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Fleeing the "dirty hippie" ghetto

Ever since I shot the flushable diaper video
(featuring a far-from-overly-coiffed and-not-particularly-clean-looking
me scrubbing the poop out of a diaper in our
far-from-perfectly-clean-bathroom) I’ve been been pondering how to stay
out of the “dirty hippie” ghetto. I use that term because, perhaps
uncoincidentally, that same week, I was told by a friend that some
people might consider me one.

Hearing someone refer to me in that way, sent me back to the first time
I’d heard someone give me that label, back when I was shooting a story
in New York and my subject- not knowing that when wearing a wireless
microphone that even if I am not filming, I can hear everything she
says (something to keep in mind if you’re ever being interviewed for TV
and need to go to the bathroom)- proceeded to tell her friend that I
was “really nice, but a bit of a hippie”. I was surprised and not quite
sure what to make of it; I had never felt cool enough to be considered
part of a “counterculture” particularly one associated with drugs and
funky fashion. Clearly, her “but” as a qualifier of “nice” implied that
whatever followed wasn’t a compliment.

I tried to search for clues to her label. We had never talked politics
nor lifestyle choices so all I could come up with was the fact that
every time I shot with her, I had worn the same pair of pants (the
pockets were perfect for stashing extra tapes and batteries) and I had
never taken the time to do anything to my hair in the morning because
once we started rolling, I would have headset head within minutes. Had
hippie become less about politics and more about hygiene?

A green town is not a commune

This past week, I spotted another fellow hippie-denier. Bruce White,
one of the developers of the proposed green town of Sky, Florida, felt
it necessary to distance himself from any type of flower power: “White said Sky won’t be a commune — he winces at the hippie connotation.”

With potential features like geothermal heating and cooling,
solar-powered appliances and passive solar design and engineers from
Florida State University’s Center for Advanced Power System as key
collaborators, his proposal isn’t that radical- though the designation
of half of Sky’s 571 acres for private and community gardens is
ambitious and perhaps a bit “commune”-sounding to anyone not familiar
with food miles (White told the AP that Americans have to reduce their
dependence on food that’s trucked hundreds of miles).

Solar communes for the mainstream

I thought we were beyond the marginalization of environmentalism. This past week I read about Vantage, a new 100% solar-powered community
in my home-town (kind of) of Palo Alto, California, where every
$800,000-thousand-and-up townhouse is built with recycled construction
materials and will have such basics as energy-efficient appliances,
tankless water heaters, dual-flush toilets and motion-controlled
lighting, as well as a 2-kilowatt solar electric system. But no one has
suggested the “commune” connotation here.

In fact, Michael Arenson, sales and marketing director for Full Circle Solar in Santa Cruz, told the San Jose Mercury News
that demand for solar is shifting from the early adopters of the
technology – what he defines as environmentalists and techies- to a
more mainstream audience, none of whom seem concerned about a DH
backlash: “Some
people tell me, `I wish they were facing the street so my neighbors
could see.’ They want to deliver an environmental message.

‘Outdoorsy environmentalist’ or tree-dweller

But back in the conservative Florida Panhandle,
green-community-developer White took pains to label himself ‘outdoorsy
environmentalist’- as if our choices as enviros have become membership
in a Patagonia-clad club or a friend to Julia “Butterfly” Hill. Back 10
years ago when Julia climbed up 180 feet to live in the branches of a
1000-year-old redwood, she knew she risked the DH label; upon coming
down from her perch two years later- after saving at least her tree
(that she had named “Luna”) and the surrounding three acres- she told
the San Francisco Chronicle, “To some people I’m a dirty tree-hugging hippie…“.

Perhaps after two years without a shower, the “dirty” applied, but today a quick look at the website for her Circle of Life Foundation,
the sustainability-focused non-profit she started while sitting in the
, reads like a current environmental column in any mainstream
press: “When
you get out of bed in the morning – what temperature is your heat set
to? Are you using 100% post consumer waste toilet paper? Is your
shampoo tested on animals? Is the cup of coffee you are drinking from a
fair trade source? Does the milk you use on your cereal contain GMOs?

A Malcolm X hippy or a post-beatnik-San Franciscan

If the message has gone mainstream, can environmentalism be
counterculture anymore? Who counts as a hippie these days? To answer
this I need to go back to the origins. With a quick read of Wikipedia,
I’m surprised to find out that one of the early users of the word was
Malcolm X referring to late 1940s Harlem in his 1964 autobiography: “A
few of the white men around Harlem, younger ones whom we called
‘hippies’, acted more Negro than Negroes. This particular one talked
more ‘hip’ talk than we did.

Those who took the term mainstream were San Francisco journalists, like
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen who wrote about them during
the 1967 Summer of Love. San Francisco, and more particularly Haight
Ashbury, was the home to hippies as a movement. Even before the Summer
of Love, young people from all over America began moving there.
According to Wikipedia, by June of 1966, there were 15,000 hippies in
the Haight.

Today, I don’t think the Haight is the best hippie reference. I was there recently (shooting videos with local merchants Body Time, Magnolia Pub & Brewery and Buffalo Exchange)
and the only vestiges of counterculture seem to be the fight against
franchises. While the Gap clothing store managed to win space at the
famous intersection, most of the chain stores have been fought off,
including Whole Foods and Starbucks. While local coffee joint Coffee to the People
keeps the political spirit alive with walls covered with the likes of
Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Sub-commandante Marcos of the Mexian
Zapatistas and Lithuanian-American anarchist Emma Goldman, the biggest
political message seems to be for fair trade and organic, both here, at
People’s Cafe and at Rockin’ Java.

