In the evolution of humankind it has been the spirit of cooperation that has enabled us to create the wonders of social harmony and technical achievement that we most value. For the past twelve years - as of these writing - a group of grownup children has propounded and created a unique event -The Rainbow Gatherings- dedicated to making visible the power of this cooperative spirit.
These gatherings have occurred each year during the first week of July on public lands. They are free and open to everyone. They have hosted up to 20,000 or more people. But most importantly they have demonstrated the potential for humans to live together, work together, celebrate together without the exploitation one of the other, without the hierarchical domination of government and without the imposition of money as a means of motivation our behavior. Perhaps these significantly point to the future.
Begun in the spring of 1970 - though "begun" is not quite the right word - by the cojoined visions of a number of people who saw these gatherings as a means of transforming the world toward a more peaceful, more ecologically secure place. How little each of our small efforts seemed to be. How invisible in the face of the machinery of war and exploitation. Yet what might our efforts produce if in some way we could combine our energies - if only for some short time - to make a living example of how things could be.
I say "begun" is not quite the right word because clearly, to us, humans had been gathering as we envisioned since the dawn of our species. In historical times this practice has largely been in the domain of religious movements; the Buddhaís meetings at Raj Gris, Jesusí assemblies at the Sea of Galilee, The Native American Ghost or Sun Dances, and so forth. This suited our tastes well; blasted by the skyrocketing politics of the 1960ís, seared in the psychedelic furnaces and banged out in the eco-logical realization of the fragility of our resources, we had arrived at the conclusion that a spiritual understanding of ourselves as one human family was our best hope for avoiding certain destruction.
At the tail end of the 1960ís the Peace Movement was badly torn by divisions of violence and non-violence, by neo-maoists, neo-marxists, by CIA infiltration and by powered peace movement bureaucrats. There was no room for the creative consciousness that had sprouted to take Ďrouteí. There was in fact a disassembly of the peace movement as we knew it; the back-to the-land-ers went their own way; the food co-op people went theirs; the yoga and eastern mystics followed their path; the worker collectives fended for themselves; the rock-ní-rollers went to the festivals in the face of mounting opposition from the nationís anti-" Woodstock laws"; the marxist-maoists theorized in progressively smaller circles and Nixonís advisors suggested the Kent State Massacre to stem the tide of collegiate rebellion. It was a ripe time for something new.
When an arts festival in the Pacific Northwest brought together a number of tribally-oriented groups it was only natural that we should discuss and share our visions of What Was Happening and What Could We Do? The idea of a Gathering - for all people - engaged our imaginations. It was an uplifting experience. We planned and envisioned all at once.
The publicizing of the Gathering was to be -and still is- largely word of mouth. We found as we talked with others that every so often someone would light up -as though they themselves had independently seen, or desired this event to be. These people spread the word. We saw ourselves not so much as the innovators but as literally called upon to revive this form of human congregation.
At first we referred to the Gathering as The World Family Gathering - viewing this as a time when people of all different types and races, nations and clans and so on who so desired could come together - for free - as one family. Sometimes we thought the whole world would stop for a moment to gather.
Our own little part of this World Family of Humankind we call the Rainbow Family - because we felt a part of everyone, all the races and peoples of the spectrum.
Months later when we regrouped at the Vortex I festival we got named The Rainbow Family of Living Light. Mostly, I think, we saw that title as a passing fancy, but the name stuck and by the time the 1st Gathering, the Colorado Gathering, happened people were calling this the Rainbow Gathering and we, we were all the Rainbow People.
For over two years we worked and talked our way to the Gathering. Our politics were faith and elbow grease.We traveled across the country and visited the co-op food stores, the yoga ashrams, the street scene, the peace action groups. We posted notices in the cafes; printed "Howdy Folks" newsletters; made announcements at rock festivals and on listener sponsored radio and TV. We sang in parks, leafleted in slums and shopping malls, printed and reprinted invitations and finally maps.
We met a lot of doubt.
Doubt both that such a thing could be done without great financial backing or famous-name stars to attract attention and doubt that humans could get together in a peaceful manner for free without crime, chaos and mayhem.
Initially we had agreed upon July 1-4, 1972 somewhere in Colorado as the time and place to gather. Little did we expect such opposition as we got.
All along we maintained - and still do - an attitude of willingness to work with local administrators. We went to Colorado, to the state capitol and laid out this entire plan by they mustíve thought we were joking or crazy. Months later when they realized it was really happening, rumors were howling through their corridors, local right-wingers were up in arms and the news and local officials panicked.
We had been drawn to a region near the headwaters of the Colorado River as the right spot to gather at. The US Forest Service ordered every campground within 50 miles "closed for repairs". The governor called up 4000 National Guard troops for maneuvers. A friendly farmer and engineer gave us his wheat field to park on -so we camped there. And then, after much counseling we moved at dawn up to Strawberry Lake. Zam! The State police barricaded the roads. For a week we played "cops Ďn hippies" with diversionary movements, secret trails and supply lines. The blockaded camp grew and grew. The Colorado Police arrested all hitchhikers. They stopped every longhair-carrying vehicle for complete inspection. If your rig didnít pass, it was towed away. "Routine inspection for highway safety" we were told. You had to walk or they busted you for loitering. If you didnít have enough money they busted you for vagrancy. The records will show over 700 people were arrested - for doing nothing other than trying peacefully to get to the Gathering.
