Hippies were the ones protesting in the streets.
In the popular imagination, hippies with flowers in their hair were at the heart of the antiwar movement. The tumultuous political climate conjures images of “spoiled hippies protesting the Vietnam War,” as journalist Tom Jokinen put it in Hazlitt, or “hippies protesting the war in Vietnam,” as writer Robyn Price Pierre wrote in the Atlantic.
It’s true that some countercultural groups, most notably the Yippies and the White Panther Party, blended radical politics with the hippie lifestyle. But antiwar protesters and hippies were usually two distinct groups. Hippies, often known as “freaks,” prioritized spiritual enlightenment, community building, and, of course, sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. Activists, often known as “politicos,” opted for more traditional forms of left-wing political organizing.
Many hippies were indifferent or even opposed to activists’ political organizing, public meetings and marching. Writer, LSD enthusiast and “Merry Prankster” Ken Kesey shocked the audience at an antiwar event at the University of California at Berkeley in 1965 by declaring: “You’re not going to stop this war with this rally, by marching . . . . They’ve been having wars for 10,000 years, and you’re not going to stop it this way.”
Rather than marching or protesting, hippies hoped to change America by seceding from established political, social and cultural institutions, not by reforming them. No one expressed this sentiment more memorably than LSD guru Timothy Leary when he exhorted young Americans to “Turn on, tune in, drop out” — meaning, in essence, to get high, disregard popular norms, quit bothering with mainstream society, and look inward for peace and wisdom.