Target: Thomas Tidwell, Chief of the United States Forest Service
Goal: Demand an end to the Forest Service’s targeting of the Rainbow Family, individuals who gather in national forests to celebrate nature and non-violence
“Thousands gather to pray for peace at Rainbow Family fest,” reads a recent headline from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Each July diverse people from every corner of the United States and the world converge in a different national forest to celebrate oneness with all life and non-life, and to pray for an end to the world’s many wars. Dedicated volunteers stay behind to ensure that each site is thoroughly cleared of every bit of trash. Despite the event’s largely peaceful and celebratory nature, the Montana Standard estimates that in 2013 alone the federal government spent nearly $600,000 on law enforcement and administration to police the Rainbow Family.
This self-proclaimed “dis-organization” has no leaders or bylaws. People come to cook and serve free food, offer workshops on local herbs, make music in the wilderness and teach newbies how to walk lightly on the land. Everyone is welcome be they tie-dyed hippie, train-hopping anarchist, CEO or Vietnam veteran. So it has been since the first national Rainbow Gathering in the summer of 1972.
Each year the U.S. Forest Service sends in an elite (and expensive) task force of law enforcement officers to ensure the safety of participants and the preservation of sensitive streams and other habitat. Yet many have questioned the legality of frequent road blocks, and of tickets for gathering illegally, public nudity and off-leash dogs so far from civilization. A particularly heinous incident at the 2008 Wyoming gathering–in which law enforcement pointed guns at children and indiscriminately fired pepper spray bullets into a crowded outdoor kitchen–highlighted the history of harassment.
Gatherings can draw crowds of as many as 10,000-30,000 people, many of them proudly counterculture. There are bound to be some crimes in any city of this size, temporary or not; but the endless harassment of innocent people, exercising their right to gather in public forests, has got to stop. Call on the Forest Service to end its targeting of the Rainbow Family.
Dear Mr. Tidwell,
Your agency spends roughly a half million dollars every year policing the Rainbow Family’s national gatherings. The vast majority of gatherers are non-violent and come to pray for peace, not to cause problems for local communities. Much has been said of the thorough job volunteers do cleaning up after the event, and of the boost attendees provide struggling economies by purchasing huge quantities of coffee, flour and other staples. While there are sure to be some issues, this can hardly be considered unusual given the number of people who participate in the annual event.
The Seattle Weekly News wrote in an article following the 2011 Washington gathering: ” ‘It’s a return to community,’ says a Rainbow from Seattle who goes by the nickname Circus Maximus. ‘It may be weird counterculture, but there’s something there that we’re missing in our e-mail and text-message lifestyle.’ ” This community has grown to include regional and international gatherings–evidence of the sincere need we humans have to connect with one another, peacefully, in nature.
The support your resource staff offer with habitat conservation is no doubt appreciated but the road blocks and endless nuisance tickets are nothing more than harassment, and a burden on taxpayers. I urge you to end the Forest Service’s expensive and unnecessary targeting of the Rainbow Family, and to spend these resources on protecting America’s national forests from legitimate threats.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: DirkvdM via Wikimedia Commons