The Rainbow Gathering has been a spontaneously occurring event for more than a quarter century. During this often misunderstood and governmentally-opposed assembly, thousands of Americans gather to pray for peace, worship the natural world and exercise their constitutional rights of free assembly, religion and happiness. And each year, Rainbows face growing resistance from some narrow-minded governmental organizations.
But from Washington to Vermont and Missouri to Arizona, the tribes continue to gather on public land. The Gathering invites anyone to join together without fear of judgment or persecution, to celebrate the natural systems that allow for our evolution and existence.
The Gathering culminates on the Fourth of July, when thousands gather in a central meadow to meditate silently for world peace. Following the morning of silent meditation, a circle takes shape in which people join hands, pray for world peace and silently ask for spiritual healing. Soon, a parade of children enters the circle (above) and the circle collapses upon itself into an epicenter of ecstatic drumming and dancing.
“Clothing is optional. We accept people and their bodies without judgement or shame.”-—The 2001 Rainbow Guide.
According to the National Incident Management Team, between June 10 and July 8 law enforcement officials from the Boise National Forest and other agencies cited at least 69 people for “public nudity” violations.
“What you use is your business-—what you abuse is often everybody’s business,” the Rainbow Guide reads. “The primary reason we gather is for peace.”
Before the 1993 National Rainbow Gathering in Alabama, the Rainbow Family was lambasted by the mainstream media and the Forest Service for choosing a site near critical habitat for endangered mussels in Shoal Creek. However, when the Rainbows’ own cleanup was completed, an official Forest Service letter stated that the cleanup “met or exceeded our expectations.”
“On July 16, the biologist from United States Fish and Wildlife Service surveyed the creek along the areas of greatest use. They found no degradation of stream habitat or harm to any individual mussels had occurred. Your assistance in stabilizing stream banks after the gathering as well as efforts by all Rainbow family members during the gathering to protect these rare mussels is appreciated.” – District Ranger Emanuel Hudson, Shoal Creek Ranger District, Talladaga National Forest, Alabama.
This year, the Gathering occurred near prime salmon spawning habitat, and once again some media outlets and the Forest Service used this fact to discourage Rainbows from making the pilgrimage to rural Idaho. Today, as the cleanup detail continues in full force by several hundred remaining Rainbows, public and private groups are watching closely.
When 19,500 people gather, they produce waste, and the Rainbows are no exception. In a parking lot collection area, glass, aluminum, steel, paper, compost and garbage are painstakingly sorted into piles. The recyclables are recycled, the compost is buried, and the paper is burned. Outgoing travelers are also encouraged to bring their packed-in items home with them, so as not to overburden local dumpsters or landfills.
For the last ten Gatherings, Roger (above) has helped sort trash and recyclables. “We go through it all, no matter how long it takes,” he says. This year, local counties have provided dumpsters to assist with trash removal. Because of coordinated food buying and cooking efforts that reduce package waste to a minimum, the waste of 20,000 Rainbows is disproportionately small.