I grew up hearing and overdosing from the mythical stories of the 60's. My parents met in '69. My Dad lived in the Lower Haight and was an activist attending SFSU; my Mom was at UCB and a Community Organizer in Visitacion Valley. In a seemingly fragmented time with social media saturation, I struggle to make sense of the seismic shifting of San Francisco's "culture" and its current tech sensibilities. As a Gen Xer I'm caught in the middle of two disparate time periods. So I did some digging to try and find out of there is a through-line between then and now.
The counterculture Hippie movement in the Haight Ashbury of the late 1960's stemmed from the unrest of the McCarthy era, the Vietnam war and draft, the deconstruction of the nuclear family, and the disillusionment with materialism and the "American Dream." The dominant youth demographic of the day truly believed that it could change the world.
A spontaneous combustion of growing up during the post WWII affluence, sudden access to arts, introduction to altered states through psychedelia, assassinations of leaders, and the media's hype of the Hippie drove an unprecedented youth migration storm into the Haight Ashbury. With free food, concerts, love in and around Golden Gate Park, it beckoned to be the epicenter for the spiritual awakening. Check out these freakishly outstanding Rolling Stone shots of Hendrix and Joplin and other rock icons gallivanting about in San Francisco at that time: Love and Haight: Jim Marshall's Iconic Sixties San Francisco Photos
The Hippie movement stood for peace, love, racial equality, personal freedom, and sexual experimentation. But it didn't take long before the media co-opted the music, made the hippie a fashion statement and used counterculture icons for commercial gain. Then some participants, namely the Diggers (an offshoot of the San Francisco Mime Troupe) took notice and in October of 1967, they staged a mock funeral procession to boldly announce the Death of the Hippie with the words Hippie--Son of Media scribbled on the side of the coffin. The remarkable thing about the Diggers, is that while they were a subculture of the counterculture movement in ideals, and consciousness raising, their life acting was conceptual and transformative "to create a theater that described everything being free, hoping that that would lead to a social movement." (Michael William Doyle from the
San Francisco Diggers)
To learn more about the history of the Haight Ashbury look for Chip Isaac's free history tour of the neighborhood or Pam Brennan's Haight Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour for $20 at (Coincidentally enough, I stepped out of the cafe where I was writing this article a few blocks from the Haight, and when I came back in, a woman was hovering over my iPad and reading intently. After the awkwardness subsided and we shared greetings, it turned out to be Pam Brennan, getting ready to give her tour! Talk about cosmic hippie synchronicity!)
We sometimes wonder, what happened to the hippies, where did they go? They can't just all be burnt out boomers still wearing tie-dye. Was there some overarching meaning that came out of thousands of youth in the 60's who dropped out, wore flowers in their hair, and called everyone brother and sister?
Enter Gen Y, late 20 somethings who heard or learned about the progressive politics and pot smoking culture of SF. Coming of age post AIDS and 9/11 - there's a sense of apocalyptic doom that moves their collective unconscious. Youth who are choosing the SF Bay Area for college discover like minded and evolved thinkers. And they confront some of the same and some different dilemmas: overpopulation, media saturation, connectivity, global warming, fresh water scarcity, the decline of the world's resources; ultimately, the survival of the human race.
So instead of dropping out and partying which might satisfy an entitled Burner; is there perhaps a more mature movement out there? One that is interested in accountability to the generations that come, akin to the Occupy movement but Sustainable?
NOW! Organizer, Morgan Fitzgibbons holds up a picture of Digger, Phyllis holding up a Now poster, inspiring the name of the festival from the book, Summer of Love: Haight-Ashbury at it's Highest by Gene Anthony. Photo credit: Tanya Vlach
Almost 50 years after the Summer of Love, 31 year old organizer and part-time USF Professor of The Haight Ashbury, Morgan Fitzgibbons imagines a festival "mashup" of the freedom ideals of the 'Digger's' movement, the pop up nature of SXSW, and sharing economy of Freespace. Organizers use Neighborland.org to crowdsource events. Outreach consists of those in the know, via the website, friends of Morgan from the Wigg Party, and USF students. This does produce a rather white programming, and even Fitgibbens agrees that diversifying its programming is not the NOW! organizers' strong suit.
We'd like just a wider range of people to produce events and come and participate in events. The main pools we're drawing from are our organizing team of 15 or so, a number of USF students, and then the existent events that are already happening in the neighborhood.
Long time locals can sometimes be cynical as to the motives of do gooders and the agendas of organizers in this city. Faced with disappointing leaders, gentrification, evictions of the low-income, artists, and people of color, a hard to shake malaise sets in. Fitzgibbons' demeanor and well intentions can warm even the foggiest of SF native's hearts. Fundamentally NOW! is an exercise in meaningful existence, putting into practice a cultural shift that the original Digger's hoped to achieve. Although Fitzgibbons believes that the possibility of a grander movement that could happen in SF is shrinking, when asked about the differences between the youth of the 60's and now.
...There's fewer strong connections between each other as a result of shared experience because we are simply spending our time doing things with a glowing screen that has drastically altered our society and culture of the youth of today.... On the flip side, the youth are so much better informed than the youth of the 60's that I think there's an opportunity to do something bigger once we're inevitably jarred out of this omni-media daze.
BUT in the meantime NOW! is ripe with activities such as silent disco dancing, gardening classes, yoga, jazz sessions. You can find Morgan Fitzgibbons in most of these events at NowSF.org
4/20 does happen to fall as the second day of NOW! , coincidence? I may sometimes like to partake, yet totally offended by the amount of out-of-towners who come to get high then trash our beloved Hippie Hill and neighboring districts. Well NOW! has an answer to that with a cleanup event also on 4/20. A perfect call and response to the leftover anarchistic sensibilities of the hippie movement with a purpose of accountability that the organizers of NOW! possess.
It is a coincidence. We actually picked the date more to coincide with ... Earth Week and we wanted to make the statement that if you want to do something to help the Earth, organizing and contributing to your community is infinitely more impactful than writing letters to your Senator.
And if you want to test the waters on Sunday April 19th, Fitzgibbons emphasizes that
Sunday is a big day in the Panhandle. From 11 am to 3:30 pm we're going to have: slackline workshop, Kubb tournament, belated Easter egg scavenger hunt, a bike/rollerskate/skateboard mob, chalking session, field day, silent disco, energy healing station, yoga and a cookie bake off competition. All happening in the Panhandle. So that's going to be crazy.
Don't worry I also had to look up slackline and Kubb.
For events later on in the week,
We've got some really great music lined up for Thursday (something more intimate) and Friday (folk). A midnight silent disco PJ party on Friday night. Free Flower Friday is always a huge hit. And then we definitely want to pump our closing party on Saturday night at St. Cyprian's.
For a complete lineup of the 100 events in the week from April 19 to April 24 go to NowSF.org