The conference was billed as "The Sixties," and that's exactly what happened. Like the decade itself, the weekend seminar sponsored by the University of California at Berkeley Extension was marked by crisis and controversy, of a sort.
A grass-roots protest ignited over the $75 price of admission. One of the 10 speakers refused to give his speech and walked out. Two audience members were ejected from the lecture hall by a university policeman for being disruptive. A couple more were asked to leave. In fact, all the elements of the '60s were there--except the sex and drugs.
And, as during the '60s, everyone came away with something. Some people found the seminar boring--"a drag with a capital D," in the words of one former flower child. Others were moved to tears.
"I got emotional several times," says Charlotte Doyle, a 35-year-old nurse. "I was just sitting there, flashing back on everything, rehashing what I was doing then."
She and her sister, Jeannie Fulton, 40, learned about the '60s seminar by accident. They were visiting San Francisco for the week, and "we were just driving through Berkeley when we saw a poster for it," Fulton marvels. "We knew we just had to go."
To look at them now, it's hard to believe these middle-aged moms had once been hippies. Doyle, a frosted blonde who drives a Subaru, lives on a 5,000-acre ranch in Oregon with her husband and seven children. She described herself as a free-spirited child of the '60s tooling around ultra-conservative Lubbock, Tex., in a 1946 van painted with red, white and blue stars and stripes to resemble the American flag. Her sister had her first child at 17: "I was taking an active part in the sexual revolution," says Fulton, who now leads the quiet life of a housewife in Texas.
"What's so weird," said Doyle, "is that we're both pretty normal now."
For them, the '60s seminar was a poignant reminder of the way it used to be. "There was a feeling of closeness and camaraderie back then," Doyle says. "We had a lot of friends, and we all believed in the same things." Like being against the war in Vietnam, which prompted Doyle to sew a patch on her infant son's Levi's that said, "War is not healthy for kids or other living things." Looking back, she says, "I wish I'd bronzed those jeans."
The memory makes her eyes water again. "I miss it," she says. "That's what I was crying about, I guess."
"Gee, no black lights."
"Yeah, I didn't know what to expect. I guess I thought they were just going to pass out drugs and let us sit in the dark for two days and have everyone think it was great."
Timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of "The Summer of Love," when the San Francisco district known as Haight-Ashbury became the flower-power capital of the world, the seminar reunited many of the Love Generation's most outspoken gurus.
The speakers were chosen not just because they were symbols of the era but primarily because they have remained active in '60s-like causes.
So Jerry Rubin was not invited, since the one-time king of the Yippies (Youth International Party) is now king of the yuppies. But his fellow Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman was, along with authors Ken Kesey ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") and Tom Robbins ("Even Cowgirls Get the Blues"), anti-war and now anti-nuke activist Dr. Benjamin Spock, psychedelic drug guru Timothy Leary, feminists Betty Friedan and Deirdre English, sociologist Harry Edwards and musicians Mimi Farina and Country Joe McDonald, among others.
Naturally, because of the gathering of these many "names," the seminar received considerable advance publicity, not just in newspapers around the country but also by media in Australia and Britain. It also became the most widely anticipated conference ever organized by UC Berkeley Extension. An audience of 400, nearly as many people as had been expected, paid to attend.
The Love Generation has matured. So have their Certificates of Deposit: There was a palpable sense of affluence about the seminar's audience. Their beat-up VW Beetles had given way to European luxury cars. Indeed, the Palace of Fine Arts parking lot looked like a new auto showroom what with all the Alfa Romeo Spider Veloces, Saab 9000 turbos and Nissan 300ZXs.
Instead of the telltale '60s smells of incense or marijuana, the hall was filled with the overwhelming scents of Giorgio perfume or Polo cologne. Army flak jackets and Indian cotton dresses were replaced by Burberry raincoats and Italian leather bombers. Historian Peter Carroll, the seminar's moderator, tried hard, too, by wearing a psychedelic tie with a suit.
Margaret Ganahl, a 33-year-old film editor from Berkeley, said she was "bummed out that no one dressed. I was going to wear my old Indian bedspread dress. But my friend said I had to take a bath and wash my hair, and I thought that would ruin the look."
She looked around at the audience and despaired. "This could have been a Young Republican meeting," she said. "Or maybe they're all lawyers."
Like the best '60s meetings, no one at the seminar could agree on anything.
When an announcement was made asking that there be no photographs taken or tapes recorded during the weekend (after all, "official" tapes were being sold for $59 a set), booing broke out.
The organizers backed down. "OK, let's use that," Peter Carroll stated about the negative energy being unleashed. "The policy now is just don't intrude on anyone else's space."
