From the July 2001 Idaho Observer:

We have a tendency to get angry at the dominant media when it steroetypes ourselves through gross exaggerations, distortions of fact or pure fabrication. But we have a tendency to accept the dominant media stereotypes so long as they are directed toward an individual or a group of individuals that we do not know or understand. Bingo. That is the job of the dominant media: Get people to fear, hate or distrust other people. Why? Because while we are all blaming each other for what ails society, the real culprits are carving our country up into little pieces where they are being salted away in offshore bank accounts. Think about that the next time you form an opinion about a group of people or a person you read about in the “puppet press.”

In the Meadow at the Rainbow Family Gathering

by Dr. Gary Trexler and Jan Blum

We knew nothing about The Rainbow Family. We didn't realize they have been fighting for the right of the people to peaceably assemble for 30 years. We had certainly never attended a gathering. But from our experience as Patriots, we have become all too familiar with the propaganda from the Puppet Press. When the media started talking about The Rainbow Family Gathering in Idaho, we quickly recognized the familiar rhetoric. Frankly, it made us mad. We didn't believe the news reports, so we decided it was time to go see for ourselves.

We had our expectations; we had read about how clogged the roads would be and how the freeloading hippies were putting strains on all the local law enforcement and emergency services. We heard all about the stereotypes: The candy bars and free meals that would be stolen from local businesses; dirty hippies on drugs; their vehicles held together with bailing wire.

We stopped to fill our tank in Idaho City. A sign on the door declared, “Only 1 Rainbow Person in the store at a time, and no packs allowed. Thank you.” When asked if their business had increased, the fellow at the cash register said, “Oh yeah.” This same cashier was lamenting to all customers within earshot, “Wasn't it terrible that the Rainbow people killed that moose.”

Locals love the moose. When we later checked out this story with the Fish and Game, we found they have no record of any such incident. This unsubstantiated rumor was nevertheless effective in mis-shaping the locals' opinions.

It was at this gas station that we met our first Rainbow Family folks in the car behind us at the pumps. We struck up a conversation and asked them if we could follow them to the Gathering. They agreed and we were off on our adventure. Our expectation about the horribly crowded highways were dashed by the reality. There was no traffic congestion - in fact, it was unusually quiet. Oh, and the throngs of hitchhikers? We passed two couples with their thumbs out. That's it. A sign in Lowman glowed, “Welcome Rainbows.” We still had 33 miles of highway and 20 miles of dirt road to go.

It was a good thing the folks in the car ahead of us had agreed to guide us in. On our Boise Forest Maps we had located Cache Creek, but the Forest Service signs at the actual turnoff were illegible and there were no handmade signs indicating the turnoff from the highway. The only indicator was a small pile of stones. At the turnoff, our guide car stopped to change drivers. As we rolled down our window to say thanks, they warned us about police blockades ahead.

Bouncing over the dirt road, the spirit of the Gathering began wafting toward us as we encountered vehicles driving out to the highway loaded with well-wishers. They would wave and sometimes holler, “We love you” or “Welcome home!” At one point, we came to a halt behind a caravan of cars with passengers pointing to the sky. This was the first of several miracles we witnessed. The sky was overcast - frankly, it looked like a criss-cross of chemtrails. We wondered if the suddenly environmentally concerned government could be spreading its chemical welcome over the heads of the Rainbow Family. But what we saw, as our eyes followed the pointing fingers, was an actual rainbow. It was flat, rather than curved, as it shone out its brilliant colors. The passengers pointing to the rainbow were garbed in equally brilliant colors.

The scenery was breathtaking - open meadows filled with wildflowers, winding creeks, mountain vistas, iridescent skies. As we approached the end of our 18 mile trek from the highway, we knew we were getting closer because we encountered more and more Forest Service Law Enforcement trucks and Sheriff vehicles - 15 or more plus another handful of regular Forest Service trucks. Suddenly, we were there. A small handmade sign proclaimed, “Home” with an arrow. And we could see a sea of cars neatly arrayed in a parking area.

