First the bell bottoms came back

The crowd on Day 1 of the Woodstock Festival on August 15, 1969. Clayton Call/Redferns

Back in the 60s, my baby boomer generation rode the interstate buses into the south to protest segregation in the southern states. My generation protested at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and were met with the use of extreme violence by the Chicago police force. My generation stood up and called out shady backroom politics. We demonstrated for clean water and clean air. We toppled a dishonest president. We ended an unjust war. We wore our bell bottoms and we changed the world. We thought we had fixed things.

The word Boomer seems to have become a bad word lately, connoting all kinds of unpleasant things about my generation. By now we have gotten old, and people have forgotten what we did. 

I no longer live in New York, the city of my heart. I haven’t lived there for over 30 years. I view America from afar. When I meet someone new and we spend a bit of time exchanging the Cliff Notes of our lives, I usually summarize myself by saying “I’m an old hippy”. Perhaps this isn’t completely honest. Though I went around braless, I never lived in a commune. I didn’t practice free love and have sex with anyone who seemed interested. I attended a few peace marches but that was mainly because a boy I liked wanted to go. While I smoked pot on occasion I didn’t spend my days in a daze. I didn’t attend Woodstock. But I still feel I can nevertheless call myself an old hippy. That’s how I identified back then when I was young, wearing long flowered skirts and sandals (in the summer) and my hair a wild curly mass…for a short period of time. Life is usually lived in short periods of time. We are something for a while and then we evolve. Inside we stay who we are. It’s just our outside trappings that change. I gave up my patched bell bottomed jeans for mid-calf length flowy dresses that were replaced by broad-shouldered suits that became baggy-waist pants that turned into tunics over leggings. But I’m still me underneath.

I still love New York though I no longer belong there. I still love a good argument. I still believe people are fools, all of us, but we should at least be friendly and show consideration and respect. I still love science fiction and hate oysters. And while I believe in the equality of all human beings and their right to be able to live a decent life within a just system regardless of race or gender or social status or hairstyle or clothing choices, I still reserve the right to choose who I like and wish to be friends with. Though everybody is equal I have no desire to love everyone equally.

I read my electronic New York Times subscription from here in Stockholm. I read articles from CNN or the few stories I am allowed from the Washington Post without a paid subscription. I look at the things people share on Facebook and Twitter. And I get very scared. Black men get killed while jogging and a white woman threatens a black man with a bold-faced lie to the police about him endangering her. The only thing new about this is that they are being filmed, live as it is happening, like the reportage from the Vietnam war in the 60s and 70s. Synagogues are attacked. And churches. Men with military grade weaponry feel they have the right to threaten State capital buildings and the police just look on. Right wing fascists are rioting, burning buildings, reminding me of Kristallnacht in the 1930s, though this time it isn’t specifically aimed at only Jewish citizens. But the purpose is the same – to create havoc, to tumble society. Demonstrators are marching again, protesting injustice. And like at Kent State, the police are firing on them. 

I read all this and it worries me, a lot. There is a vacuum in the place where the head of state of the USA should be. Instead there is a man totally unfit to be there, filled with anti everything that is good and decent and humane and sane. There is so much wrong with America now and once again it is all coming to the surface, into plain sight. My generation thought we fixed things. We had that hope at least. We obviously didn’t. Hans Rosling, the Swedish academic, believed that statistically the world was improving for the majority of people. But the things that are still wrong in the world can’t be fixed all in one fell swoop. Perhaps it is up to each generation to stand up and say “This is wrong” and demand change. Time to protest, time to demonstrate, time to march, time to stand up and be heard. Change for the better won’t be able to happen until the current administration is voted out and its enablers in the Republican Party are also voted out.  

But right now, it’s the 60s all over again, baby. The struggle is here once more. Put your bell bottoms on and start getting on with it. 

And just for a bit of memory and inspiration…My Generation by the Who.
Photo credit: The crowd on Day 1 of the Woodstock Festival on August 15, 1969. 
Clayton Call/Redferns

3 Responses to “First the bell bottoms came back”

  • Sue Cohen Says:

    Thank you for your beautifully written important message for Now! I was reading favorite quotes I keep on little crumpled pieces of paper in my purse earlier today for solac–after reading the headlines about the chaos in the US. This one reminds me of your piece:
    ‘Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about things that matter. –Martin Luther King

    • Hilarie Says:

      Hi Sue
      I’m glad you liked what I had to say. And yes, all this definitely brings MLK to mind.

