RAINBOW GATHERING - BACKGROUND                      Rainbow Gathering 2005 story link



As an ongoing phenomenon, the Rainbow Gathering is unique in the American experience. Born as a non-political alternative to the mass gatherings of the time, the first Rainbow Gathering took place in 1972 in a remote Colorado wilderness, drawing some 35,000 adventurers to a new American tribal event. Today, as then, Gatherers seeking harmony with nature and one another create a free, week-long communal camping experience each July 1-7, incorporating established Rainbow rituals derived from Native American and diverse spiritual cultures.

Since its inception, the National Rainbow Gathering has taken place each year  -- often against great odds -- on sites chosen by Rainbow scouts on National Forest land. With over three decades of history, the Gathering has evolved an extraordinarily colorful set of spiritual, social, environmental and practical traditions that are also practiced throughout the year at regional Gatherings held around the country. Hundreds of thousands of individuals have attended an American Rainbow Gathering, the inspiration for the global Rainbow phenomenon; the European Rainbow Gathering occurs each August, and many other annual Rainbow events take place in Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, Israel, the former Soviet Union, Australia and elsewhere.

The US Rainbow Gathering, however, is endangered. The American Rainbow People look to the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees the right of the "People Peaceably to Assemble" on public lands. This fundamental right has been eroded through the expanded presence of the US Forest Service Enforcement Division and other police agencies, and attendance has fallen as thousands have been ticketed, fined and arrested in recent years. 8,000 campers, only one-half the average, attended the 2002 Rainbow Gathering in Watersmeet, Michigan, although the 2003 Utah Gathering was twice as large.

In 2002 the US Supreme Court refused to hear a high-profile Rainbow court case that challenged Forest Service regulations clearly aimed at preventing the Gathering by requiring permits for an assembly of 75 or more on National Forest lands. As a result, three defendants -- Garrick Beck (son of Julian Beck and Judith Malina, founders of the Living Theatre), Joanee Freedom and Stephen Principle -- were incarcerated for 90 days for camping without a permit at the Pennsylvania Gatheringin 1999. Although the US Forest Service alleges they are "leaders" or organizers of the Gatherings, they maintain, consistent with Rainbow tradition, that Rainbow is a spiritual association of free individuals without leaders, and the defendants speak for no one but themselves. (In fact, with no hierarchy, all decisions continue to be made by council consensus.) The government's position has quietly resulted in a loss of freedom for all Americans, although the statute, not vigorously enforced at Boy Scout or church outings, is predictably being applied in an apparently discriminatory manner.

American Rainbow culture -- extends far beyond the central event, as a vast network of tens of thousands of individuals around the country. The mainstream American media and federal authorities are fond of characterizing the Rainbow People's struggle to maintain their cultural traditions as the throwback efforts of misguided "hippies," but this simplistic picture is a disservice to the many thousands of participants and their noble environmental ideals. The harassment of Rainbow People, who are fighting to preserve the constitutional right of assembly for all Americans, continues to escalate along with the recent erosion of civil liberties in general.

Gabe Kirchheimer has documented this modern American tribe since 1986.


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