The Hippies of Carmel

By Sarah White

This essay takes up where “The Gangs of Carmel” left off…

From Wikipedia:

Hippie action in the Haight centered around the Diggers, a guerrilla street theatre group that combined spontaneous street theatre, anarchistic action, and art happenings in their agenda to create a “free city.” By late 1966, the Diggers opened stores which simply gave away their stock; provided free food, medical care, transport and temporary housing; they also organized free music concerts and works of political art. The Diggers criticized the term ‘hippie’ with their October, 1967, ‘Death of Hippie’ event. By mid-1968, it was widely noted that most of the original “Flower Children” had long since departed the Haight Ashbury district, having been replaced by a more cynical and exploitative crowd.

Another book from the National Scholastic catalog arrived in my 6th-grade class room
packed in with The Outsiders in Spring of 1967.

This book’s title eludes me, (and Google brings no whisper it ever existed) but it rocked my world as much as The Outsiders did: it was about the Hippies. Specifically, it was a report on the growing counter-culture in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury, and especially the “free city” agenda of the Diggers.  If that was happening in late 1966, as Wikipedia suggests, could National Scholastic have rushed a book into print and gotten it into my classroom by  Spring 1967?

Possibly. They were trying awfully hard to Be Relevant, which meant bringing the world of the street to the classroom as quickly as possible. Just as they brought me The Outsiders in their effort to be relevant, they brought me the Digger book.

When I got busted for carrying the knife to school, I turned my back on my gang fantasies. I faced toward the Hippies. Finally I had found a world where the women I saw appealed to me. I could begin to migrate my persona toward something feminine…or more precisely, feminist.

San Francisco: Masonic and Haight, 1967.Charles Cushman Collection: Indiana University Archives (P15566)

As I transition from the Gangs of Carmel to the Hippies of Carmel, I feel my own outrage at the obvious but unquestioned insanity of telling me that as a girl, I am somehow different and less than boys. If I can’t be a boy like Ponyboy and Sodapop, I will change what it means to be a girl.

On TV I see that resistance is possible, as acceptance is not. I am like a soldier in a sleeper cell. But where is my unit, where our troop, our commanders?

In 1968, the battle call goes out. The first national women’s liberation conference is held in Chicago. News of that may even have reached the little girls in the suburbs of Indianapolis.  More vivid were the scenes of pigs clobbering hippies in the streets at the Democratic National Convention.

The message is clear and as haunting as Buffalo Springfield singing “Something’s happening here.” Social change is the goal and protest is the tool.

But I am only a white girl in lily-white suburbia. No one is trying to draft me to fight an unjust war; no one is making me sit at the back of a bus; what can I fight? How can I get loose, join my tribe, the flower people I see on TV news and in my weekly “Scholastic” magazine, the ones who chant “make love, not war” and follow their own advice? I am too young to go to where they are.

And so, with my friends, I turn my attention to fighting the one outrage I am clearly submitted to, the one battle I can fight: Equal rights for women.

A year passes and I am in eighth grade. I have already had one year of their “Home Ec”, have sat segregated with the girls at sewing machines, have lined up in the dream kitchenettes and made box-mix cakes (they hope we will find we like cooking before we discover it can be complicated.) But I already know how to sew and I already know I will resist being made a kitchen slave—I learned that when I was ten.

I want to be an architect. I want to start now–I want to take mechanical drawing. I fight the rules and, along with Ruth Williams, am allowed to sit in the back row of the classroom with the boys at their drafting tables. The ribbing from the teacher and fellow students is intense but we don’t care. We won our place in this room.

Another year passes and I am in ninth grade. I am furious about the short skirts we girls wear to school, freezing our pink thighs in Indiana’s sharp winter air while the boys wear long pants. Already slaves to fashion, we won’t even pull on pants under our skirts for the walk to school.

I join in organizing a protest against the school dress code. We finally win the right to wear slacks to school. The entire school dress code is revised. Girl children will no longer bring apple-red knees to their teachers in the morning. We begin to taste our power.

Together, we can change the world. And we must, before it imprisons us inside our gender roles.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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