With all the political and social unrest in today’s world it is easy to draw comparisons to the past days of the hippie, a time where the protests were about free love, anti-war, and fighting the man. Yet many individuals are comparing the days of hippie protest to those of the Ferguson demonstrations and other social justice moments. Some believe that the millennial generation is violent and angry. Are the 60's truly behind us or are we going back to another wave radical youth?
“There is still a lot of counter culture,” Elizabeth Whaley explains to me. Whaley grew up in the 60's and was there during Woodstock and bra burnings. She is a woman of conviction but with interesting thoughts on millennials and why she believes there is so much political and social unrest.
“I was there not just for fun but because I believed in the anti-war messages,” Whaley said. She believed in their message of peace and love, and knew that their protests and demonstrations were important. Whaley’s time spent around hippies caused her to notice the similarities between the movements of the hippies and the movements of the generation today.
The political and social unrest is a clear similarity. Whaley explains that Occupy Wall-Street was similar to hippie sit-ins. There are still young people fighting for their rights so many years after the hippies.
That's where she feels the similarities stop. “The new generation of protesters are [sic] much more angry and violent.” She comments that no one wanted to start a fight at rallies and demonstrations in the 60's. “The millennial generation seems so angry they go to a protest wanting to fight someone.”
Her explanation towards the increasing amount of anger and violence in protests is the impatience of youth. Whaley defends her comments by explaining what she has seen over the years. “Many people of the current generation are used to getting answers immediately, getting what they want as fast as possible...the people involved aren’t used to waiting for results and that impatient behavior leads to anger.” She feels this is why many protests turn to riots.
Not all differences are bad. “To be honest Woodstock was a mess,” Whaley admits. Whaley continues to point out that despite the angry and violent tendencies she sees in the millennial generation, she is impressed on how well they organize and stay focused compared to the easily distracted hippies of her generation. “There were just too many drugs involved in a lot of protests for it to be fully successful.”
Her biggest and perhaps most interesting idea is that the protests that happened in the 60's and the protests now are all part of one big cycle. When authority figures like governments and parental figures are unaware of the problems of the younger generations, rebellion and counterculture is not far behind.
“My parents had no idea about drugs and AIDS. My government had no idea about the poverty and destruction around the globe, and because of that the hippies protested,” stated Whaley. She goes on to say that the same thing is happening today. “There's a lot of things the parents of the millennials just don't know, there's a lot the people in charge don't know, and that makes it easy for a young person to want to rebel and protest.”
So is she right in saying the millennials are a new generation of impatient protesters driven to anger because of the lack of understanding? Westyn Summers, a young millennial activist, would politely disagree. “I understand why people think my generation is impatient, but we're definitely not violent,” says Summers.
Summers grew up in the 90's and has a strong sense of social activism. He has taken part in programs such as the Lighthouse School Care Force, an organization that builds schools and communities in Los Alcarrizos, Dominican Republic.
Summers explains why people his age want change and why they want it now. “That impatient attitude is definitely because of the internet.” He feels that the internet has given many people a chance to immediately voice an opinion or rally behind a cause. If something isn't making progress it gets upsetting.
He further explains that when he and his like-minded peers are actually seeing and bringing change in the world it makes them want to continue, but when protests have zero results it can be very discouraging. “When we give to a cause we want results. We want to give our time and effort to the cause and we want it to matter.” This is why he feels hippies and older generations have problems with the way millennials conduct protests. “They don't understand if we don't see any change [quickly] many will lose interest.” Summers explains that some of his peers feel helpless. Even the smallest amount of change brings hope which may lead to more protests and more change.
So are the millennials just impatient new-age hippies who are misunderstood? Raising both a hippie and a millennial, Linda Brave gives some insight. Brave was born in the 1940's, raised a daughter in the 60's and a grandson in the 90's. She's seen everything from bell-bottoms to high speed internet, yet she doesn’t share similar views of the elderly.
“This new generation has to fight for what little rights they have,” says Brave.
Similar to Whaley, Brave believes that the millennial generation is really just a more modern and dynamic hippie generation with a few more issues to handle. Seeing her daughter as a rebellious hippie and her grandson as a concerned millennial has given Brave a lot to contemplate.
“I see the protests of the millennial generation and I realize it's really just young people picking up where the hippies left,” she explains.
She also explains that like the hippies, when the millennial generation of like-minded, well educated individuals doesn’t like their current situation, there's going to be social unrest. “There was a bad economy then and a bad economy now but when the millennials protest for change they're treated poorly,” Brave says. She argues that the hippies’ battles for free speech, equal rights, and goodwill towards people are still going on today. “It's all still there. The only difference is that the millennials are a lot louder, less afraid, and more direct.”
Between the hippies and the millennials, Brave feels that some rights have been lost and the younger people of today are the only ones who care. The millennials are protesting to get the rights they should already have, but for whatever reason don't. “People are being killed because they’re not white and it seems like only young people care about these things.”
Brave explains that when people are using all of their resources to do what is right but get pushed back and ignored, something violent is bound to happen. “They have to be violent,” she exclaims. “This generation of people are fighting a war for their survival and in a war you have to sometimes use violence to stand up for yourself.”
She believes not all millennials are violent and impatient but when it happens she understands why.
So maybe hippies and millennials aren't that different after all. It's clear that both groups have similar core values: they both want to see change for the better and they both want their voices to be heard. Both groups can be motivated by economic and political forces. It seems the only real separation between the two, other than time, is how they view themselves and each other.