Flower Power

Levitate the Pentagon

Flower power was a slogan used during the late 1960s and early 1970s as a symbol of passive resistance and non-violence ideology. It is rooted in the opposition movement to the Vietnam War. The expression was coined by the American beat poet Allen Ginsberg in 1965 as a means to transform war protests into peaceful affirmative spectacles.

Hippies embraced the symbolism by dressing in clothing with embroidered flowers and vibrant colors, wearing flowers in their hair, and distributing flowers to the public, becoming known as ‘flower children.’ The term later became generalized as a modern reference to the hippie movement and the so-called counterculture of drugs, psychedelic music, psychedelic art, and social permissiveness.

Flower Power originated in Berkeley, California, as a symbolic action of protest against the Vietnam War. In a November 1965 essay titled ‘How to Make a March/Spectacle,’ Ginsberg advocated that protesters should be provided with ‘masses of flowers’ to hand out to policemen, press, politicians, and spectators. The use of props like flowers, toys, flags, candy, and music were meant to turn anti-war rallies into a form of street theater thereby reducing the fear, anger, and threat that is inherent within protests. In particular, Ginsberg wanted to counter the ‘specter’ of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang who supported the war, equated war protesters with communists and had threatened to violently disrupt planned anti-war demonstrations at U.C., Berkeley. Using Ginsberg’s methods, the protest received positive attention and the use of ‘flower power’ became an integral symbol in the counterculture movement.

By late 1966, the Flower Power method of guerilla theater had spread from California to other parts of the United States. The ‘Bread and Puppet Theater’ in New York City staged numerous protests which included handing out balloons and flowers with their anti-war literature. ‘Workshop in Nonviolence’ (WIN), a magazine published by New York activists, encouraged the use of Flower Power. In 1967, Abbie Hoffman organized the ‘Flower Brigade’ as an official contingent of a New York City parade honoring the soldiers in Vietnam. News coverage captured Flower Brigade participants, who carried flowers, flags and pink posters imprinted with LOVE, being attacked and beaten by bystanders. In response to the violence, Hoffman wrote in ‘WIN’ magazine: ‘Plans are being made to mine the East River with daffodils. Dandelion chains are being wrapped around induction centers…. The cry of ‘Flower Power’ echoes through the land. We shall not wilt.’

In October 1967, Hoffman and Jerry Rubin helped organize the ‘March on the Pentagon’ using Flower Power concepts to create a theatrical spectacle. The idea included a call for marchers to attempt to levitate the Pentagon with telepathy. When the marchers faced off against more than 2500 Army national guard troops forming a human barricade in front of the Pentagon, demonstrators held flowers and some placed flowers in the soldier’s rifle barrels. Photographs of flower-wielding protesters at the Pentagon March became seminal images of the 1960s anti-war protests. An image by French photojournalist Marc Riboud that was printed throughout the world of seventeen-year-old high school student Jan Rose Kasmir clasping a daisy and gazing at bayonet-wielding soldiers was later called by Smithsonian Magazine, ‘a gauzy juxtaposition of armed force and flower child innocence.’

The iconic center of the Flower Power movement was the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. By the mid-1960s, the area, marked by the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets, had become a focal point for psychedelic rock music. Musicians and bands like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin all lived a short distance from the famous intersection. During the 1967 ‘Summer of Love,’ thousands of hippies gathered there, popularized by hit songs such as ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).’ That summer, the Beatles’ hit single ‘All You Need Is Love’ served as an anthem for the movement.

The avant-garde art of Milton Glaser, Heinz Edelmann, and Peter Max became synonymous with the flower power generation. Edelman’s illustration style was best known in his art designs for the Beatles’ 1968 animated film ‘Yellow Submarine.’ Glaser, the founder of Push Pin Studios, also developed the loose psychedelic graphic design, seen for example in his seminal 1966 poster illustration of Bob Dylan with paisley hair. It was the posters by pop artist Peter Max, with their vivid fluid designs painted in Day-Glo colors, which became visual icons of flower power.

One Comment to “Flower Power”

  1. i was on the young side of this, but remember it well –

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