  • Stig Says:

    I am not now, nor have I ever been a hippy. Have always detested the term. ( mostly from having been stereotyped with it a million times too often.) Others of our generation might, upon reflection, find such an imaginary past life to be of comfort. Most “old hippies” live vicariously with an ancient, distorted, media driven narrative that connects a fashion trend with some sort of bubbly lovely human potential movement launched by a comedian. George Carlin invented the term hippy. The Bee Gee’s got it right in ’68 with ” I started a joke.” Those who were part of the proto hippy beat generation referred to themselves as The Set. The Summer of Love came a year after the SF scene had already turned into a pathetic violent drug and rape culture. Free love meant, hey my girlfriend’s passed out in the bedroom if you’re interested. Hippies did not have jobs. They sat like happy homeless elves on street corners begging, annoying those who wished they didn’t have to do the 9 to 5 either. I got food poisoning more than once eating at The Cauldron, which is why I have alway been leery of granola cultists.
    Then there was the East/West thing. California vs NY. Just like the rap/hip-hop divide. California ” hippies” were touchy-feely airheads. Groovy, wasted, hardly able to walk with so many trinkets dangling from any and every appendage. East Coast NYC was more hip than hippy. Then, there were the regional divides. Like New Jersey vs NY. And, Bridge and tunnel youth vs Manhattan.
    Let’s go full metal revisionist, and consider : JFK started the Viet Nam war. Nixon did more to save the environment than any president since Teddy Roosevelt.
    Don’t get me wrong. I hear where you’re coming from . There was an explosion of creativity . Lots of fun. It would have been nice if our generation had accomplished anything. But the truth is, I know too many once starving street people , still espousing certain noble values, who now live $10 million apartments, and $20 million townhouses – loudly complaining about injustice, and then in same breath being afraid to go out:
    ” things are nuts in soho. around 9 we started hearing noise in the street. bunch of people, bikes, and scooters. around 930 thousands of marchers came up greene st, carrying signs and chanting, taking several minutes to pass. they were all peaceful. but then some people broke into the Swedish outdoor clothing store across the street. and car traffic has been heavy all night. still is at 2AM, and the streets are still crowded. looters going by carrying loot, just saw 10 cop cars go by, seen several ambulances and a couple fire trucks. haven’t seen traffic like this since pre-lockdown early march. the Alexander wang a block away was just broken in to. and the street at 2AM has more cars parked on it then there’s been since pre-lockdown. what the hell. 7 more cop cars just went east and 2 more north. just looked out window again, counted 20 people milling around. heard more sirens, went back to the window. 15 cops, a glass repair truck, which boarded up the broken windows, another cop with a handcuffed guy. 2:25. cops all went north except for a couple staying. broken door boarded up as well. a beautiful night in the neighborhood.”
    Now, that was few hours ago – a 35- minute drive from here. NYC pandemic/demonstrations/lockdown/open up/crazy.
    It is very easy to go to a demonstration and express yourself. There is safety in numbers. For a few hours one can be part of a crowd that operates on its own dynamics. It does not take ” courage” to demonstrate. It takes courage to stand up to the bigoted people you see everyday, who you know, who you interact with. Change happens one-on-one.
    I see people posting noble quotes, inspirational songs, photos, words of wisdom, philosophies – to what end?
    Makes ’em all feel good. Nothing wrong with that. But, it won’t change anything. Nothing changes ’till this back-and-forth name calling crap stops. Instead of j’accuse, j’accuse – people gotta talk to one and other. They need to learn. non-violent communication, The left demonizes the right. The right demonizes the left. And the conflict capitalists all make out like bandits.
    All people want the same things. Have the same basic needs and the same basic feelings. Suggesting that one ” bring out the bellbottoms” , or” bring out the camo vests”, will only cause more division. Might I suggest introducing people to the Puddle Press Non-Violent Communications materials? It would save angst next time one can’t find just the right hateful, decisive, body shaming expression to fit the bad mood one might be in.
    So what the hell am I ramblin’ on and on about?
    Gotta have some sour grape issues somewhere.
    Did I mention that worst thing about hippies was those goat stomach wineskin things? OMG. Cheap wine, warmed in animal tissue with a spout that everyone touches to their herpes-infected lips to. That is not the future I want for my kids.
    Advice, opinion, anger, joy. It’s all here.
    Oops, might have left out joy. Joy is the new Nicole Atkins album, Italian Ice. Now the interesting thing about Natkins, is how she has taken so much of the musical fodder from the 60’s and transformed it into a contemporary expression of similar thoughts and goals.
    So with all this going one, why focus on music? Pete Seeger got it right when he wrote on his banjo ” this machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender “. But then again he had a thing for wineskins. Sigh. The world will never be perfect. But this cup of coffee comes close.

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