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There’s a photograph, taken in 1967 at the March on Washington to protest the Vietnam War. In the picture, which narrowly missed winning the Pulitzer Prize, a teen is seen poking daisies into the barrels of guns held by members of the US National Guard. The young boy in the picture is George Edgerly Harris III, who sadly died of AIDS in 1982, but this moment, captured by photographer, Bernie Boston, symbolizes the flower power movement. Flower power is a phrase likely coined by Alan Ginsberg in 1965, and it referred the hippie notion of “make love not war,” and the idea that love and nonviolence, such as the growing of flowers, was a better way to heal the world than continued focus on capitalism and wars.
Flower power also became a term used to express the hippie culture itself, and hippies were often called flower children. The power of the group left an indelible impression on American society. Large groups of teens and young adults who donned flowers in their hair, painted them on their vans, and lived together in semi-communes, often outdoors in the parks of major cities, did have a certain amount of power as a group. In the best sense, this power seeped into mainstream public views advancing civil rights. Conversely, the counterculture movement that can be called flower power had many unintended consequences: unwanted pregnancy, drug addiction, the large scale importation of drugs and development of the drug cartels, and the sexual revolution which would to a degree create the rapid spread of HIV infection in the early 1980s.
Luridly painted flowers on vans, record covers, and the like were also symbolic of the hippies’ advocacy of hallucinogens in the hopes of creating greater self-awareness, a practice not uncommon in other cultures, especially in the past. When hallucinogens were used, visual hallucinations frequently occurred, and things with intense color appeared even more intense. If you look at a film like The Yellow Submarine first released in 1968, there are many visual moments that would definitely have had more impact on people taking drugs like acid and LSD.
The film also has numerous images of flowers growing, sprouting and suddenly covering bare landscapes that suggest the spread of the flower power movement, though the term flower power isn’t used in the film. However, the end song of the movie is intricately tied to this movement: “All You Need Is Love.” The idea of the growth of love, the natural progress of love, and the power of love ties in well with actions taken by the hippies like the planting of flowers in bare lots in Berkeley in 1969 during a two-week occupation by the US National Guard.
The idea of using flowers to express a movement gets at the heart of hippie identity. Stress was on acts of civil disobedience that were nonviolent. What could be more nonviolent than distributing flowers to National Guard members, or planting flowers in empty lots? The simplicity of the flower, its ties to the earth and natural origin, and its beauty were all things this counterculture movement wanted to remain close to. In the end, there’s a beauty and grace to the flower power movement, even though it ultimately did end badly for more than a few people. Like many movements which may have many good intentions, certain aspects, like an emphasis on drug use, contributed to its destruction. Like any flower, the flower power movement grew for a time in the mid to late 1960s, and then withered by the early 1970s.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the origin of the term "Flower Power"?
The term "Flower Power" was coined by the American beat poet Allen Ginsberg in 1965 as a way to transform war protests into peaceful affirmative spectacles. Ginsberg advocated that protesters should be provided with "masses of flowers" to hand out to policemen, press, politicians, and spectators. The flower became a powerful symbol of non-violence and a visual expression of peace.
How did Flower Power influence the fashion industry?
During the 1960s, Flower Power had a significant impact on fashion, with the introduction of floral patterns and vibrant colors. Designers incorporated these elements into their clothing lines, promoting a style that reflected the ideals of peace and love. The era saw an increase in the popularity of bell-bottom jeans, tie-dyed shirts, and flower-print dresses, which became synonymous with the counterculture movement.
What role did Flower Power play in political and social movements?
Flower Power was integral to the anti-war and counterculture movements of the 1960s, particularly in opposition to the Vietnam War. Activists used flowers as symbols of peace during protests and sit-ins. This non-violent approach aimed to counteract the prevailing images of war and violence, creating a strong visual statement that resonated with the public and media, and helped to spread the message of peace worldwide.
Can Flower Power be linked to any significant historical events?
Yes, one of the most iconic events associated with Flower Power was the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in 1967, which gathered tens of thousands of people and was a pivotal moment for the hippie movement. Additionally, the Summer of Love in 1967, where thousands of young people converged on the Haight-Ashbury district, was heavily influenced by Flower Power ideals.
What is the legacy of Flower Power today?
Flower Power's legacy continues to influence modern social justice movements, art, fashion, and culture. Its emphasis on peace and non-violent protest has been adopted by various groups seeking change through peaceful means. The visual language of Flower Power, with its bright colors and floral motifs, still appears in fashion and design, symbolizing a free-spirited, optimistic approach to life and a nod to the transformative power of peace.