The Summer of Love sounded so innocent at first, so innocuous, so … sweet.
In 1967 as many as 100,000 young adults flocked to San Francisco, specifically to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. They came to “turn on, tune in and drop out,” as voiced by icon of the time Timothy Leary.
Americans came to learn that the phrase meant illicit drug use (turn on), new styles of speech, dress, music and lifestyle (tune in), and eschewing work and school (drop out).
The Summer of Love was anything but. It did not turn out well. Within a year the counterculture movement had turned dark. In the summer of ‘68 riots plagued more than 100 cities and were highlighted by violence in the streets of Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. Hundreds of protesters and police were injured during four riotous days and nights.
Many credited the disgrace of Chicago to the turning by America to Republican Richard Nixon for president, and that in turn opened a whole new can of worms in a few years.
The hallmark of the movement came the following summer at Woodstock, an outdoor all-star rock concert at an upstate New York dairy farm that drew 400,000. Despite hyping Woodstock to promote its music, dispassionate observers chronicled widespread open drug use, public sex acts and lack of sanitation aggravated by rain and mud. America turned to disgust.
There is not a cute name yet for our present protest movement. So let’s fall back on the popular phrase “social justice.”
The current social-justice movement bloomed with the surprise election of Donald Trump as president. Unlike the Summer of Love, the new movement is diffused, with scattered pockets of protest from New York to Washington to Hollywood and points in between. Closer to home, social-justice protesters vandalized and destroyed Confederate statues a year ago in Durham and in Chapel Hill more than a week ago.
Perhaps a rallying headquarters for the new movement, a la Haight-Ashbury, still awaits. The 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte looms as a potential target for a Chicago-style break-out conflict.
History and instinct tell us that this new movement will not end well either. The ill-fated Summer of Love reverberated in America until the early 1980s. The new movement threatens the same, pushing the country toward places where we do not want to go.
Around the time of the Summer of Love, I remember a scene at State Road Barber Shop. I was a quiet, budding teen. A grumpy old man described for his fellows the sad sight of American draft dodgers in Canada, which served as a sanctuary from the Vietnam War, strung out on drugs on the streets.
“Just what is this country coming to?” he concluded. The good ol’ boys nodded their assent. The sentiment was widespread at the time.
To avoid the precipice now we would do well to turn again to the words of one of our American prophets, Martin Luther King Jr., who provided a voice of nonviolence during the Summer of Love and its violent aftermath.
“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community,” King once famously said. “The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. The aftermath of violence is emptiness and bitterness.”
Now is a crucial time for the voices of the social-justice movement to heed the instruction of King and denounce, loudly, clearly and firmly, all of the abounding vandalism, discord and violence that is so consuming. Just knock it off.
If they don’t, then this too will not turn out well.
By the way: Have a happy Labor Day and final summer fling Monday.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.