During the ten years after Woodstock, the federal government certified the launch of more than 150,000 new nonprofit organizations. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were being employed by charities and philanthropy burst with activity. This was the start-up growth spurt in contemporary social activism.
As you’d imagine, the expansion was especially vigorous among issues relevant to the Woodstock generation. From 1969 to 1979 activists designed their future by forming 20,000 new charities supporting education, 15,000 new community development organizations, 11,000 for the arts, and 3,668 new women’s advocacy groups.
Call it a vibe, a miracle, or an accident, the positive aura of Woodstock grew into a mythology and a movement. When the Woodstock movie became a hit (Academy Award-winning sixth highest-grossing film of 1970). In the comfort of their local cinema, millions became de facto witness to the rain, the music, mayhem, and the love. Attention focused on Woodstock helped open our eyes to the power of mass engagement for good; the success of the Woodstock film confirmed its achievability.
World pollution, there’s no solution
Just black and white, rich or poor
Them and us, stop the war
— “I’d Love to Change the World,” Ten Years After
Environmental concerns were at the forefront of social issues throughout the 1960s and by the time Woodstock happened, the National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund and many of the most effective environmental groups were already leading ecological preservation, restoration and policy initiatives. But pollution, industrialization, and land development were still wreaking havoc.
Within a few months of Woodstock, two new organizations emerged with very specific environmental agendas. In March 1970, the IRS granted nonprofit status to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a group of attorneys forging a comprehensive approach to how federal, state, local lawmakers, and courts drafted environmental statutes and provided enforcement. Today, NRDC has more than 2.5 million members and $160 million in annual revenue.
A few months later, an American-born couple living in Canada, Irving and Dorothy Stowe, changed the name of their small activist committee to Greenpeace. A fundraising concert organized by Woodstock performer Joan Baez was held in Vancouver on October 16, 1970, raised $17,000 — enough money to charter a ship, rename it Greenpeace, and set out to disrupt hydrogen bomb testing being done by the US near Amchitka Island off the coast of Alaska. The Greenpeace ship arrived near the site and encountered the US Coast Guard ship Confidence which forced it away from the area. Despite the disruptions, the nuclear bomb was eventually detonated, however, Greenpeace succeeded in getting sympathetic media coverage challenging nuclear testing activity — military activities that might otherwise have gone unnoticed by the general public.
While unable to make it to Vancouver for the Greenpeace concert, Baez enlisted the support of Joni Mitchell who recruited her boyfriend at the time, James Taylor, to join her. The show began with Phil Ochs, an activist, pacifist and folk singer performing eight songs, including a haunting reading of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Bells.” Once again, the music was galvanizing people to take action.
Greenpeace is our Coolest Charity in the World This Week because if its incomparable ability to connect with people of all ages — especially young people. For nearly 50 years, Greenpeace has maintained its urgency and communicated its mission in ways that motivate, educate and engage. From nuclear testing to sustainable food sourcing, to climate change, Greenpeace constantly takes on the largest environmental issues. They did not invent the phrase “Think globally, act locally” but their 3.5 million members certainly embrace it in their pursuit of a greener and more peaceful future.
I’d love to change the world
But I don’t know what to do
So I’ll leave it up to you
— “I’d Love to Change the World,” Ten Years After
Greenpeace consistently comes up when I sit with artists to discuss social activism. Earlier this spring I had the privilege of speaking about philanthropy and music with Leo Lyons, a man who has dedicated his life to creating great music and making the world a better place for all of us to live in. Leo performed at Woodstock as a founder and bassist of Ten Years After.
By 1969, Ten Years After was well established as one of the great blues-rock groups of the Brittish Invasion. Their appearance at Woodstock was a highlight in the line-up for the festival’s final day, which also included Joe Cocker; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; The Band; and Jimi Hendrix. When Leo, Alvin Lee, and the rest of Ten Years After arrived at Woodstock on Sunday, August 19, they anticipated just another festival.
“We had played so many other festivals before, in Europe and America, that we really didn’t expect anything different at Woodstock. We had a show in St Louis the night before and we were tired. We arrived at about 2 pm. When it rained that afternoon, things changed. The stage started to slide in the mud and performers were talking about getting electrocuted.”
“It wasn’t just Woodstock, all of 1969 was an intense social experience for us,” Lyons told me. “We were a UK band touring America and we were enjoying this crazy, overwhelming experience.”
Leo and his wife have supported many social causes over the years and he is hesitant to choose a single favorite. “What’s most important,” says Leo, “Is that we encourage people to improve lives everywhere and also in our local communities.” This includes their support of environmental groups preserving greenspaces near their home in Cardiff, Wales as well as the global contributions being made by change.org, Amnesty International, and this week’s Coolest Charity, Greenpeace.
Leo Lyons is performing throughout Europe this year with his blues-rock trio Hundred Seventy Split. You can follow Leo at http://leolyons.org/
-The CS Team