Gathering of the Tribes. Human Be-In poster by Lorin Gillette.
Although it had been surfacing in the media for a while, the big announcement of the counterculture’s “arrival” took place earlier that year with a major event. The Human Be-In had occurred on a lovely day, January 14, 1967, and newspapers and magazines transmitted photos and stories of the mass celebration into America’s most remote communities. The nation knew that something was going on “out there.” Paisley banners and flags stenciled with marijuana leaves fluttered in the balmy winds that seemed to be blessing the fifty thousand people assembled before a single stage crowded with celebrities and Haight Independent Proprietors (HIPs). Jerry Rubin was representing the “political aspect” of the counterculture, while Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert represented expanded consciousness and bliss. There were also a few genuine seers and artists like poet Gary Snyder, back from ten years of studying Zen in Japan; his old crony, Allen Ginsberg; and Zen master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, abbot of the nearby San Francisco Zen Center, solid as a rock, smiling and enjoying himself.
Fifty thousand people took drugs, danced, painted their faces, dressed in outrageous costumes, crawled into the bushes and made love, fired up barbecues, pitched tents, and sold wares—crystals, tie-dyes, hash pipes, earrings, hair ties, and political tracts. Fifty thousand people played flutes, guitars, tambourines, tablas, bongos, congas, sitars, and saxophones, and sang, harmonized, and reveled in their number and variety, aware that they were an emergent social force.
The Diggers doubted that the event would benefit the neighborhood much or change its political realities, but a party is a party. It was our neighborhood and our community and also our receptive audience, so we were there too, giving away free turkeys donated by LSD mogul Stanley “Bear” Owsley. We had underestimated the impact this event would have on community solidarity and self-awareness and the ways it would trumpet the existence of the counterculture nationally. Individual freaks, isolated in heartland hometowns, were delighted to discover that there were thousands like them in San Francisco, who were prepared to embrace them as brothers and sisters; they wanted to be there too. More kids began arriving from everywhere. They served themselves up as sweatshop employees to the merchants and as customers to the dope dealers; they begged, scrounged, and hustled in order to survive. The Haight Independent Proprietors appeared at conferences with city officials discussing the “problems” of the community. People making money off the scene—the rock bands, merchants, and dope dealers—felt that publicity about the Haight would “change people’s heads” and automatically generate changes in economic relationships and political structures—a fond hope, easier to entertain than the nine-hundred pound gorilla of changing one’s own life.
Time magazine coined the word hippie to describe the new pilgrims, juvenilizing the word hipster and trivializing in the same stroke those seeking alternatives to Time’s official reality. — Peter Coyote from his memoir, Sleeping Where I Fall