Here's a letter I wrote to Gametone Mic from a Rainbow Gathering. I left it almost completely unedited because, in my opinion, it does a reasonably good job of capturing the flavor of one of these events, at least as it tasted to me. I fixed a couple of "handwriting typos", and I made one or two changes where I absolutely couldn't resist.
A little background information: A Rainbow Gathering is a congregation in a state or national forest of 500 to 30,000 hippies, and it lasts anywhere from a weekend to months. There are local chapters ("families" or "tribes") of Rainbow types, and they have "regional gatherings" all year, and one big national gathering in August. It is referred to simply as "The National", and is discussed reverentially until the next one. Some people do nothing but travel from Gathering to Gathering, and they are said to be "on the Rainbow trail". I wrote this letter from my first and possibly last such gathering, in September '97.
Greetings from the Colorado Family Rainbow Gathering. A strange beast these things are: I got here during "seed camp" (before the official start date of the gathering) and so was privy to watching two hundred heavy-duty hippies attempt some semblance of organization and cooperation. They clearly model themselves on native Americans, making decisions at "council meetings" where all sit in a circle and the speaker is theoretically limited to whomever holds the feather. The reality is closer to outright bickering, with certain people trying really hard to get everyone else to follow them. People make these big impassioned speeches, even coming to grand tears, but you can see its all pure ego. I am constantly reminded of the movie Life of Brian, when you see all the would-be Jesuses yelling their heads off trying to get someone to listen to their nonsense. And when they see no one's listening the funniest part they go right back to silence and complete unanimation.
A snapshot: Two days ago a council meeting was called. Matt and I were lounging around the car (Carcophany) [my car's name] and this guy who I now call Connecticut comes up to us blathering like a madman about how we need a council and would Matt and I play drums to call it into session. This guy has short dirty blond hair (now much dirtier than natural) which is still cut in the preppie suburban way, but is of course disheveled and his eyes are so blue they're almost white, like a husky's. Every time I see him he's running around like a lunatic, affectedly calling everyone his children. He explained the reason for the council: yesterday a council met to discuss someone's having molested a 13-year old boy, and they decided to expel the child molester from the gathering. Which wasn't the problem. The problem, as Connecticut saw it, was that the council was too small. "It was twenty people. Why not thirty? Forty? Fuckin ridiculous."
So the circle forms in the middle of a grassy meadow. (The whole gathering is on an alpine plane 10,000 feet above sea level, with snowy mountains to one side). Slowly people get around to the issue, but then some guy dressed entirely in military fatigues with a machete strapped to his waist suddenly comes to life with the idea that the molested boy's father is hiding in the woods with a sniper rifle. No on pays him much mind so he starts getting right in people's faces yelling in his Vietnam-vet way: "Do you know what a god damn A 457 is? Well it's a sniper rifle, buddy, and it'll take your ass out at a range of 3 miles!" That's a big thing here, people yelling in your face about how dangerous this or that is.
Anyway, nobody pays him attention so he finally shuts up. People tell him to stop being "agro" and to "stop manifesting", both of which mean loosely to not be aggressive and hostile. Then another budding maniac gets into the circle, all fat with no chin and a much too big walking stick, and starts waving his stick in the direction of the supposed sniper. But he too is eventually shouted into silence.
The mood is of course tense, and the feeling is exacerbated by the periodical sound of the hundred or so dogs present breaking into fights. First you hear barks escalate to yelps, then a flurry of barks as every other dog joins in, then shouts as people try to break it up.
Next a woman comes running into the circle, yelling in such thick Rainbow slang that I can't understand her, and everyone gets up and runs with her. Turns out a "brother" (all men are "brothers", women "sisters") has gone berserk and is destroying one of the "kitchens". Which of course sets all the dogs off to more barking.
And all this was just normal behavior at "seed camp". And it was made all the more ironic by everyone's constantly telling each other "love you, brother." When you arrive, people say "Welcome Home!" and hug you, and people actually shout to no one in particular "I Love YOU!" and someone inevitably responds from deep in the woods "Love You Too!" When you pass people on the paths they say "Lovin you, brother." And so on. Which is why it's all the more weird that any time there's an opportunity someone tries to boss people around. If you're sitting at a fire with six people, one of them will start yelling at someone about the dangers of drinking the water, or about what meaningless chores have yet to be done. But then they'll leave with a "love you guys".
It's almost funny, but really it's intensely sad, as these guys are really trying to work together and be nice to each other, but they just can't. It makes you think that human cooperation on any larger scale is simply impossible. (Unless, perhaps, if the society was matriarchal: it is always men who are responsible for the Bossiness . . .)
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