For some 1967’s Summer Of Love had its origins on a mid-January day in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park; for others gathered at the Polo Fields, this was the last day of the true hippies. But there’s no question that for many people the ideals and aspirations of those involved in the Woodstock Festival there was a direct line connecting the Human Be-In on 14 January 1967 to that momentous weekend in the middle of August 1969.
According to the press release for the Human Be-In, “A union of love and activism previously separated by categorical dogma and label mongering will finally occur ecstatically when Berkley political activists and hip community and San Francisco’s spiritual generation and contingents from the emerging revolutionary generation all over California meet for a Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park.”
The Hippie movement that had developed from the hipsters, those involved in Liberal politics, students from Berkeley and Stanford along with the flotsam and jetsam of a youth culture attracted to the radical and very different lifestyles than those affected by the post war consumer society of their parents all helped to create the environment in which the ‘Human Be-in’ came about.
It was organized by Michael Bowmen, an artist and activist who was a central figure in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco (Haight and Ashbury was an intersection of two streets that gave the area its name – a name that resonates around the world). Bowmen created a poster for the event and gathered others around him to speak at the Be-in, it included, Timothy Leary, beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, and Richard Alpert who later became spiritual teacher Baba Ram Dass. Also there was Owsley Stanley, the underground’s chief chemist, who provided industrial amounts of LSD to the crowd of 20,000 or so that turned up to turn on.
“Turn-on, Tune-in, Drop out” – Timothy Leary
As well as listening to the speeches at ‘the Gathering of Love’ the crowd were entertained by the cream of the San Francisco bands – The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & the Holding Company and Quicksilver Messenger Service. At around 5 p.m. as the light was just starting to fade Ginsberg led everyone in the chanting of “Om Sri Maitreya”, after which everyone started to clear up their collective rubbish; many headed for the beach to watch the sun go down.
Just like many such events in history those commenting on them have made a habit of changing some of the key facts. The numbers at the Be-in have swelled to 100,000 according to many newspaper articles written in the last 20 years. There was no violence and no police according to some; that is unless you count the guy that was beaten up in front of a photographer by the ‘security’ minded Hells Angels. The legend of the Hippie idyll was nurtured and before long more people were attracted to San Francisco, with them came increasing problems and a tarnishing of the dream.