01/14 – The Human Be-In

Jefferson Airplane performs at a “Summer of Love” event in Haight-Ashbury. (Wikimedia Commons)

On this day in 1967, the Human Be-In took place in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The event was organized in the wake of California’s decision to ban LSD (a popular psychedelic drug) and involved almost 30,000 people. Speakers like Timothy Leary advised participants to “Turn on, tune in, and drop out” while bands like The Grateful Dead serenaded everyone and huge quantities of LSD were consumed. The Be-In was notable for kicking off the San Francisco Summer of Love, during which hundreds of thousands of hippies and other counter-culture types shared music, drugs and bodily fluids whilst decrying the Vietnam War and American consumerism.

The Be-In was a relatively small event in the context of the broader “hippy movement” (as it was derided by mainstream media), but it inspired many similar events worldwide and introduced everyday people to terms like “psychedelic” and “far out”. In the grand scheme of the 1960s, the movement reflected a growing distrust of conventional power structures and a desire to return to more communal modes of living – a desire which was, of course, labelled as “communist” by fearful establishment types. The last years of the 1960s saw unrest expressed in various ways throughout the world: in communist Czechoslovakia, students took to the street and were gunned down during the Prague Spring, while workers and protesters shut down streets during the May ’68 events in Paris. At that point in the Cold War, it was becoming clear that many people were fed up with the narrative of a grand military struggle between good and evil; and, like in San Francisco, many found comfort in “turning on, tuning in, and dropping out.”

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