As I am swept through the lush overgrown farmland surrounding New Hope, Pennsylvania, I canâ€™t help but reflect upon Woodstock, New York, where I spent a great part of my youth. Indeed I am one of the 500,000 who attended the Woodstock Festival held in Bethel in the summer of 1969. That event literally changed my life. I had a motorcycle back then also. I rode it to the festival where I got stuck in traffic. A girl hopped onto the back of my machine. She has remained my wife for thirty-eight years.
As a grandfather, it truly amazes me how many people young and old identify with this event, which took place nearly forty years ago. I believe it is because Woodstock has become the cultural and spiritual icon in the collective consciousness of America. Sitting in the mud way back then I had no idea that life would have taken me this far, and that I would be living in this current reality.
A picture of my current V Star is the wallpaper on my computer at work. It often evokes comments, and the subject of the sixties and Woodstock often arises as a result of it. I marvel as the eyes of the young and old sparkle when I mention I was there. Most people get a sense of wonder and awe and feel in some remote way a connection, which is spiritual and uplifting. People often tell me that they knew someone that was there, or that they wanted to go and couldn’t, or that their parents would have killed them if they did. Others apologize that they didn’t make it. Sadly the young often time lament that they were born at the wrong time.
Why this intense longing to belong and identify with this event? I believe it is because Woodstock represents the moral conscience of America, a cultural, psychological and spiritual focal point, and a vortex. As an icon of America’s unyielding youthful exuberance, fierce independent expression, and social and political justice, it serves to transport us into a moral realm where we are able to take an objective look at all that was wrong and right with our society and nation then and now.
The Woodstock experience helps us to rise above the political chaos and confusion of present day domestic and international realities, and to get in touch with our collective conscience and moral fiber. The institutions which have risen out of the ashes of the sixties have fallen short of their moral imperatives. We, as Americans, must turn inward to rekindle the spirit which Woodstock instills in our hearts. We have raised the epic event to the stature of myth and embraced the positive values which it has come to represent.
Many of us who came into direct contact with the light of Woodstock were galvanized in the mud together and carried the light with us in our hearts as we rejoined the masses. We took our divergent and respective paths as we integrated with society. Yet sadly, many of us have let the embers cool. We have become disillusioned with the political and social economic realties of modern living and, in many cases, have actually embraced much of what we had once despised.
Yet all is not lost. Itâ€™s not too late. Itâ€™s time to wake up! The social ills of present day America need to be challenged as never before. What kind of world will we leave our great grandchildren if we do nothing and mire in our lethargy? Pressing environmental issues threaten our very existence as a species. Internal domestic inequalities, misplaced values and excesses threaten our stability as a viable culture. We need to get back in touch with our core values which made us cry out in protest, and we need to take action! Woodstock veterans – we need to lead the way! We have the potential to once more become the leaven of our society. We need to ignite the spark to once again blow the lid off this nation!
The present situation calls to mind a book written some time ago by Beverly Potter entitled “The Way of The Ronin”. In her book, Professor Potter likens the social upheaval in feudal Japan after the arrival of Marco Polo and the introduction of Western culture to modern times. Up to Marcoâ€™s arrival, there was a feudal system and a structured social hierarchy in Japan (much like pre – sixties America). One of the classes in that society adversely affected by the changing social order was the Samurai warrior, who defended the royal chieftains. They were also skilled in science, art and the marital arts. With the advance of western ideas, this entire segment of society suddenly found themselves displaced. Only two choices remained: one was ritual disembowelment (not very appealing); the other was to become Ronin, or outlaw. As Ronin, many thousands of these displaced knights infiltrated the countryside and became doctors, artists, farmers, philosophers and the like. Yet they never lost their special powers, which they practiced in secret. Whenever the need arose (because the established institutions became corrupt or otherwise could not defend the common man), they came out of seclusion, practiced their ancient art and saved the day. That same day is dawning in America. There is resurgence, and there is a cry for the return of the Woodstock Ronin who can lead us out of the mess we are in! If you are anything like me, the mud of Woodstock still squishes between your toes.
