Rainbow Gathering lacks one color — green


When we tell folks that we have become the unwitting hosts for the Rainbow Family's annual gathering, the first response is "the who?"

As it turns out, some 20,000 Rainbows have gathered in Big Red Park, north of Steamboat Springs, Colo., in the Routt National Forest. Their Web site, welcomehome.org, styles them "the largest non-organization of non-members in the world."

My husband and I, local ranchers, are hosts because this year's get-together has taken over our sheep-grazing permit. Rainbow spokesman Bodhi, from New York City, said he chose the area because "We need a fresh water source, one main meadow that is 100 acres or larger and about 5-to-10 square miles of hippie land." Bodhi added, "We need another large meadow to accommodate thousands of vehicles."

Now, for years, we have been told that our sheep and cows are not to "lounge" in the riparian areas when they water. How can it be, we asked the Forest Service, that many thousands of people can come in, camp on a riparian area for weeks and weeks, and not worry about resource damage?

That is but one of the rubs.

Since 1972, Rainbow Family members have gathered the first week of July. They contend, with court backing, that they are exercising their First Amendment rights to free assembly. The U.S. government maintains, also with court backing, that the authorities must issue a permit and oversee the activities as they would any other group of 75 or more.

We, the bemused locals, have several viewpoints. We live under the long shadow of the Forest Service, and, I have to admit, some of us are secretly cheering the Rainbows' defiance of the federal agency's many rules and regulations. If we could only gather 20,000 of our closest friends!

We also feel invaded. Contrary to Rainbow public relations, most of the folks we see are overwhelmingly white, mostly unwashed and as likely to wear Goth black as rainbow brights. They profess peace and love, but the most visible public presence is of panhandlers, hitchhikers and numerous dogs — heavy on the pit bulls.

It is a truly American experience. The Rainbow Family, with its claim of no organization, has a better-run society than many third-world countries.

The advance "seed team" organized kitchens, water treatment, slit latrines, a first-aid tent, a children's area, and an "A camp" for troublesome heavy drinkers.

A visit to the encampment, which involved running the gantlet past a heavy federal law enforcement presence and the creepy A camp, revealed a mixed group of mostly friendly people. Many are trying to live their ideals. On July 4, they gather to pray for peace, a worthy cause indeed.

The Forest Service brought in their special-incident team, lots of law enforcement, and an enthusiasm for citing people for a variety of violations. Early on, a special court was set up in tiny Clark, Colo., to handle hundreds of citations after some Rainbow folks pelted Forest Service agents with sticks and rocks.

In our very rural community, a school-type bus headed for the gathering swerved in front of a truck hauling gravel to the local trophy ranch, causing the driver, a local, to plunge off an embankment. Since then, sympathies are not running high for the Rainbow members.

For everyone who lives in the area, fire danger at the gathering remains a real concern. The site has one narrow access road. It is very near the 1997 Routt blowdown, which left thousands of acres of downed timber, and the 2002 Hinman fire. The encampment is surrounded by red trees — some 70 percent dead from beetle kill. Yet the Rainbows have dozens of open fires even though Routt County has enacted a fire ban.

Meanwhile, the Rainbow Family and the Forest Service are at their annual impasse over a permit. The truth is, short of bringing in the National Guard and risking a Waco-type conflagration, the government will not choose to stop a Rainbow Gathering.

Where does this leave us, ranchers who have a permit with rights and responsibilities? We expect the Rainbow group to live up to its reputation for thoroughly cleaning up after itself, filling in its latrines and fire pits, and hauling off trash. Unfortunately, no one can quickly restore the trampled meadows and streams, and the grazing animals, domestic and wild, who must depend on this area for fall feed, will not find the grass restored.

The First Amendment protects the right of all of us to gather, from the Jarbidge Shovel Brigade to the recent parades of immigrants in cities across the country. But what color is this Rainbow? Many hues, none of them green.

Sharon Salisbury O'Toole is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. She is a rancher, writer and poet in the Little Snake River Valley near Savery, Wyoming.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.

