NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Stephen Gaskin, an American counterculture figure and founder of The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee, died Tuesday at his home after a lengthy illness, according to residents at the one-time commune he established.
The self-described ”hippie priest and freelance rabble-rouser” was 79.
“There are gated communities of rich people – we are like a gated community of not-rich people,” Gaskin said with a laugh during a 1997 interview with NewsChannel 5.
An English instructor at San Francisco State College, the former Marine began leading a weekly open meeting, called the Monday Night Class, discussing how psychedelic experiences related to world religions. At its peak, the Monday Night Class drew more than 1,000 hippies from around the San Francisco Bay Area.
In 1970, Gaskin led a caravan of some 60 school buses, trucks and vans on a speaking tour across the country, eventually settling on a 1,000-acre site in Tennessee that was most attractive for its low price.
Their vision: “To live a ‘back-to-the-land’ lifestyle while still remaining engaged in social change to make the world a better place,” according to The Farm’s website.
But the sudden influx of so many hippies into the Middle Tennessee area sparked cultural conflicts and drew the attention of law enforcement.
In 1974, Gaskin and other residents of The Farm were arrested after marijuana plants were discovered among the commune’s other crops. Gaskin went to prison, serving one year of a three-year prison sentence.
Upon his release, Gaskin filed a lawsuit to have his voting rights restored — a case that he would eventually win before the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1981.
In 2000, he waged an unsuccessful campaign for the presidential nomination of the Green Party.
”If you want to throw some seeds in your garden and grow some pot and smoke it yourself, I don’t think it’s anybody else’s business. And I don’t think that the Constitution thinks that it’s anybody else’s business,” Gaskin told the Associated Press.
While presidential candidate Bill Clinton had once famously claimed that he never “inhaled” marijuana, Gaskin boasted, “‘I didn’t exhale.”
He told the AP that he envisioned a country where affluence isn’t viewed as a right but a privilege that is shared with the less fortunate. Eliminating corporate donations and soft money to political campaigns would restore integrity to political office, and the government should foot the bill for the nation’s health care and educate its people through junior college, he said.
”For a couple of B-2 bombers you could pay for all the education in the United States,” he added.
In 2004, Gaskin was inducted into the Counterculture Hall of Fame — four years after his wife, Ina, who was proclaimed the “mother of authentic midwifery.”