The two young men walked towards the city centre, each with an arm around the shoulder of the other. Middle class in dress and accent, they were enthusiastic about their topic of discussion. “You’ve got to take a stand, man.”
There was a temptation to turn back and to ask them what stand the young man should take. Perhaps the grounds on what he stood would have been unimportant to him, perhaps it was the act of taking a stand that mattered.
Growing up in Somerset of the 1960s, there were people taking a stand. The issue sometimes seemed almost incidental.
The war in Vietnam was a remote conflict in which there was no involvement by anyone in our community, yet it was issue which aroused great passion. The United States government and President Nixon were not people who would have taken cognizance of what people in a small English county would have thought, but that did not mean people were reticent in expressing their opinions.
If there was a social revolution taking place, then there were people around us who were not going to be left behind, they were determined that they would be part of whatever was happening.
The staging of the first Pilton Pop, Blues and Folk Festival in 1970, the festival that was to subsequently become known as Glastonbury, was a gathering of 1,500 hippies at Worthy Farm at Pilton. The capacity to stage such a gathering in an obscure corner of rural England is an indication of there already being a community of people who stood against social convention.
In 1970, the tickets for the festival were £1. The following year, when the lineup included Hawkwind, Traffic, Melanie, David Bowie, Joan Baez and Fairport Convention, and there were 12,000 people present, the festival was free. The 1971 festival was paid for by individuals who believed in the ideal of a free festival, who believed they were taking a stand against commercialisation.
Whatever the issue, taking a stand says that people will not simply accept what governments say, that they are not prepared just to accept what the mass media tell them.
There is a sense of delight now in recalling how newspapers like the Daily Mail expressed indignation at people like hippies, and at anyone who did not conform. Incurring the editorial displeasure of such newspapers always seemed to suggest that people had something to say.
I hope the two young men take a stand – and that in fifty years’ time they look back with contentment.