Every July some 15,000 people converge on Forest Service land in a wave of buses, outdoor kitchens and non-stop music for a month-long gathering. Now, members of the Rainbow Family say a new permit requirement by the Forest Service threatens their annual get-together.


"We are faced with overzealous bureaucrats who don't know how to let freedom be," says Garrick Beck, a gem dealer who helped organize the first Rainbow gathering in 1972.


But agency officials say the permit, which applies to all non-commercial gatherings of over 75 people, is free, easy to get and will help limit environmental impacts from big groups. Forest Service officials say the Rainbow Family has a good record of cleaning up, and that they will likely have little trouble meeting sanitation and other requirements.


In the 1980s, Rainbow members won court challenges of similar rules, arguing they violated the right of assembly. Because the Rainbows have no designated leader, Beck cannot predict how the group will respond. If no one signs the permit, "we might have civil disobedience on a massive scale."


* Warren Cornwall