What can I say about Berkeley, San Francisco and the Bay Area in the 1960s? How to convey the giddy sense of infinite possibility that hung in the air? You didn't need pot, hash, or acid to get high. There was a feeling of weightlessness permeating the air. Every day was sunny, everybody smiled, students at UC Berkeley almost danced down the street on the way to class. The air was cleaner, purer, sweeter. The streets were litter free — this is actually true. People didn't lock their doors, strangers began talking on a street corner and became life long friends, poets and musicians were everywhere, soon to reinvent the way America produced art and made music. Hair was getting longer, morals were getting looser, women were getting stronger, men were getting gentler, non-violence was the word, even as the police beat down anti-war and Civil Rights protesters. In 1964, I had just come out from New York City and couldn't believe how friendly, laid back and open my peers were. Everything was possible, love was all around us, the world was changing fast and my new student and political and street friends (soon to be called hippies) were making those changes happen. The Free Speech Movement (FSM) had started at UC Berkeley to protest the administration's attempts to clamp down on anti-war and Civil Rights organizations, and we all believed that concentrated, non-violent resistance to authority would win the day. Despite the assassination of President Kennedy, it seemed that all doors would soon open and the walls of corruption would crumble. America would see the light; we are, after all, an optimistic nation. We'd stop the war and hold out a healing hand to blacks, browns and Asians and turn the military machine into some kind of giant Peace Corps, helping to undo some of the damage we'd been doing for centuries. This all sounds impossibly na´ve now, but if you were there, you know it's true. We were immature and unrealistic perhaps, but we had a faith in ourselves and in our country that could not be repressed. We went to the South and registered voters, we went to Africa and built dams and irrigation systems, we went to Canada so we wouldn't have to kill our fellow human beings, and we went out into the streets protesting, singing and dancing, knowing that it would take time, but confident that a change for the better was coming, something so big and holy and blissful that we'd astound the world and ourselves when it happened.
Cynics will say nothing happened. No revolution ever took place, but the women's movement, Gay Liberation, Black nationalism, psychedelic rock, protest music, and the ecology movement set in motion back then are still sending shock waves throughout America and the world. The things we did and said and sung and wrote reverberate through the years. The right wing is still afraid of us, kids are still fascinated by hippies and beats and sex and drugs and rock and roll, and anybody who has a heart knows there's nothing funny about peace, love and understanding.
(Excerpt from Street Poetry in the 1960s)