Ultimately the parking area where people were arriving was filled to overcrowding and the group counciled and decided to up and walk through the barricades. Three to four thousand people strong we shouldered our packs and began the 7 mile walk through town to the roadblock beyond.
In the meantime the gathering encampment had grown considerable. Close to 2000 people were already inside setting up the village community in the woods where we were heading.
On the outside we had been negotiating continuously showing pictures of the I-camp developments, explaining how we were peaceful, gentle people, and how we planned to proceed, sustain and cleanup the operation.
The county hauled us to court where we maintained that all this was clearly permitted under the US Constitutionís 1st amendment guarantee for peaceable assembly and religious freedom. The judge ruled in favor of the countís ban on mass gatherings passed less than a week before. But while the judge ruled, the column of backpackers rounded the bend at the barricade. Faced with no other realistic choice the sheriffís department let the swarms of singing, praying, peaceful marchers pass on by.
The column continued for the next three days as people from around the world walked past the barricade and on up the next six miles to the Gathering at Strawberry Lake.
Over the years since, we have worked out a lot of our difficulties with various vested authorities, but each gathering in its own way touches on the realities of the peopleís rights and the forces that would restrict us. One year the public health department may be extremely helpful and friendly, the next they may lead the opposition. One set of county agents may try to scare us away, while in the next they welcome us. but each year as we express the boundaries of freedom we encounter those forces that would compress those boundaries around us.
Over the years we have developed a liaison team to help us work with government officials, and teams who introduce ourselves to the local population in the most friendly and open manner.
It is also true that these gatherings have been of great economic benefit to whatever towns we have landed near. Each year so far we have been in a different state so we have the opportunity to get to know the continent and its people.
20 or 25,000 or more people came to Colorado and we were beginners in the art of community design. What we lacked in experience we made up in faith. Faith that we humans would figure it out. And from that came a tide of creativity and cooperation.
We developed the community kitchens. We devised numerous prototypes for waste disposal and sanitation. We engineered water-systems and supply storage - all this was, after all, taking place in the cradle between towering mountains from which the ordinary hodgepodge of conveniences was far far away.
We had published in the spring before the Gathering a booklet called The Rainbow Oracle which concerned itself with these plans in theory but everyone knows that theorizing or describing and actually doing are often worlds apart.
So it is in the doing of these things that one discovers the non-hierarchical methods of working together - the exact methods that we humans will need to know, use and teach in the future.
Within the framework of these gatherings what is it that focuses our intentions together?
From the beginning moments of this plan we saw a silence, -a space- at the center of the Gathering where we could all come together to express our thought, feelings, hopes, contemplationís, meditations or prayers together in silence - means acceptable to everyone- that we each can do as well and no one better than each other- a form that preserves each oneís individual point of view and at the same time unites us in action and stillness.
The silence allows for those who pray to pray each in their own way; and for those who meditate to meditate each in their own way; and for those who chose to contemplate to do so each one of us left to listen to the wind, feel the earth turn beneath us and watch the clouds and sky together with our brothers and sisters in the Cathedral of Nature.
How can I tell or write the insights, emotions, visions, feelings and experiences that occur within this silent communion?
Not everyone comes to the silence. There isnít any pressure to participate. But most people come. Sometimes we do it right in the middle of the gathering inside the tipi circle. Other years we choose a meadow or ridge just outside the camp that we hike to.
Some years we have even left the gathering site to go to a particular place: in 1972 to Table Mountain, CO, and in 1976 to the international boundary between Montana, USA and Alberta, Canada as a gesture of international goodwill. We did a hands across the border ceremony and met lots of opposition - even though it was held in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. There were threats and official threats. The immigration department called in SWAT teams. We negotiated -as usual- and then went and did the action. In the end the officials admitted they didnít see what all the fuss had been about.
After that we began gathering for a week -July 1-7- instead of just the first four days of July. It was just too short a time: a couple of days to set up, then the meditation on the Fourth of July and then home? There wasnít enough time to enjoy the camp, the people, the activities offered. So we extended the event to its present 7 days and developed the workshop, arts, council and pageant aspects of the gathering.
The design of the gathering community incorporates most of the aspects of human society. Just because we are utopian naturalists doesnít mean we donít get all of the problems of the human experience. We do.
We have the same problems as anybody else; as any other community; disease, theft, aggression, craziness. But we do get to apply our own techniques of healing, of teaching, of involvement and cooperation to solve these situations.
The essential teachings are very simple.
Human hygiene in disposal of our own wastes, in cleanliness around food preparation, in maintaining clear water supplies, and in preventing the spread of disease are simple lessons that often we in the developed and protected hi-tech nations have gotten out of touch with. The basic standards of what humans need to keep-it-together-clean is made plain in the set up of a gathering.
