July AZ Rainbow Gathering: government gears for 20,000 squatters

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 2 Jun 1998 11:17:43 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/1998/052898/news2.html
     See also Rainbow Family unofficial Web site:
     http://www.welcomehome.org/rainbow/main.html and
     Rainbow's unofficial Newsgroup at alt.gathering.rainbow

  By Dave Irwin

The Establishment is already freaking out over what
promises to be the nation's largest gathering of
hippies this summer, somewhere in Arizona.

All indications are that the Rainbow Family of Living
Light will choose one of Arizona's six national forests
for its annual Gathering, a two-week freewheeling
confab set to begin June 28.

The Rainbow Family is being typically close-mouthed
about its plans; in fact, the group hasn't even
decided for sure yet where it will hold this year's

And that's of considerable concern to authorities,
since the event is expected to draw an estimated
20,000 people, many of the so-called "hippie"

Earlier this month, Governor Jane Hull called officials
together to coordinate an effort by federal, state and
local authorities. The governor's office wouldn't say
who attended, citing law enforcement concerns. But
guests included reps from the U.S. Attorney's office,
the state Attorney General's office, the U.S. Forest
Service, U.S. Senator Jon Kyl's office, the state
Division of Emergency Management and local law

"What I can tell you is the governor's office is aware
that these folks are looking at coming here," Francine
Noyes, Hull's spokesperson, said. "We're trying to
monitor the situation, but beyond that now, there
isn't much we can do yet.

"We have a number of concerns about sanitation, law
enforcement, health and safety concerns, both for
the folks that would come, if they were to come, and
the people in whatever area they might come to."

Oh, they will come. Rainbow Gatherings have been
held in national forests every summer since 1972.
The Gathering was held in Arizona once before, in
1979 in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest.

For a month now, Rainbow Family scouts have been
"on the ground," looking over topo maps, driving
back roads, searching for a site that will meet the
requirements of available water, adequate parking
and attractive camping for 20,000 squatters.

Leading contenders appear to be Coconino and
Apache Sitgreaves National Forests. The scouts will
make a proposal at the Arizona Spring Council, to be
held June 6 and 7 somewhere in the national forest,
after which the council may choose a site.

Or not. This is the Rainbow Family, after all, and no
one is really in charge. Decisions, if and when they
are reached, are by consensus.

The Rainbow Family of Living Light describes itself as
the "largest non-organization of non-members in the
world." More mindset than organization, it has no set
structure, no mission statement and no hierarchical

"No one speaks for the Rainbow," the unofficial Web
site admonishes.

Coconino County Sheriff Joe Richards says that in
the past six to eight weeks, his officers have seen
"about 200 Rainbow types in and around the area."

A Forest Service source also notes that
approximately 20 to 30 small Rainbow camps have
sprung up in the woods around Flagstaff, waiting for
word on where to go.

Rose Davis has been to four Gatherings so far. The
former Flagstaff resident, however, is on the other
side of the fence. She is the information officer for
the U.S. Forest Service's National Incident
Management Team. The team is assigned to provide
year-to-year management of the Gatherings for the
Forest Service.

She cites problems in terms of illegal drugs, public
nudity, runaways and traffic control. "A lot of the
potential conflict can arise from culture shock for the
local community," Davis explains. "Once they
announce the Gathering site, there is an element of
folks that come in because it's a safe place to hide
and there's the possibility of a free meal. These can
include runaways, homeless people, individuals
running from the law.

"Unfortunately, that element tends to hit town first.
Then that community sees problems like Dumpster
diving, shoplifting, public urination."

Environmental problems caused by the tramping of
so many feet have been minimal. "So far, the sites
have all healed nicely," Davis concedes. "The fact that
they have to heal and that there are rehabilitation
efforts involved is something we have to look at.
Digging slit latrines in the national forest is
something that we're not pleased about. But they do
work with the district. After about a year or so when
the land heals, it's turned out real well."

Garrick Beck is a long-standing member of the
Rainbow Family. He has missed only two national
Gatherings. He has deep counterculture roots as the
son of Julian and Judith Beck, founders of the Living
Theatre, a famous and controversial '60s guerrilla
theater troupe. Having been there from the
beginning, he traces the Rainbow Family's lineage
from influences of civil-rights marches, the then-new
ecology movement, a variety of spiritual movements,
hippies and Happenings, rock concerts and the
melding of antiwar protesters and Vietnam veterans.

"The Gatherings grew out of a need from the cultural
changes in the '60s to create an event that was very
inclusive," Beck explains. "The coming together of
returning Vietnam veterans and peace-movement
activists gave the early Gatherings a lot of their

"Most organizations have a hierarchy of people in
charge of different things in a pyramid-shaped form.
We're organized much more like a living cell. The key
is communication between the parts and each part
doing its job well," Beck states. "More than anything
else, the Gatherings teach people to live in harmony
with the earth, not as a vague ideal, but as a practical
activity. The number-one thing people should expect
is to find a large, very open-hearted community in
the woods."

Gatherings are made up of 60 to 200
"neighborhoods," including kitchens, outdoor latrines,
water supplies and camping areas. As part of the
utopian nature of the Gathering, drug use is openly
tolerated and clothing is optional.

The annual yin/yang between the Rainbows and the
Forest Service will continue this year. The Forest
Service says it will enforce regulations requiring a use
permit for any gathering of more than 75 people in
the national forest. It doesn't say how it intends to
do that.

"We will require a permit as soon as the number of
people at the site exceeds 75," Davis asserts. "We
hope it's not confrontational, but we're trying to
enforce the federal regulations as we're required by

The Rainbows steadfastly refuse to obtain the
required permits, citing the Gatherings as a
constitutional right to assemble peaceably on public

Law enforcement has generally stayed outside of the
Gatherings. "Where they can, they enforce
everything that they have responsibility for, but
officer safety is very important and they are well
outnumbered," Davis notes.

"We're more concerned about major felonies," Sheriff
Richards says. "Child abuse, assault, theft."

In any case, for more than 25 years, the Rainbow
Gatherings have represented the largest single
recreational use of the national forests, a fact that
the Forest Service is reluctant to accept officially.

"There are instances when we've had really beautiful,
golden, cooperative relations with the Forest
Service," Beck notes, "and there have been instances
where we've had a really knucklehead group of Forest
Service officials who have not been willing to give us
the time of day."

So it comes down to your view. For the Rainbow
Family, the Gathering is a utopian Club Med, a
temporary autonomous zone where there are no
leaders, only focalizers to lead discussions, and
where order is kept by shanti sena, a
community-based combination of intervention
counselors, peacekeepers and communicators. It's a
hippie Tomorrowland where marijuana is "green
energy" and the Magic Hat garners donations of cash.

To government officials, it's a gathering of marginal
lifestyles where illegal activities are rampant and
hygiene is iffy.

"It's definitely a study in sociology, I'll give you that,"
Davis says with a laugh. "It basically becomes a small
city on the national forest. It pops up quickly, and it
is pretty amazing."

Information on the location of this year's Gathering
will be posted as soon as it is available on the
unofficial Web site:
http://www.welcomehome.org/rainbow/main.html and at
the newsgroup, alt.gathering.rainbow.

It will also be a major buzz on the street, so check
with your local crustypunk.


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