For a brief period in the 1960s, the youth of America became radicalised by a new movement that had its origins in San Francisco. Sparked largely by political disenchantment and the widespread use of hallucinogenic drugs, young people adopted the name "hippies" and spread their message of peace and love.
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The hippies were almost universally aged between 15 and 25 and from well-off or middle-class backgrounds, but they didn't exclude anyone who wanted to join them. As recorded by Tom Wolfe in his book "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," many of the notoriously violent Hells Angels biker gang joined the hippies, as well as a number of outcasts who felt they had nowhere else in the world to go. As far as the hippies were concerned, their movement was for everyone who didn't want to conform with what society wanted.
The hippies rejected violence and embraced peace at a time when the Vietnam War was dominating America's foreign agenda. Mark Barringer, in "Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History," wrote that the war itself was seen by many as a disaster, with huge casualties among the American GIs and huge public expense. In October 15, 1969, 500,000 hippies, intellectuals, students and concerned citizens marched into Washington, D.C., to support the ending of the war. This was just one of many protests that saw police and other law enforcement officials who tried to stop or contain the protest showered with flowers and kisses as the hippies tried to share their message of peace and love.
The hippie ideal of peace and love spread to their sex lives, with many hippies taking multiple sexual partners and rejecting their parents' ideas that you should only live together and have sex after marriage. This echoed a wider societal trend as young people increasingly engaged in premarital sex, thanks in large part to the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the birth control pill in 1960. Free to have sex without reproductive consequences, the hippies took premarital sex a step further by celebrating casual sex. In this way, the hippies were rejecting the strict confines of their society and exploring alternative lifestyles. It wasn't until the 1980s, with the outbreak of AIDs, that this idea was effectively killed.
A large party of hippie subculture included recreational drugs. Marijuana was regularly smoked, but the principle drug of the hippie movement was LSD, which was freely available and, until October 1966, was not illegal in San Francisco. As recorded in journalist Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," a group of hippies known as "The Merry Pranksters" held huge parties in 1965 and 1966 known as "Acid Tests." At these Tests, they mixed copious amounts of LSD with Kool-Aid and then drank it. As the wider hippie movement progressed, those involved increasingly questioned whether the use of LSD really opened what author Aldous Huxley had termed "The Doors of Perception," or whether they were just hallucinating nonsense.
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- "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test"; Tom Wolfe; 1986
- "The Doors of Perception"; Aldous Huxley; 1954
- University of Illinois: The Anti-War Movement in the United States
- LSD-info.com: LSD Timeline
- Psychedelic Library: Psychedelic Drugs in the Twentieth Century; Lester Grinspoon et al.; 1979
- National Drug Intelligence Center: LSD Fast Facts