Aug 01, 2006 05:50 PM

This is a thoughtful and fair-minded article but it carries the odor of local and Federal hostility to the Rainbow Gathering. Aside from the real problems created by a large crowd and a lot of talk about sex, drugs and bizarre religion, the most visible problem at the gathering was the one created by the law inforcement agencies when they began at such a late date to enforce what they claimed were violations of law related to the permit process.

This makes me curious about the permit process at the Routt county gathering. I have read about past gatherings and in the past, disputes over the forest service permitting process seem always to have been a paradoxical public show put on by the Rainbow Family to convince wannabees of the Family's cosmic status as a "non-organization" where "non-organization" is a buzz-word they use in place of "good organization". It's as if not signing a name to a Federal permit application will somehow release the organization and its followers from the wicked law of entropy.

The Rainbow Family's approach to the permit process, like its comprehensive organization of the gathering including the careful clean-up of the gathering site afterwards has always been thorough, detailed, meticulous and orderly.

The code of federal regulations says that the permit process should start as soon as possible before the event and I couldn't see where it provides for any specific time limits within which the permit process should begin or end but I have read that Family representatives begin talking to the nearby communities and the involved government agencies as much as a year or 2 before the event and that this includes talking with the National Forest authorities and asking for their help and advice.

This makes me believe that the Rainbow Family must have begun talking with the Forest Service about the permit long before the 2006 gathering in Routt county and long before the law enforcement agencies announced that they had turned down an application and that they were going to issue citations.

Why did the forest service and local officials wait until just a few days before the gathering to say that a permit had been denied and that entering the site for the purpose of participating in the gathering would be a criminal offense? I know for a fact that if people trying to get to the site of the gathering were treated like I was, there were people who, after planning for months and traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles, were being held-up by armed law enforcement officials at road-blocks just a mile or 2 from the site of the Independence Day prayer circle.

They were asked if they planned to participate in the gathering and if they answered "yes", they were aggressively told in a hostile tone that if they did "go-in" they would likely be arrested and could be fined up to $5,000 and given up to 2 years in federal detention because the Rainbow Gathering officials had not gotten a permit. They were then told cheerily to go ahead with their plans and were waved through the road-block with a pleasant, "have a good day".

When I was treated this way, I decided that I must not have understood, so I decided go ahead. The road into the site was lined with dozens of police vehicles from various Colorado state and county police agencies and the many armed officers standing near them were uniformly sullen and often openly hostile in a way to make me expect to see them making rude gestures with one hand and with the other clasping their genitals in an obscene and insulting way.

I have since read that there were several hundred citations issued in relation to the permit process and an alleged violation of the law on the part of the Rainbow Family.

This situation was obviously created by a mishandling of the permit process but I don't believe the Rainbow Family delayed making out the permit until the late date or in any other way mishandled the permit process and I don't believe they organized the gathering knowing the pemit had been denied or even knowing it was not likely to be approved. I believe the forest service delayed the denial and the announcement until the gathering had begun. I believe that the hostility of local and federal police agencies was the source of this problem. What about that?

Mar 03, 2008 12:14 PM

Many people who attend Rainbow Gatherings are opposed to the permit and the reasons are as varied as the people.  One is the first amendment which guarantess the people the right to peacefully assemble.  Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court rulled in the mid-20th century that time, place and manner restrictions on peaceful assembly do not violate the law.  

 Other reasons people oppose the permit is that it requires on person sign as a representative of the group. In a non-hierarchical environment, no one can sign on behalf of anyone else. Furtheremore falsfying information on the permit application carries a higher penality than attended an "non-permitted" gathering.

In years past, gatherers offered to work with the USFS to find a site that met the needs of everyone. However, since many of these people have since been sentenced to time in prision for being at a "non-permitted" event, the number of people willing to work with the USFS has fallen in recent years.

Gatherers have offered to have 20 or 30 or 40 people sign the permit or be USFS contacts. The Forest Service has refused to allow this.  In 2003, one brother went out on a limb and signed a permit. Then the USFS refused to discuss logistics with anyone else. It was a disaster. The gathering has 10-20,000 people and spans 2 to 4 square miles or more.  How any one person could address issues in parking, sanitation, habitat restoration, etc is insane.  While other people stepped up and offered to work with the USFS, they were told they were not the permit holder so the forset service could not communicate with them.