The first thing that struck us was the total absence of any parking lot attendants. No one was directing traffic and yet it all proceeded in a peaceful and orderly fashion. Over 5,000 vehicles parked in rows with plenty of room to maneuver in and out. It occurred to us to survey the vehicles to find these “old beat up cars held together with bailing wire.” Hmmm. Maybe we were at the wrong place! Over 90 percent of the vehicles were newer models of cars, vans, and a few campers. We did see a few of the expected school buses and the ever-present VW's. We never did find the bailing wire.

As we set out up the trail on foot, we were joined by a gentleman just in from Tennessee. He had a large backpack and a huge front pack. He was also toting a five- gallon bucket with some drinking water in it. He has worked for community radio for several years and is an English Teacher. This is his 11th consecutive Rainbow Gathering. He was getting in late this time because he was stopped in Missouri on a routine traffic stop and the sniffer dogs went crazy over his spice can. No dope, just spices for the soup kitchen. Nevertheless, the officers decided to hold him for 72 hours before releasing him. He seemed in good spirits and wasn't angry about the incident - his focus was on being home with Family. This sentiment would bubble up throughout the day.

As we walked the length of the parked cars, we passed one garbage pile about 30' by 15' with only neatly wrapped garbage sacks piled to a depth of 2'. There were no flies. And none of the dumpsters listed in the budget of the Forest Service for the Rainbow Gathering. None of the trash was loose or blowing around. It was all in one neat pile.

On the far side of the “meadow come parking lot,” we encountered a foot trail. A handmade log bridge had been put across Cache Creek and as we walked across it, we looked into the crystal clear water of the stream and wondered about all the screaming we had been reading about. People were being extremely careful of the creek and no one was dipping into it or disturbing it directly. There were several signs along the trail, inviting Family members to “Live Consciously, Protect and Respect.” There were suggestions on the signs that dogs should be leashed and dog poop should be picked up along with instructions about latrine use, how to dispose of trash, how to obtain water, and to stay at least 100' from all creeks no matter what the activity. We did observe several dogs running loose during our visit. Our trek up the trail proved to be about a mile. At the entrance of the meadow, we encountered the first Family kitchen - serving up vegetarian as well as meat chili. We paused for awhile just to watch who was coming up the trail behind us. We began asking questions of people - had they been to a Gathering before? Why had they come to this one?

We would like to bring you with us on our discovery and experience of The Rainbow Family Gathering. We'll do this by simply writing out a series of phrases that describe what we saw and felt. Don't try to read this as a sentence or paragraph - just relax and let the images fill your mind and then we'll return to normal storytelling mode.

Our experience: Unusually clear eye contact, sweet faces, no motors, everybody on foot, some people in wheelchairs, no litter (not even a gum wrapper!), extremely clean, guitar music and drumming, occasional flute. No big signs or maps, no indication of what was where, no commercialism, free food, no trash cans, no flies, no bad odors, very positive, very happy, lots of smiles, many “I love you's,” lots of dogs, no dog poop anywhere, no barking, no dog fights, most dogs on leashes. Fabulous food, mediocre food, lots of bread, no people fights, discussion groups, people with healthy boundaries, some naked bodies (fewer than 10 among the 18,000+ people), no negative energy or loud angry voices, no drunkenness, lots of eye contact, very alert, harmony in diversity, whispers of “Welcome Home,” tie-dye in abundance, friendly nods and smiles, a couple of wedding celebrations, people asking us where we were from, people sharing stories, lots of children, children's activities, healing therapeutic impromptu interactive theater, people sharing guitars and singing, quiet, only one radio noticed, many groups with divergent beliefs -- Christians, Hari Krishna, Yoga groups, Herbalists, a lot of blending, cowboy hats, baseball hats, camouflage clothing, laughter, toned bodies, only a few fat people or soft bodies, no chain saws, mapped faces, weathered faces, old people, young people, long hair, short hair, lots of tents lining the periphery of the meadows, drums, the only selling was a little trinket trading or a few Hershey bars lined out on blankets, Yashua, Jesus, men in flowing robes, recycling, diversity, only a handful of partied out people, prayer groups, breathing groups, people walking on paths that led in all directions, periods of silence, respect, respect, respect.

