A Visit to the Rainbow Gathering

1169 Rainbow gatherers milling around at the central encampment. CLUI photo by Erik Knutzen

THE ANNUAL RAINBOW GATHERING TOOK place over the fourth of July weekend, as it has every year since 1972, and as usual, it was held on National Forest land. This time it was at the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in the hills of eastern Arizona, where the gathering lasted a few weeks and hosted an estimated 25,000 people at its peak, over the holiday weekend.

As some Rainbows like to say, the Rainbow Family is the "largest non-organization of non-members in the world." Though there is a group of annual Gathering organizers, there are no leaders or official spokespersons for the Family. Rainbowness definitely means different things to different people, but at the Gathering there are some traits and inclinations which appear to be shared by the majority, including being naked in mud; drumming in drumming circles, deep into the night; embracing some stylistic elements of Native American traditions; and sharing the act of bowel emptying.

The Rainbows make a point of not getting permits for their use of public Forest Service land (though for some of the earlier Gatherings they did). There is a pleasing irony in the fact that because the Rainbow Gathering is a collection of individuals and not a group, they do not need permits. The essence of this semantic battle has been considered and contested by the National Forest Service for some time, and the federal agency is said to have a special full time unit to manage the annual Rainbow Gathering.

Authorities also claim to have spent nearly $500,000 for law enforcement at this years Arizona gathering, which was attended by over a hundred Federal, State and County law officers. A lot of money spent on what is well known to be a free event!
Field Report by Erik Knutzen and Doug Harvey