Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Rainbow Gatherings

Day 36: Sunday, June 23, 2013
The Rainbow Gathering in Big Hole

As the Wikipedia article puts it, "Rainbow Gatherings are temporary intentional communities, typically held in outdoor settings, and espousing and practicing ideals of peace, love, harmony, freedom and community, as a consciously expressed alternative to mainstream popular culture, consumerism, capitalism and mass media."

The unofficial Rainbow site contains very little concrete information. If you've been reading the papers, you probably know more than what they say there.

Rainbow gatherings are held, usually annually, in various places around the world. In the United States, a location on U. S. Forest Service land is located by scouts in the weeks preceding the event, and word is distributed. Usually, 25,000 to 45,000 people can be expected to attend the U. S. event.

As opposed to an event like Burning Man, there is little structure and internal control to these gatherings. There is no charge to attend, although attendees are encouraged to provide food for the kitchens; "security"; health and sanitation assistance, etc. Because there is no charge, these events seem to attract a fair number of people who are themselves poor and whose main purpose is to further their own ends via theft, scamming, and other forms of misbehavior. Because of this, residents of communities surrounding the chosen site usually react with displeasure to the gathering. Governmental bodies (the Forest Service, local/county/state police, and others) which are tasked with keeping order incur considerable costs connected with monitoring a gathering and maintaining order when necessary.

As you may have gathered from my other posts, an area in the Big Hole was chosen as the site of this year's gathering. In Wisdom, we witnessed a brawl that appeared to be tenuously related to the gathering. One of our cyclists was told by a Safeway employee that Rainbow people had come to the store and asked for donations of food; when they were refused, they urinated on merchandise in the store. Bald Bob has a sign clearly posted at his KOA that Rainbow people are not welcome.

On the other hand, locals do not like the high police presence. We talked with several county deputies and state patrolmen. While they are very sociable to us (at the top of a pass, I had a long conversation with a state patrolman about our trip), they seem to have little to do beyond zipping back and forth and responding to the odd problem. So (perhaps to meet quotas), they set up road traps and end up picking on locals. One resident of Jackson told us that they had issued tickets to friends and family for items such as cracked windshields, burned-out taillights, tailgates or mudflaps too high, missing front license plates, etc. So there's not a lot of warmth there. The communities feel trapped between both sides.

While the Rainbow people espouse some worthy ideals, I can't say I agree with their methods. There are better ways of showing peace, love, and so on than by (whether intentionally or unintentionally) causing the problems that seem to be an inescapable part of these gatherings.

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