The Woodstock concert on Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York, the “Three Days of Peace and Music” now known simply as “Woodstock,” never expected to make history — musical, political or otherwise. Like many great historical events, it developed from a series of unforeseen accidents.
Word of the Woodstock event spread at the grassroots level and drew far more people than ever remotely contemplated. A shortage of food and facilities and an overabundance of rain could have led to social breakdown and even violence. Instead, peace broke out in the face of adversity. An awareness of the larger movements in society led to an unprecedented attack of empathy, cooperation, and celebratory optimism among the crowd.
News of Woodstock circulated like lightning through daily papers, nightly news, and colorful coverage in TIME and NEWSWEEK. Youth culture’s grapevine took up the spirit of solidarity and challenged the political and social agenda of the Eisenhower/Nixon era — especially the military draft that siphoned off the young men of the audience’s peer group to a war of naked imperialism in Vietnam.
The music at Woodstock 1969 rang with the sound of protest, reflecting anti-war sentiments and civil rights awareness. The themes of socio political involvement –were commonly featured in the popular music of the era snd accordingly sharply focused in the massive concert. For example: Richie Havens sang a pacifist anthem, then turned a single word – Freedom – into a passionate, driving musical demand; Crosby Stills and Nash created a horrific vision of post-apocalypse with “Wooden Ships,” followed by the anguish of “Find the Cost of Freedom;” and Canned Heat sang “going to someplace we never been before.”
Once again, America needs a young generation to be involved in the fight for the future. It may not face the draft today, but it faces the heat of global warming, the risk of insolvency resulting from the greed and the political manipulation of power brokers, and a future that may be far less comfortable than the decade that spawned it.
So what can we expect from Woodstock 2009 and the new generation of youth? On first impression, it would appear that social networking and “friend” lists are a distraction from the economic meltdowns and the two wars we are currently fighting. Considering that the draft threat in 1969 is not a threat today, that protest music has gone back underground, and that people gather less in person, spending more time in solo activity in the digital world, it is understandable that it would be more difficult nowadays to engender the kind of passion we saw flare up at Woodstock 69.
But on deeper examination, today’s instant nature of communication should be seen as an immensely powerful force in facilitating effective social change — one many times more effective than the physical amassing of bodies, as evidenced by Barack Obama’s election in 2008 and George McGovern’s defeat in 1972. And the younger generation has the mastery of its potential firmly in hand.
As we commemorate Woodstock 69, even more hangs in the balance for all of us on earth in 2009. So while there may be dissonance in the stature of Woodstock now as compared to Woodstock then, with committed action and the power of their e-communication weaponry, the new generations may ultimately be the ones to push the world in a better direction.