 All this led to Colorado, where people out doing the work chose to gather at a site without applying for a permit or discussing it in advance with the USFS.  I do not know if anyone knew about the grazing permit ahead of time. However, it was known that this area would be logged and therefore, people felt that an area that is open to logging should be able to handle two weeks of camping.

The people who applied for permits did so on their own agenda and for their own reasons - in no were the majority of gatherers applying for a permit.


Many of us took tickets and gladly went to court.  One of the outcomes of this direct action in defiance of the unworkable permit regulation was that the USFS changed their tune the following year. For the 2007 gathering in Arkansas, the USFS agreed not to require a signed permit provided the appropriate resource personnel were included in the site selection process.  


Unfortunately, even when the USFS considers the event "legal" and happening at an appropriate location, the level of harrassment and over the top behavior by the USFS law enforcement personnel is insane.  In Arkansas, they were out in force, pointing guns at people, tazering people and arresting people for broken taillights etc.

I could share information on this issue for a week and your head would probably explode. But the short answer is, the permit regulation does not accomodate non-hierarchial organizations. The harrassement by the cops happens with or without a permit.


Much love,








Mar 26, 2008 01:37 PM

i love gathering personaly. gettting sick of the nationals really. people can cry about the LEO's all they want. and really in my opinion its just an excuse. when in all honest truth the problems lies within the family itself. i've travled for seven years seen all lot have done alot. and one thing i've noticed was that people have become to believe that a national is just one huge party. where imature youths go out and do drugs and prity much not care for anything. and in a way it has. we bring new people into the nationals that believe that its all free and they don't have to do anything but bring up an arm load of wood and they'll be fine. thats how i was brought into it so nobody can't say it dosn't happen. and when you do that you end up with kitchens that are willing to start war because nobody wants to help. take out the nationals. we need seperate back to our tribes. build them up. then regroup when the time is right. stop bringing new people to the nationals if it stays. have some thought and consideration for you mother earth. and poeple stop with the drugs i know european family that are distcustid with the way we run things. we're to open. its good thing at times. but that is why the LEOs mess with us. oh yea one more thing shuag out the peace conspiracy group. its because of them the 2007 nationals were crapped. the LEOs got to choose our spot. what kind of dirty hippie sold out my freedom of choice. i am Pocket Trash. Those who know me know me for what i did at the nationals in 2006 in Colorado. this is my freeedom of speech and my opinion. I love you family.

Apr 01, 2008 11:41 AM

The Annual Rainbow Gatherings continue to spiral downward because of the lack of respect people who attend give to the land, the locals and in general to the purpose for which they state they want to gather. Sure, Praying for peace is a good thing but it is all the drugs, alcohol and outright crimes that get commit locally that detracts from the intended purpose and brings the cops. At the Colorado Gathering a bunch of unpeaceful people almost caused a riot when they tested the forest services resolve. If you look at the video there is one person with a rock for a weapon and another person calling the officers names almost taunting the police officers to shot them. This was rediculous and very much not peaceful in any sense of the word.

 As for Arkansas 2007, the Rainbow Family Scouts wanted to gather in Texas on a pay site that they had worked out with the Texas Forest Service in a back room deal. Other people of the Rainbow Family wanted to gather in Arkansas.  That's when all the in fighting started. Those scouts split and would not work with the local people who knew the area and so the sites they chose where not good locations. Most of the Rainbow Family did not attend that gathering and chose to either not attend or went to other gatherings. This is getting more common place as the Rainbow Gathering spirals out of control and focus.

These compounded problems are not caused by any single group of people nor is it because of any specific group of people who will not support the gatherings for not attending. I went to the Peace Conspiracy Gathering, a music festival kind of thing just prior to the Arkansas Gathering and the scene there was very chill and family focused. When my husband and I got to Arkansas there was no place to park, the location was in a creek and hills on both sides. There was mud everywhere and people where just plain mean including the police officers. We left that gathering after 3 days and went to a site in Missouri that was small but very kind with some loving people who shared what they had with us. After 2 days there we met some others who had come from Arkansas with much the same story to tell, there was also people there from France.

