Love, peace, diversity - and no potties

Deseret Morning News/June 30, 2003
By Elaine Jarvik

Carla D'Amato is a Rainbow Gathering veteran, which is to say she has already felt the universal consciousness of a mountainside full of people chanting "om" while being bitten by mosquitoes.

D'Amato, who has attended nine previous annual Gatherings of the Rainbow Family of Living Light, is one of a projected 20,000 people who are expected to attend this year's event near Lyman Lake in the Uintas. She's looking forward to a week of communal living free from credit cards, bug spray and folks who look down their noses at people who wear nose rings.

But the highlight of the Gathering, say D'Amato and other Utahns who have attended previous Rainbows, is the "interdependence day" celebration on July 4, when the entire encampment gathers in a spiral circle to chant "om" while praying for global peace. The chanting breaks a morning of silent meditation and is followed by a Kiddie Parade and drum circles. Interdependence is more crucial than independence, says D'Amato. It gives her hope, she says, to watch thousands of people living not just for a paycheck and for themselves but "for each other and the Earth."

Despite its reputation, a Gathering is not just a collection of hippies, druggies and Deadheads, say Utah Rainbow members. There are also lots of religions represented, "except Catholics and stuff," says Sadie Hamagi of Moab, who has attended several Rainbows. There is even an "Elvis camp," says Art Goodtimes, a San Miguel County, Colo., commissioner, who has been attending the events since 1978.

"It's as diverse as our culture," says Goodtimes, who was a hippie in Haight-Ashbury during the 1960s. "There are ranchers, lawyers, doctors. People have died there and given birth. There are old hippies, people with massive piercings, people who are straight just coming to check it out. I'm not a fan of big crowds, but if you get 10,000 people together with the intention of peace, it's kind of magical. . . . I like to say it's the closest any American can get to experiencing tribal society for a week."

There is no entry fee, the food is free and there are no vendors selling Rainbow T-shirts. Rainbow members barter the crafts and crystals they bring from home. There is no exchange of money during the weeklong event, but a "Magic Hat" is passed around for donations to help pay for food and supplies. The lack of commercial ventures, artists grants and Porta-Potties is what makes a Rainbow Gathering different from other counterculture events such as Nevada's Burning Man, say Utahns who have attended both.

Rainbow Family members dig their own latrines and, despite the fact that the gathering is what Goodtimes calls an "anarchistic event," members police themselves.

The gathering's volunteer security system is called Shanti Sena, Sanskrit for "peace army." "If problems erupt, calling 'Shanti Sena!' loudly will bring assistance," according to a Rainbow Gathering "mini-manual" posted on one of the many Rainbow Web sites. There have been attempted rapes at previous Gatherings, says Goodtimes, but Family members have grabbed the perpetrators, shouted "This is a sexual predator, take a look at him!" and then marched them out of the camp.

Mostly, though, a Gathering is all about love and peace, he says. "You hug and kiss people you pass on the trail. You wouldn't do that on the street. If you look at people's eyes on the street you can draw strange energy. But at Rainbow, people are happy and open."

"We can open our hearts, our souls, and our buttons and zippers at a Gathering," according to the mini-manual. "We're creating again an Eden where you can be naked and without shame. This doesn't mean you can't wear clothes here, you just don't have to." The mini-manual adds that "it's a good idea to at least wear sandals. And don't space out and go into town like that."

"Nudity is the most natural thing in the world," says D'Amato, a Salt Lake hypnotherapist who will be attending this year's gathering with her son and boyfriend.

Yes, there are drugs, usually marijuana, mushrooms and "entheogens" that, Goodtimes says, help people "experience God. You'll find a lot of God experiences at the Gatherings." And many Family members are active in the movement to legalize hemp, according to the mini-manual. But "it has long been a tradition in our Family to discourage the use of alcohol at a Gathering. . . . Alcohol energy can easily threaten."

Family members also "actively discourage giving powerful psychedelic drugs like LSD to people who don't know what they're taking, or who don't have the experience and mental stability to handle them," cautions the mini-manual. "Remember also there's no guarantee on what somebody you don't know gives you on the trail. If in doubt, spit it out."

Although The Rainbow Family of Living Light is actually a nonorganization with no hierarchy or membership rolls, rules for running a safe, organized annual Gathering have evolved over the past 30 years to avoid past environmental and health mishaps such as the food poisoning outbreak in 1987 at a Gathering in North Carolina. The mini-manual's declaration that "we do not sign permits or agreements with the government" was bypassed this year when the group applied for and received a noncommercial group use permit from the Great Basin Region of the U.S. Forest Service to assemble "for expressive activity and meditation for peace."

Despite reports that the gatherings leave national forests trampled and strewn, Utahns who have attended previous events say the group works hard to clean up and reseed. "We're very mindful of leaving it better than when we found it," says D'Amato.

Rainbow Gatherings and the Rainbow Family do not deserve the bad rap they sometimes get, says Sadie Hamagi. "People think, 'Oh, dirty, grossness.' But it's all about trying to be focused on one thing: trying to heal the Earth."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.