Peace, love and understanding. This phrase defined a generation of artists, activists, and, as we like to call them, “hippies.” Nowadays, when most people think of the hippies of the 1960s and 70s, they think of hallucinogenic drugs, sexual liberty and Woodstock. While these were all indisputably popular at the time, the hippies caused an uproar and rallied against societal norms and conformism. They promoted popular social and political values that are ever-present today.
Long before its popularity, the hippies embraced environmentalism. They started Earth day, promoted recycling, organic foods, vegetarianism and preservation. They understood the importance of conserving natural resources, promoting renewable energy and limiting chemical intake. They exuded a contagious aura of optimism and hope, embraced and rallied for ethnic and cultural diversity, and spoke out against the evils of capitalism, racism and government imperialism. They were anti-war, recognized the divisiveness of hate and the power of love and togetherness. Above all, they embodied a sense of community and love for all – even our enemies.
Sixty years later, the impact of the generation remains resolute in our own. Our generation is more environmentally aware than any that has come before us. We publicly question our system of government and hold our leaders accountable. We try to eat clean and use clean products, like sulfate-free shampoo and aluminum-free deodorant. We turn to and try to promote renewable energy. We care about conservation and recycling. We try to support small businesses and keep an eye on the ethics of big corporations.
Though the messages remain the same, our forms of activism and awareness have changed drastically. For example, I learned about the murder of George Floyd not through a news outlet or even word of mouth but via an Instagram infographic. While social media is a quick and efficient platform to spread information, does it mean that our generation is less mobilized than those that came before us?
Yes and no. Social media awareness, especially when spread by “influencers,” can reach the screens of millions in a matter of seconds. Often in the form of infographics, these messages are then shared and re-shared instantaneously, as we saw this past summer. This eliminates the pre-digital age need to start a movement, gain momentum and spread the word - a frequent problem of our predecessors.
This kickstart is great unless it only goes that far. As informative as these graphics can be, a hashtag, retweet or share is not nearly as impactful as marching through the streets, petitioning lawmakers and registering voters for future change. When shared purely for performance, this social media activism often adds unnecessary noise, obscuring the efforts of others. A black square on Instagram is no match for the power of community action.