Now, I have attended Rainbow Gathering off and on for a number of years so I am not some newby. When I camp my site is always clean and other mothers tend to come and let their children play with our kids. We smoke a little herb, drink tea and visit. We are not alcoholics, loud or dirty people. We are the kind of people you might enjoy meeting and our kids are polite and respectful. We are vegitarian and try to live a life that is kind and one of our greatest joys is meeting other similar minded people in our travels. Our home is modest, we have a small garden, a tire swing and chickens. When we travel we have to make time and also save money to go places. We may go to the Rainbow Gathering in Wyoming or we may return to the places we went in Missouri.

Only time and fianances will tell but my biggest worry is that if we go to Wyoming there will be a riot or worse death. I firmly believe that is what the Rainbow Gatherings are coming to if the people who attend do not get a grip on the focus of gathering. We have children and I dont want to expose my kids to the possibility of getting hurt or worse. It is up to the people to change things otherwise we are going elsewhere to gather among good solid kind people who care about loving peaceful gatherings. If that means regional gatherings only then so be it.

Kathy Long (Mama Huggs)


Jul 03, 2008 04:17 PM

I'm tired of childish rationalizations and the disinformation campaing that the rainbow cult puts out. I know what they're doing because I was trained to do it myself. The FACT remains, the rainbows will deposit 72 tons of human feces on PUBLIC LANDS and will not take full responsiblity for the devastating environmental and cultural effects that this actions will have. The Rainbows have never taken responsiblity for the environmental impact of their numbers. If they love mother earth, why aren't they doing a service project that will help the environment. Why should the earth even have to be "rehabilitated" after they leave? Why don't the Rainbows take over the Boy Scouts project, if they're so concerned about the earth. This whole gathering is nothing but one big delusional rationalization to get naked and smoke a lot of pot. Why are these people above the law? They contribute nothing to the environmental movement. Why waste space with this false praise. Why not do a story on people who actually Do something to improve the environment. Standing around naked in a circle has no positive effect. Why does it take three days of pot smoking before and three days after to accomplish this? Why is it necessary to camp out so long? Why doens't anyone ever hold this cult accountable for its actions?

The Rainbows don't care about all the Native American objections to their sacriledge and the Rainbows don't care about mother earth. They actually thing they're the New Native Americans. They're delusional.

Don't believe the hype. Rainbows are about partying and navel-gazing and finding excuses not to WORK to change the world.  When you promote them as environmentl protectors you slight the people who are actually out their WORKING to protect the environment.

They'll all grow up one day, cut off their dreads and happily assume their role in Babylon as the spoiled PRIVILEGED WHITE CHILDREN that they are.  Publishing fluffy Rainbow puff pieces is not good journalism. I challenge this paper to go to the site on July 8th and photograph the REAL aftermath of a Rainbow event - the open latrines, the cigarette buts, the beer cans etc. Then publish the full soil and water reports when their feces starts to leek all over OUR PUBLIC LANDS!  Publish the cost that the Forest Service has to incur to finish the rehabilitiation. Publish the cost of unpaid medical bils. Publish the amount of social services these people will take from the needy people in the county - mostly Native American I woudl suspect. Give the public all the information they need to make up their own minds. Stop mindlessly repeating Rainbow the PROPAGANDA!

lies and propaganda...
Aug 15, 2010 02:17 PM
Thank you for judging me. That is why I exist, because if false stereotypes. I am white this is true. But I am not spoiled, nor did I come from a rich family. Truth be told, the rainbow was the only family i ever had that didnt beat me.So as for what you said about being priviliged, it's bull. Maybe other races dont disenfranchise their children as willingly. But rainbow isnt about color. It is about the color on the inside shining thru. It's about being allowed to come from a different background, or walk of life. It's about being different in order to be one.And if burying 2000 latrines isnt work, if water runs for over ten thousand people isnt work, feeding that many people, cooking all day to make sure no one is hungry, that isnt work, then yes, we are lazy, and it is a cop out. If we arent doing anything important with our lives, then why were we doing relief for New Orleans? why are we doing relief for oil spills, and feeding flood victims. Before YOU propagate, make sure you know us a little bit better.
Jul 07, 2008 11:15 AM

I was there and though I support the family and the rainbows, the drainbows give everyone else a bad name. You know that is true in any group there are bad seeds everywhere and I am not responsible for all of them.

