and had kids. Their view on freedom contained sexual freedom in which they tended to break the taboo on for example public nudity.

A counter culture
The musical ‘Hair’ is the musical for the hippies. It is about the lifestyle of the flower power, but it also was a reaction on the turbulent years during the Vietnam War. Make love, not war. The song ‘Aquarius’ is about the new society, according to the hippies. A quote from the song:
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
Aquarius!
Aquarius!”

The philosophy of this culture has been written down many times in books as ‘The Greening of America’ by Charles Reich and ‘The Making of a Counter Culture’ by Theodore Roszak. The latter has written several books about this interesting culture.

Written by Amy Vink

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