In many ways, it seemed that we had magically been transported to another world. It was like a Peruvian marketplace in the Andean mountains only there was virtually no selling or buying and the people didn't look Peruvian.

The pivotal group peak occurred at dusk in the main meadow. People gathered in the heart of the meadow, forming into concentric circles for the official “Dinner Circle.” Brief announcements were made - things like emergency messages to specific people at the Gathering. The group stood and clasped hands for a prayer to Jesus. As the amen ascended, the group broke into a sustained “OM” for probably 5 minutes. And then the food appeared! It was dispensed from ice chests full of soup or salad. Volunteers carrying large sacks handed out various types of bread. Free-lance, impromptu theater troupes made their way through the wide aisles between the circles, dancing, chanting, laughing, and generally being happy. Many announcements were also distributed this way. If people had received citations, there was legal assistance through the Free Assembly Resource Fund at 877-278-7110 and their website at Announcements were also made about things that had been turned into Lost and Found.

As we turned to leave the circle, we made our way to the only “official” Rainbow Gathering center - the place marked “Information.” There were sheets hanging from lines with hundreds of scraps of paper pinned to them - a makeshift bulletin board. Yesterday's Idaho Statesman was posted. Notices of different groups around the camp and where to find them were posted. We paused to talk with “Roadrunner” and several other people at the Information Booth about their experiences. We identified ourselves as reporters from The Idaho Observer. They nodded, “Sure, we have a copy of that right here!” Two other reporters were already at the booth, asking skeptical questions. They were informed, “It's a lifestyle. Walking lightly and not leaving a trace.” The Rainbow people talked about respect. They explained how important it is for them to, “get away from Babylon, get off the beaten track.” They expressed their need to be free from commercialism -- to be where everything didn't hinge on selling something.

Roadrunner shared a story about how he had approached a Forest Service officer and asked what church the fellow went to. The Forest Service guy answered that he was a Presbyterian. Roadrunner then asked him how he would like it if he and some of the other Rainbow Family members showed up with guns at his church. The Forest Service fellow said, “they couldn't do that.” “Oh,” Roadrunner paused, “but I guess you think its OK for you to come to my church with your guns.” Then he was quiet.

They shared stories from other Rainbow Gatherings. Rosie's Mercantile in Jackson, Montana was about to quit business. Too much debt. Then the Rainbow Gathering happened in her area. Now her store is paid for and she had enough money to take a two-month vacation plus add on to the store! They told about a farmer near last year's gathering who came and reported to them that some of his gas cans and garden hoses had been stolen by Rainbow Family members. The Family took an offering and reimbursed the farmer.

One of the Rainbow Family observations is that the officers tend to issue citations to the people who are obviously poorer so that they can't pay the fines. This results in warrants and later arrests which serves to feed the propaganda machine that the Rainbows are irresponsible and poor. This year, Forest Service people on horses blocked photo taking during an arrest. The officers on horseback were seen riding in the creek beds in the sensitive areas (crossing creeks on horseback was confirmed by the Forest Service). A disturbing pattern started appearing in their stories about the Forest Service harassing and disrupting Rainbow activities such as cleanup. Roadrunner shared a story from the Gathering in North Carolina. Members who stayed after the Gathering to clean up were handcuffed and taken to jail for 4 days for “exceeding the 14 day camping limit.” By detaining people in jail for the 72 hour allowable limit, cleanup activities become much more difficult for Rainbow Family people who take time off from work to attend gatherings and need to return home to responsibilities. He encouraged media folks to return during the cleanup period (slated to begin July 10 this year) to monitor how the Forest Service will behave during that time.

During our visit the Forest Service was everywhere present in the parking area but their presence was invisible at the Gathering itself. We did notice two small planes flying over and the Incident Command Center confirmed that at least one of them was the Forest Service taking photographs.

The Rainbow Family has a noteworthy track record for excellent cleanup and Roadrunner was concerned that the Forest Service might disrupt that record by arresting cleanup people and taking photographs of the interrupted cleanup to prove irresponsibility before the cleanup is completed.

The Rainbow folks at the Information Booth emphasized that their consciousness is that “everyday is cleanup.” From our observation, this ethic was obvious. With over 18,000+ people coming together in the mountain meadows, we did not find a single stray paper cup or piece of litter.