Whether you believe what they believe or not, they are citizens and they have the right to gather. There's all kinds of people I personally wish would not mate up but it is supposidely a free country.

 I spent my three days there burying peoples waste and cleaning. I was saddened by it and left with a heavy heart.

 I went to Yellowstone right after and saw a whole bunch of people gathering. They looked like the tin tipi clan to me. They were throwing garbage everywhere. They were consuming a nations worth of gasoline in their huge rigs. They trampled through closed off sesitive ecological areas and threw pop cans in the guisers.

The police did nothing. I even saw one cop help one of them find their way.

 I dunno, I left there with a much heavier heart then when I was at the rainbow gathering. What those people were doing to mother Earth was attroscious and no one cared.


rainbow gathering
May 29, 2010 08:53 PM
I guess I wonder about the impact this many people driving to and from where ever the gathering takes place is having on our environment.Imagin the gas bill on that whole parking lot.It would seem fitting...in stead of encouraging mass travel and spending 3 weeks singing dancing and just hanging out if people would contribute some of their time and intelegence to developing alternatives to the gas oil engin because between the gulf war and the gulf of Mexico the petrolium method of transportation is swiftly depleting itself in waste with out our help.Oil vs peace should be a no contest.Think of the big picture ..
We already survive and all live together in a vast wilderness.Not a moment nor any effort should be considered wasted in an attempt to preserve the planets integraity.
oil=environmental hazzards,wars,both damaging to the planet.
Rainbow minus green
Noel Newnam
Noel Newnam
May 30, 2010 05:59 AM
Really--if "the family" has such a good "non-" organization, then it's time they stepped up and enforced their ideals not just at the gathering, but on the means of participants getting there. Then do what any other organization would do for a gathering of that size: hire and/or train your own group of "law" enforcers ("law" meaning a social contract of some form, and don't say you don't have some, albeit unwritten). You can't demand that industries police themselves if you're not willing to do so. A truly national or global "family" would be accountable for its effects throughout that nation and globe. Ban cars and vehicles that burn fuel at below a certain rate; give preference to "car-poolers". In fact, have a set of standards that must be met for attendance: coming in a car pool, or volunteering x number of hours in keeping a "peaceful" order, or providing needed resources, or help with logistics. If you allow irresponsible freeloaders, then your family becomes dysfunctional, and disrespects nature's order. Your people have to be willing to give something in order to enjoy the benefits. Some group has to take responsible steps, or irresponsibility will reign. See the second law of thermodynamics; look up the rules of goal-setting, because there are higher goals here, unwritten or not. You can't be afraid to say "no" to people who aren't there to be a part of the family. Time to evolve.
um... no
Aug 15, 2010 02:21 PM
with no leaders, who would enforce these vehicuar restrictions, with no counsel, we wont consent to these changes bring your suggestions to counsel, and we will hear them, and tell you why it will not work in a society where respect rules, not leaders, where love guides, not law.
respect and love
Noel D Newman
Noel D Newman
Aug 15, 2010 03:10 PM
Do you really respect air pollution and the damage done to the environment? If you really love your ideals, why doesn't a volunteer group make an effort to educate all the participants on what they are? There are many kinds of love. If you were the one being a drainbow, what would you want those with love and respect to do to help you learn to live with respect and love? Do unto others...so you'd have others let you behave disrespectfully?
Rainbow family hues
Wayne Hare
Wayne Hare
May 30, 2010 10:30 PM
Well, which is it? "Overwhelmingly white" or "many hues"? Can't be both.
Jun 24, 2010 02:57 PM
"this year's get-together has taken over our sheep-grazing permit"
this pretty much shows this free loaders
bias and discredits every thing she has to say
Aug 15, 2010 02:03 PM
Being a rainbow for many years, I understand the many issues involved with choosing a site, one of them being space. And not just space for us, but Other land, not being used by us, in the are for animas to A. migrate to upon our inhabting this space, and B. for ranching/grazing to continue on, after having possibly reduced food sources. The lands we use are generally enriched a year later, but what about now? For now, burning the down dead wood prevents future possible fire hazard, and I didnt see you mentioning that.