This Is Why Woodstock Still Matters
I get grief for saying this, but the best thing emerging from the Woodstock festival wasn't the music. It wasn’t the drugs and it wasn't free love.
The breakthrough at Bethel, NY that weekend was humanitarian. A new vision of community cooperation activated on a mass scale.
Half A Million Gathered Peacefully
Up until the Woodstock festival, there was a lot of talking. A lot of complaining. A lot of “what ifs” and on-campus organizing. Woodstock was the very first time any of us saw half a million people cooperating -- en masse.
After the festival, I was told by a group of Native Americans that Woodstock was the largest gathering in the history of mankind for a purpose other than war. --John Roberts, Woodstock producer
We’d gathered in large numbers before, but every one of those gatherings had an enemy. The man, the police, the government, the war. Woodstock was different, we were all on the same side. There were no enemies. Everyone at Woodstock was there for the same thing -- to be entertained.
A New Definition of Love
Amazingly, that weekend of entertainment produced a mass revelation, a freshly modern awareness that we could unify to protect the vulnerable among us. A new definition of love and a new understanding that helping the folks around us made the situation better for everyone.
Unlike any musical event that came before it, virtually all of the performers at Woodstock and many in the audience became kindness pioneers -- redefining the reach and scope of American benevolence.
The message from Woodstock: No one is happy until we are all happy. No one is safe until we are all safe. That spirit of Woodstock came from the 1963 March on Washington, among other places. Six summers before Woodstock, hundreds of thousands rallied at The Mall in Washington D.C. to hear Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. They also heard Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mahalia Jackson, and others sing about the spirit of the non-yet-invented Woodstock. Their collective voice helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The leaders of Woodstock were musicians -- our heroes. They led the crowd through three days of music, rain, mud, and shortages. It was the 60’s and these musicians were already accustomed to seeing anything and everything, but none of them were prepared for Woodstock. The verve at a conventional concert originates at the stage and overtakes the audience. Not at Woodstock. That weekend the peace and camaraderie of half a million fans engulfed the stage and transformed the artists.
Prior to Woodstock, a concert was just a concert and philanthropists were stuffy old men (and their widows). In August 1969 there was a revolution.
For over 100 years, wealthy Americans decided who and what deserved assistance. Robber barons cheated and pillaged their way through our industrializing nation and with gilded ladles they trickled their largess to “appropriate” causes. Throughout the Vietnam Era, the dominant names in philanthropy remained the same. Carnegies, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Fords were the ones defining “worthy causes” and deciding which people would get relief.
As far as we know, no descendants of Andrew Carnegie or Henry Ford ever made it to Woodstock. But in a magical, almost supernatural way, those three days of peace and music activated the generosity and altruism in a generation (and eventually the country).
Woodstock proved that this generation could do anything -- including humanitarianism and charity. Woodstock showed us that we could all help each other and we didn't need a handful of elites to tell us how.
Unlike any musical event that came before it, virtually all of the performers at Woodstock and many in the audience became kindness pioneers -- redefining the reach and scope of American benevolence. These hippies and freaks became the architects of a new philanthropy. They continue to raise billions of dollars providing relief, researching cures, and solving many of the worlds most challenging problems.
After Woodstock, new charity openings grew 39%.
Social service organizations grew 146%.
Environmental groups grew 88%.
Animal rights agencies increased by 81%.
— Internal Revenue Service Masterfile, 1969-1972
These new charities were funded mostly by small donors and started by organizers without trust funds. They began assisting (and many today still serve) every human, environmental, international and community need.
Hunger and food equality were top priorities. During the three years following Woodstock, Community Pantries and other Food/Nutrition organization openings increased 344%.
New family services and advocacy associations including social service groups for families, young adults, and children increased by 146%.
Legal Aid and other criminal justice organizations grew 120% and new Environmental protection groups opened at a rate 88% greater than the previous three years.
Woodstock gave us this new perspective. That young people really could take care of each other, and that working for the man wasn’t necessarily the only way to have a meaningful life. Woodstock inspired a new form of social entrepreneurship.
Think about it. Woodstock could have been the three most miserable, traumatic, and uncomfortable days that half a million privileged suburban teens could experience. But it wasn’t. It was glory. Glory because we collectively figured out that despite not having everything we were accustomed to, we had everything we NEEDED in Bethel.