We left the Information Booth and meandered back down the trail to our car. What had begun as an adventure of discovery was ending with a total sense of awe. We have attended many political conventions, patriot gatherings, trade shows, and concerts. We have never witnessed or experienced anything quite like The Rainbow Family Gathering. Here was a gathering of over 18,000 people who came together for all kinds of reasons. As usually happens with groups, many attend just because it is a “party.” And yet here they were, all in one place with no leader, no group police force, and no rules.

One miracle was the order and respect we experienced in this disparate group. And yet another miracle is the positive energy that was so apparent. We are not naïve enough to believe that all those people were truly healed and happy people. Especially those who are seeking the eternal “party” tend to be running from deeper issues. Being human, we believe that a cross section of the people in any given place are carrying anger and all the other emotions we all struggle with from time to time. But here, the love and healing that was spread through the gathering lifted the spirit to a level that is unheard of in any group, much less a disparate group of that size. Perhaps because there was no official leader with “power,” the power struggles were absent.

Frankly, we are not big fans of groups. It's tough to get us to even visit a group. So we were terribly unprepared for our positive experience and the gratitude we felt as we left the Gathering. We were encouraged by the respect we had felt and witnessed by The Rainbow Family. Perhaps we need to rethink our attitude about groups. It appears that this group is not only achieving world peace through prayer, but they are starting at home with their own Family.

We drove the 18 miles out to the highway in respectful silence. As it was nearing midnight, we stopped at the closest motel and quickly realized we had returned to “civilization.” In the darkness sat three drunk people, one of them the owner/manager of the motel. With slurred speech, he informed us thickly that the motel was full and waved us down the road. Next stop, Lowman. That motel was full also. Across the river was a loud party going full blast. The stereo noise filled the valley - even over the roar of the river. We realized with a start, that one housefull of party folks in Lowman was making more noise than we had heard all day among the 18,000+ people we had just left in the meadow at Cache Creek. Our next reminder of the difference in the two worlds came as we slid between the sheets of our own bed at home. As our tired heads hit the pillows, we started laughing. It was 2 a.m. and several neighbor dogs were barking across the canyons. Maybe it was the full moon. We had moved to the mountains to find quiet. Yet we found more quiet and respect among thousands of “lawbreakers” than we find in our small canyon with only 13 homes scattered through the draws.

There is a lot more to the Rainbow Family than the stories told in the puppet press. These people have been fighting for our First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble. This is their 30th annual Gathering. They say that the Forest Service has been harassing them for over 15 years. They say, “every year we have to put up with some drama that the Incident Command Team invents.”

The Forest Service acknowledges there is a First Amendment right for assembly but they are actively striving to establish that the Forest Service has the “right to manage the time, place and manner in which people assemble,” said Sharon Sweeney, Information Officer for the Incident Command Team.

Then there is another issue. Money. As we drove up the road and attended the Gathering, we wondered who is the real problem. Is it the “dirty hippies” who are meeting to pray for world peace and feed their gathering attendees without charge during the seven-day event? Or could it be the local governments and the Forest Service who are all spending tax dollars to “manage” this event?

Money, we might add, that should be spent on much needed drought relief and fire management later in the season. These are more plausibly the true emergencies. Their “management” appears to be little more than police monitoring and does not even include any of the promised trash dumpsters. $35,500 flowed from the Forest Service into Boise County, not to mention State and local dollars, spent on a solution in search of a problem.

Governor Kempthorne and the so-called human rights groups have been trying to promote Idaho as the “human right's state” and encourage “tolerance.” The Rainbow Family Gathering exhibited more “tolerance” than any other group we can remember, while the government worked to harass the Rainbows and deny their right to peaceably assemble and pray for world peace on the national holiday celebrating what little is left of our freedom.

Fortunately the human spirit is capable of great things in the face of adversity. Rain, on an otherwise sunny day, makes a rainbow.


The unofficial Rainbow Family web site can be found at:


Gary and Jan are independent radio broadcasters who are currently taking a sabbatical from being on the air. Visit their website to listen to archived shows:

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