Reagan was on the rise, the anti-war movement had sunk to a low ebb, and the New Age was barely christened when The Aquarian Conspiracy appeared in 1980. Overnight Marilyn Ferguson's book became famous and sold in the millions. I was a young doctor who had just learned to meditate when I picked up a dog-eared paperback copy at a Catskill spiritual retreat. Ferguson's message shot through me like electricity: a "benign conspiracy" was bringing about the greatest shift in consciousness in the twentieth century. In one stroke Ferguson unified a movement that seemed like small, isolated outposts on the fringes of respectable society.
Ferguson was a uniter and a futurist. By showing feminists what they shared with environmentalists, New Age spiritual seekers with peace activists, her book inspired a movement that didn't define the future in terms of technology. Cell phones and computers were incidental. The real future lay in consciousness-raising on a global scale. Ferguson's "BrainMind Bulletin" made sure that her message kept up to date with scientific breakthroughs, and she joined forced with former astronaut Edgar Mitchell and his influential Institute of Noetic Sciences in California.
When she died this October at age 70, Ferguson could take satisfaction that a watershed had been crossed. For all the multitudes of people for whom Dick Cheney is more familiar than the I Ching, George Bush than the Bhagavad-Gita, her "leaderless revolution" has grown steadily around the world. Ferguson helped make possible a new style of politician like Barack Obama and ecological activists like Al Gore. She was a one-woman movement for hope. She promised every voice in the wilderness that there were a thousand other voices like theirs.