The Turning Years
Later, there would be confusion. Many would come to believe that the "youth revolution" began in 1964 with the first major campus disruption, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. For those who got their comprehension from the mass media, and for the young who turned active after the New Left had come to seem simply one among many currents of change, a sense of the earlier roots would be lost.
But the FSM marked a turning point, rather than a beginning. By fall 1964, white involvement in Civil Rights was at its height, and the student movement was seven years old in Berkeley. This was four years, one undergraduate generation, after the HUAC "riots" made Berkeley nationally notorious. During these years many came to Berkeley, as I had earlier, to grow in its ambience. But already the context had changed. The Movement itself had become a presence, forcing all the young to begin in some way to define themselves with respect to it. Rock and psychedelics were still newly rising: through 1964, student political activism was the only major expression that clearly belonged to the young. And in the Movement, many of us came to feel that at last we bad something worth defending, besides our naked souls.
In defending it, in the FSM, the energy and anger of the white youth of Affluent America turned for the first time against our parent institutions. We revolted against the university, long felt to have gone awry in its function of nurturing, because it tried to kill what was being horn in us. This made for heavy symbolic theater, whose images saturated the nation and changed minds many ways. From this conflict emerged the motto, "Don't trust anyone over thirty"; and after it, talk of Generation Gap began.
We were turning: not so much left or right, and not only against, but into ... something else, without a name. During the next two years we grew older, and easier about rejecting our parent institutions now that our anger was out in the open. We began to experiment with the seeds of alternate institutions: in communes, free universities, underground papers, rock events, be-ins and street theater, and so on. By 1967, when the Haight -- our Mark I ghetto community -- was exposed, it was clear that the Movement had expanded beyond all political bounds and recognition, and was on some verge -- perhaps premature, but real enough -- of carrying us through deep transformation into a new human culture.
I stand at the edge of the next decade. Already the lives of my friends are torn with agony, attempting this transformation, what little we can grasp. Looking back on the FSM, its symbolic value is clear now, and justifies its enshrinement in our legends. For the first time, we acted collectively on a condition of our own immediate life, acted on behalf of ourselves as a class whose responsibility is the future, rather than on behalf of oppressed minorities, or of humanity in the abstract. It was as if a signal had been given: after this time began our deliberate attempts to construct new conditions for our becoming.
Insofar as this book is a history, it is not so much one of events as of the perceptions and consciousness that attended them. Please understand how limited our consciousness was during the FSM. Some of us already called ourselves hippies, with a small "h," but what was on our minds was a simple longing for community, and not the suspicion that we might amount even to a counter-culture. When it came to action, we still saw ourselves simply as American citizens fighting for our rights under law.
Suddenly what had been a somewhat orthodox movement for social reform began to mutate wildly. We who were caught up in these changes struggled to find or make new terms to comprehend them. Always the Movement was a process of redefining ourselves. In reflecting that, this book is faithful. The pieces that follow come from these years of early confusion when new images were dawning.
The process was amazingly rapid. Thirty months after the FSM, not only we but all America were trying to grasp the presentiment and terms of a new culture. Hastily the media codified the devitalized icon of the Hippy -- flower-child innocent and ecstatic, but shorn of his roots, political and other. A year later the Yippies put balls on the image -- help us, sisters, our icons still are sexist -- and came to Chicago hand in hand with radical politics. We are still searching for a next image, both harder and softer, to guide us.
But from the FSM till the Haight nothing was even this clear. We were just coming to feel the broader effects of our turning on, just realizing our need for new icons. These pieces from the Turning Years are an index to some of the stages our consciousness passed through as we puzzled over our behavior. They are my personal index, but the quick progression of their perceptions was shared by many.