There was genuine disappointment, mixed with some surprise, that the composition of the audience was so homogeneous. Not a single black attended the first day of the symposium, and there were no more than half a dozen Latinos or Asians. Some attendees openly wondered why the audience was "so lily white." This led to a '60s-type argument about whether the $75 seminar enrollment fee had kept minorities away. Some argued that suggesting that blacks couldn't afford the fee was insulting and racist. Others launched into a sociological diatribe about whether blacks felt disaffected from the '60s even though the civil rights movement had started the ball rolling in the first place.
The lone black speaker scheduled was Harry Edwards, who had organized the black protest at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Now a Berkeley professor, Edwards showed he hasn't lost his touch for protesting.
Arriving at the lecture hall 10 minutes late, he announced that he hadn't been told about the $75 entrance fee. He refused to participate in the seminar, saying his students couldn't afford such a high tariff, and walked out in protest.
The speakers talked about how the '60s were a time of "immediacy," a time of "major inescapable events," a time "when all things were possible." Generally, they agreed that the decade was a product of the country's affluence, world hegemony and technology.
From the onset, they tried not to wallow in nostalgia or romanticize the decade. But it couldn't be helped. On the whole, they discounted revisionist attempts to look upon that period in history as "a passing function of our youth" rather than as "a clear statement of our idealism."
Peter Carroll expressed the mood of the seminar best when he said: "It is because of the '60s that each of us knows, and cannot forget, that we hold the power if not to change the world, then to change our lives."
The overpowering feeling was that everyone who had come of age in that decade had a right to look upon it as the best of times because that's what it was. Carroll noted that when he asked a class at San Francisco State in which period of history they would have liked to live, "they almost unanimously said the '60s."
Still, there were some welcome injections of reality, mostly supplied by Abbie Hoffman, who poked fun at '60s-type meetings "where everyone has to have their say, including the people representing freedom for Lesbian Croatians who want to know why there aren't American Indians on the podium talking about food irradiation."
There was a lot of discussion, both planned and spontaneous, about current affairs: the Iran- contra arms controversy, Nicaragua, nuclear proliferation, President Reagan.
Several speakers voiced the opinion, self-serving or not, that one of the main things stopping the Reagan administration from invading Nicaragua today is the "latent" anti-war movement born in the '60s.
Abbie Hoffman got a big response to the T-shirt he was wearing--"My country invaded Nicaragua . . . And all I got was this lousy T-shirt."
Hoffman revealed he is at work on a new book, entitled "Steal This Urine Test," about drug testing and the oppression of the American worker.
He also is going to be the focus of a new trial, this one in Northampton, Mass., about CIA recruiting on universities. This time his co-defendant is former President Jimmy Carter's daughter, Amy--not Jerry Rubin.
Age 50, his hair still curly but shorter, his conversation laced with references to his teen-age son, Hoffman knows he is a "blast from the past" who won't shut up. Still, his humor is as keen as ever. Noting that he was given "only" 45 minutes to talk on the topic "Social Activism: Then and Now," he sputtered: "If you gave me the subject of Jewish sports heroes, I might have been able to do it."
Hoffman, who speaks on 70 campuses a year, defended the youth of today to the youth of the '60s, arguing that it was "unfair" to compare their issues and level of commitment. "I think the student movement in the '60s was a freak," he said.
Yet he does admit to some worry about the new generation. He points to a poll at Southern Methodist University in Dallas that found that game-show personality Vanna White has two times the name recognition of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, "and most students thought he was someone who ran a taco stand."
The sincerest moment of the seminar's first day belonged to Dr. Benjamin Spock who, at age 83, is still staging demonstrations, this time anti-nuclear. But the man who has sold millions of baby-care books, remembered that the first time he was ever arrested, "I thought as my policeman was coming for me, 'Oh, God, what would my mother say?' "
Spock told the conference that he "enjoys life more" ever since he became a protester. "My whole personality changed after I was indicted," he said.
He also acknowledged the criticism that's been leveled against him over the years by members of his own generation and the parents of flower children. "I was said to be the person who corrupted a whole generation.
"Well, they corrupted me."
Toward the end of the seminar's first day, before everyone sang "Amazing Grace" led by Mimi Farina, two Texans were thrown out of the hall by a Berkeley policeman for being "disruptive." Or, as one audience member suggested, "for being obnoxious."
Those who didn't ask questions in an orderly way were asked to leave, prompting one of the Texans to accuse the seminar organizers of "running a Nazi state."
He was roundly booed.
"What are you doing tonight?"
"Want to go to a movie?"
"Sure. What's playing?"
" 'Woodstock.' "
"Nah, it's not playing anymore."
"OK, then let's go to 'Lethal Weapon.' "