Innumerable eco-logical lessons are learned in the construction of kitchens, washing facilities, water lines, and latrines. Provision of all of these is a tremendous cooperative effort and for many of us it is the most creative time working together to devise and design. There are sprout farms to be planted and watered, water sources to be protected and transducted by pipe to easy access taps, compost pits and trench privies to be dug and monitored in each neighborhood, and information about how and why all this works to be transmitted to each and every person who enters the scene.
For that we begin with a parking and Rap 107 crew whose job it is to welcome you, help you park and deliver "Rap 107" - what we call the traditional information about the encampment and health & sanitation data.
All this is very essential. Without it, and without careful following, the result of thousands of people in a near-wilderness away from the instant conveniences of hot water and porcelain sanitation can lead very quickly to water contamination and hygienic breakdown.
The information involved in this mirrors the needs of every human community, town and city. So in the set up and maintenance of these villages we get to see and understand what the parameters of human needs are; so we can tell what is really necessary from what is extra; and so that we can get the feel for taking care of our needs independently, cooperatively without having to depend on giant corporations and big government.
The experience of taking community responsibility has powerful repercussions for each of our own personal growths. We encounter people with ideas different from our own and we have to work out solutions.
Time is short and before long this valley will be filled with people exploring and testing everything.
Booths are constructed for information and Rumor Control, maps made of the camp, a news sheet published, and workshop bulletin boards erected for posting of workshop and class descriptions, whereabouts and times.
This last part encompasses a broad spectrum of educational opportunities, as well as allowing for the cross pollination of ideas that characterized the techno-poetical schools of the future.
Several hundred workshops and classes are offered each gathering, Solar energy, midwifery, health and diet, yoga, massage, herb walks, nature studies, handicrafts, woodcarving, weaving are all popular.
Alliance meetings take place with people from social change causes such as an end to capital punishment, blindness relief, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Greenpeace, and Citizens against Toxic Sprays. No Nukes groups, peace action coalitions, anarchist and justice groups representing causes from around the world meet to share information, recruit volunteers and co-inspire each other.
This is one of the Rainbow Gatheringís most important aspects because it strengthens the ties among many of the hands that work in the peace or healing movements year round without being exposed much to what the other hands are doing. It also introduces many of the younger rainbows to the multi-faced problems of the world and to some of the organizations and people who are busy making solutions.
These facilities, these shelters, waterlines, tools and meals ... where do they come from? Much is packed in by the participants to contribute to the whole. And the rest?
In the old days there was a marvelous wizard with a cone-shaped hat from which would be pulled stars,galaxies, food, clothing, shelter and energy!
We too use the Magic Hat: hats are passed at dinner times, or at councils and are placed at strategic locations - or carried by musically accompanied hat passers through the camp for contributions and wishes.
The donations are counted by the banking council and open books are kept in open meeting. The result is apportioned according to our needs. No body goes hungry.. as if by magic.
C.A.L.M. is our Center for Alternative Living Medicine. Staffed by rainbow-faced doctors, nurses and healers the idea is to provide, for free, health care both for immediate problems and long-range health planning.
This includes a M.A.S.H. emergency and evacuation unit, an herbal apothecary, a womenís center and massage area.
Therapies include acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, herbal, nutritional, allopathic and meditative techniques. The aim is to make available these various solutions and advise the patient on what method or methods are most appropriate in each instance. Many people have never encountered an opportunity to make use or natural or alternative healing arts so we present these alongside - and in harmony or balance with - the standard medical approach.
Classes and workshops teach and demonstrate all of the above - and more; first aid, plant identification, iridology, conscious healing, foot and body massage, polarity balancing and so on. For a complete list, come to one of the gatherings and visit your C.A.L.M.
Our Council is our public forum and decision-making body. Everyone who attends belongs to it. One person speaks at a time. Everyone gets a chance to be heard. The council meets almost every day of the gathering as well as during set up and cleanup. But its function is not merely decision-making. It is a forum for ideas, a place for poets, a platform for political proposals, and a megaphone for announcements. Some people just want to blow kisses, others have a particular message of importance.
The council can decide to stay focused on one issue and select a person to help keep that focus. Often a feather is passed from hand to hand to speaker to speaker.
Some agenda items are decided by consensus: That is when the resolve is clearly stated and in the silence that follows no one raises an objecting voice.
Other times it is not so easy. We do use shows of hands to get an idea of how the group feels generally, but we avoid the voting process because it leads to endless campaigning and a tyranny of the majority rule.
Often the council will be of two minds about an issue; thatís OK too. We have to learn to live with our difference. And often itís better if two solutions are approached rather than one idea followed and the other abandoned.
The council process is rich with alternative. Thatís what we like about it. Sometimes we break into small groups to talk things out among different divisions before re-grouping into one large council. The council circle doesnít limit us to one repeated pattern for making decisions. In some cases consensus may be the only acceptable route. In others a straw poll may make the matter clear; in other cases we must all listen carefully and then individually decide what course of action to take. Often only the discussion happens at council and the decisioning happens in each oneís camps during later meetings.
The council (formally the Rainbow Family Tribal Council) has entered into agreements with local, county and federal agencies as well as private parties.