Date of Award

Spring 2003

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Harvard Sitkoff


Historians and cultural analysts have traditionally considered the sixties counterculture an apolitical phenomenon by historians and other analysts. Yet concentrated examination of the public activities of the counterculture in San Francisco from 1963 to 1967 reveals that they were engaged in the creation of a public political culture that challenged the power of civil authorities to regulate the uses of parks, streets and sidewalks. In doing so, the counterculture constituted a distinct community with a political agenda.

This thesis is demonstrated through an analysis of the development of an ethos toward public space in the Beat movement and Merry Prankster group, both cultural predecessors of the counterculture. A specific ideology about public space grew from such roots and was expanded by the San Francisco Mime Troupe and its legal battle with the city of San Francisco to use the parks for free performance venues. Growing from the Mime Troupe, the San Francisco Diggers forged a public counterculture in the Haight-Ashbury district of the city that presented a consistent challenge to the power of the state to limit or define public activities. Literature, legal documents, meeting minutes from city committees, press accounts, the personal documents of participants, published contemporary observations and recent interviews have all been utilized to prove this thesis.