“They all have jobs and wear suits”

It’s not just in the Haight that we ponder the disappearance of the
hippie as a movement. Just this week I read in the post of fellow
faircompanies blogger Tycho (not a Haight resident, but one from the
just as sterotypically open-minded Amsterdam), I
grew up being imprinted with the idea that revolution was something of
the past, I heard it all around me as a teenager… ‘Where are those
damn hippies now? They all have jobs and wear suits.’

Preparing to protest at next month’s G8 summit in Germany,
Tycho concludes that hippies are a thing of the past, and a time of
protest has been replaced by one of constructive criticism. Though he
admits he’ll be busing to Rostock/Heiligendamm with the International Socialists who “seem
to be a bit more about protesting then me, but they have have good
ideas and are nice company as far i could judge last Sunday.

Happy Hippies [unlimited]

Perhaps we all have hippies on the brain this week- or maybe it’s a
natural thought process for anyone trying to green themselves or their
world-, but as I write this another faircompanies blogger, Flora (this one also living in Amsterdam), just posted about her trip to the 21st century hippie enclave Christiania, the independent community in the center of Copenhagen, Denmark.

“Christiania originated in the 70’s… The hippies, in that period it
was still “hippie-time”
, tried to build their own society, based on
ecological thinking and art. Nowadays, it grew out to a community
consisting of 1,000 people, all living together and passing their time
by recycling garbage into furniture, building design houses using
natural products and drinking coca-cola or smoking joints in their
local pub.”

For Flora, this trip made her question whether we could create a
sustainable community on a large scale. But this question is no longer
so hypothetical. They’re not politically independent communities, but
towns like Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany), Malmö (Sweden) and Vancouver (Canada) have all achieved varying levels of sustainability far beyond most cities and towns.

Berkeley revisited

And now Berkeley, California, an early contributor to hippiness-
from the folk music and psychedelic rock scene of the early sixties at
its beat coffee houses, the Cabale Creamery and the Jabberwock, to the
hippie “civil disobedience” in People’s Park in ’69- has passed a measure to become a model of urban sustainability. Voters passed a mandate to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. The proposals include:

  • A car-share vehicle on every block.

  • Bus passes for apartment tenants (paid for by landlords, but
    with a $7 rent increase allowed). Eventual passes for all residents.

  • Mandatory green building requirements, such as using recycled materials.

  • All new, resold or renovated buildings must: replace old
    appliances, improve insulation, upgrade windows, equip garages with
    outlets for electric cars

  • Assessment on property taxes to help residents pay for home solar panels (spread out over 30 years to reduce upfront costs)

  • Carbon footprint readouts for every resident.

Perhaps some in Florida might call it commune-like or commie-like,
but this greener Berkeley isn’t unprecedented, especially given the
heightened anxiety of more and more city councils around climate change.

Hippie pride

I was just IMing with my friend Sarah about my blog- she’s a newly initiated worm composter so I figured she should know something about the topic- and she said she liked the idea of being called a hippie.

i take it as a compliment

i mean if it involves composting

and not being totally corporate and wasteful

and drinking from jars [she uses old jam jars as glasses]

and not taking pain killers and nyquil

and believing in alternative meds

and liking plants and gardening…

i feel like these are some of the things that would make people think hippie, and i think they are all good

Have the times changed? Can we be out with our hippie quirks? I
remember in grammar school feeling so embarrassed when friends would
try to throw away my paper lunch bag and I had to tell them my mother
told me to bring it home so she could reuse it. Actually, it was rare I
even said anything, I would just snatch it from the table red-faced and
run to my locker.

When I think back, there didn’t seem to be a limit to
the number of times she could reuse a bag: by the end of the school
year it was so worn it seemed like a soft cotton. I wonder if my
10-year-old self would announce with pride to today’s 5th graders that
she was reusing her bags.

You can’t have one without the other

So if some of the hippie philosophy has become cool, or mainstream,
what has happened to dirty hippie? I asked Sarah what she thought of
the phrase.

i usually use the two together

they kind of go together, like ‘godless pagan’ even though that is really a contradiction

Her comment made me think of a video I just did on green cleaning products
(in Spanish) in which the distributor pointed out the difference
between cleaning and sterilizing: conventional cleaning products are
created to sterilize, but by sterilizing everything we are making
ourselves sicker by killing the good bacteria. Research seems to be
back him up.

A group of researchers at the University of Cincinnati have recently published findings that have
confirmed what other scientists have only suspected: early-life
exposure to certain indoor fungal components (molecules) can help build
stronger immune systems
, and may protect against future allergies.

So maybe instead of fleeing the dirty hippie stereotype, I need to
learn to embrace it. I could start now by admitting that I am not just
using the gdiaper flushable system with a bit of extra mess, but
lately, I have been making my own diapers out of an old towel. I only
use them when I’m at home and I know she’s just going to pee. Until
now, I haven’t really told anyone out of fear I’ll sound like someone
who uses menstrual cups (not even sure I know what they are, but they
sound beyond my own hippie limits). Well, I guess I should consider
this blog my hippie outing. Embrace it, embrace it…