The young should not be saddened that they were not at Woodstock. If anything they should realize the tremendous power they possess in numbers. They should connect with the goals, aspirations and hopes of all generations. They should organize, and they should demand a better world which they and their children shall inherit. It is within their grasp, but time is running out. Today they would have the advantage of the cooperation of an older generation which we didn’t have forty years ago. United we can form a political and socioeconomic force never before seen in America. Young and old could work together for the common good. First, we must once more come together as brothers and sisters on the local level. On the world stage, it is imperative that we stop alienating fellow nations and become a participant in the inevitable one world society necessary for preservation of the planet.
It is up to the Woodstock Ronins to rise up, come out of seclusion and lead the way. Everything is in place. Carpe diem!
Author of “The Closer’s Song”
I am a 22 year old Smith College student (Psychology major, Religion minor, 2010). I am currently finishing up a class titled Religion, Nature and Environment in which one of my classmates asked each of us to ponder the question, â€œwhat is the difference between the â€œhippiesâ€ of the 60′s and 70′s, and the environmentalists of today?â€
It’s nearly impossible for me to come up with a cohesive list of thoughts, as each one that rattles my brain ranges from hope, to anger, to despair about the global climate crisis, the war(s), the lack of compassion in the world, desensitization, the increase of injustice and the like.
To sum up my following thoughts, these are the differences that I’ve noted tonight: Science, knowledge of probable death by global warming, loss of innocence, and a greater reliance on modern comforts. Current environmentalists (including and especially myself) are more likely to struggle with cynicism, and realism vs idealism.
* We would enjoy hugging a tree, but we know that *that* alone wonâ€™t solve global warming.
* We are equally fed up with our government and â€œthe war…â€
* how the hell was Bush elected twice? Why hasn’t someone more capable come into power?
* We may protest — there was one on campus yesterday against the war–, but youth in general are more likely to pass on an email urging others to boycott something or â€œGo Green.â€Â I pray this will change. We need change. We need to speak to our fellow humans and stop relying on computers to facilitate our communication. Note the sadness and irony I feel in emailing this to you….
* today, activism becomes more organized and widespread.
* young women are sick and tired of our objectification in the media and the anorexic pressures that are thrust upon us, and yet (statistically) we still let the images break our self-esteem. The majority of us still diet, wear bras, rely on makeup to feel beautiful, and dye our hair. I pray this will change before my niece grows up.
* I cannot comprehend why violence in the media sells. It’s disgusting.
It has hurt us. It’ll continue to hurt the youth of tomorrow unless something changes.
* our culture can be completely stifling! only when I hear of Eco-nuns, counterculture, anti-war protests, etc., is my hope temporarily revived.
* Some current environmentalists might be tempted to revive â€œfree love,â€
but we wonâ€™t for fear of AIDS…
*** I believe that â€œhippiesâ€ had a purity to their beliefs and a sweet semi-naivety about them (â€œall will be well if we have peace withinâ€….
â€œone person can change the whole worldâ€… etc). In the current age of information and scientific explanations of global warming, we donâ€™t have that cognitive luxury. We can admire those beliefs, but at the same time we know that the majority of developed nations and citizens must also prescribe to those beliefs in order to save us from doom.
* â€œhippiesâ€ began their movement out of love for the earth; the majority of people who are going green now began for anthropocentric reasons. I pray this will change.
* â€œhippiesâ€ tended to embrace simplicity in financial status, homes, clothes, etc., and shunned materialism.Â Todayâ€™s environmentalists are more likely to try to make a fortune off of their beliefs, wear â€œorganic mineral make-up,â€ and own a hybrid car or a big house with solar panels.
Sad. I hope this too, will change.
I hope my thoughts may prove fruitful and that peace may someday reign.
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