Confronted with a divided - or as Michael John, one
of the Rainbow Guide's key figures, insisted - an evolving Rainbow, many people instinctively found themselves asking, "Where's Felipe going?"
Felipe Chavez is a Yaqui Indian who grew up in
Chicago. He was drunk on the streets of Santa Cruz
Calif. when somebody took him to his first Rainbow
Gathering. "It was a vital healing process for me in regaining my spirit," he says. "On my birthday I used to drink a
bottle of tequila." Now, on his birthday, Felipe usually
sundances, piercing the flesh of his breasts with eagle
claws or sharpened sticks, to connect himself to a "vison" tree.
Felipe chose the Alabama site and
with his wife, Lynn, and their three
kids, set up the seed camp that became
Kid Village. A seed camp is the first
camp set up by the earliest arrivals at a
gathering. Felipe and his family are
sometimes called focalizers (those who
facilitate the spread of information)
Though it serves a thousand meals a
day, Kid Village is much more than a
kitchen. There are rope swings for kids,
a macrame web strong enough for a
dozen children to tumble around in at
one time, a tarp big enough to provide
shade or shelter from the sun for 50 people. Kid Village focuses on chiildren and
pregnant or nursing mothers, but everyone is welcome. You only need to bring
a cup and a spoon and if you haven't got
that at Kid Village, you can eat out of
one of the overturned Frisbees that
Felipe and Lynn picked up at a Just Say
No to Drugs rally.
On the second afternoon of the gathering, in the shade of a great red maple,
several dozen mothers and children are
moving slowly in a circle, holding
hands while two guys bow a fiddle and
pluck a mandolin. "We are children of
the goddess," they sing together, "to the
earth we shall return."
SUDDENLY A CRY RINGS OUT IN the woods. "No guns in the sanctuary!" Then there's a whole wave
of cries of "Six up!" traveling closer and closer. A few moments later, looking abashed and blindingly uncumfortable
in the white-hot noon sun, five or six
Alabama state troopers in black leather
gloves and starched navy blues come up
the path, surrounded by a troupe of
clowns in Renaissance Fair gear cavorting
beneath a glass disco ball. Several other
jokers toss a naked baby doll named Spudweena in the air and pretend to shoot it to
the ground. A coffee-colored African
American woman in a buckskin bikini
walks beside a Alabama state trooper,
openly flirting with him. He's virtually
blushing from the attention. Shouts of
"No guns in the church" fill the air.
Though police at this gathering rarely
venture very far from the main trail,
there are at least 10 state troopers in the
camp, with their own command post,
plus a half-dozen Cleburne County
deputies, Alabama Fish and Game wardens and local health-department and
animal-control personnel. Even Alabama
Beverage Control has people on site.
The United States Forest Service has
brought in more than 50 people and set
up an incident-command system, the
same approach the agency uses for such
natural disasters as the Alaskan oil spill
and the Yellowstone fire.
According to Dennis Neill, the command system's lead information officer,
the Forest Service spent almost half a million dollars to monitor the 1992 gathering
in Colorado. "I would bet that - between
Alabama and Kentucky - we spend more
money this year," says Neill, who has an
earring and has been wearing a ponytail,
he says, "since long before I ever met the
Rainbow Family," and is serving his second
year as a liaison between the Rainbows
and the Forest Service. (For the entire
Alabama gathering there will be a total of
16 arrests, the majority for public drunkenness or for women going without their
shirts on the Forest Service road. That
comes to about $31,000 per arrest.)
Very few Rainbows seem to appreciate
the presence of armed and uniformed
"administrators"; the Rainbow Gathering
takes care of itself. Rainbow has its own
water system created each year on the
spot by a young electrical engineer named
Hawker and a team of volunteers watched
over by a crusty "spring ogre" named John
Roadrunner and his crew. A reggae band
named Jah Levi and the Higher Reasoning
donated the proceeds from a concert to
buy 5,000 feet of PVC pipe.
Since the first Rainbow Gathering there
have been communal kitchens, individual
cooking fires have always been frowned on
at the Gatherings, both for political and
safety reasons. This year there are six major
kitchens - with names like Sunrise (an
East Coast kitchen) and Everybodys (the
Road Dog kitchen, run by the most
nomadic of the Rainbows). The Hare
Krishnas have a kitchen. There are at least
25 other, smaller communal kitchens like
Tea Time which proudly serves meat (one
of the only kitchens that does), and Lovin'
Ovens, which specializes in kicking out
delicious sticky buns from their four hand
made, earthen ovens. All the main kitchens
have running water, and Kid Village even
has hot water. All of them share in the daily supply runs to neighboring farms and
markets and produce stands. All of the
kitchens pass the Magic Hat once a day to
collect "green energy" - i.e., money.
According to Kaba, one of the supply honchos who prefaced his remarks with "I've
been taking LSD for 33 years," Allah Bam
Ah, as he pronounces it, has been one of
the best gatherings ever for food.
"Diamond Dave" Whittaker, a San
Francisco pat, passes the battered felt
Magic Hat both at Kid Village and at
the main dinner Circle, waving a bony finger as he recites his Rainbow rhymes:
"How it works: Take what YOU need/
Give what you can/Where you can/when
you can/in other words, lend a hand ..."
Each kitchen is responsible for digging
its own shitters - slit latrines 4-feet deep
by 1-foot wide by 8-feet long with plenty
of loose dirt and limestone handy - and
when they're filled, covering them back
up. John Roadrunner says 100 people will
fill up a shitter in two days. A Rainbow
joke is that only holy men are allowed
to dig shitters. Health needs are handled
by volunteers of CALM, the Center for
Alternative Living Medicine. There
hasn't been an outbreak of anything
worse than the Rainbow runs since the
1987 gathering in North Carolina.
When difficulties arise in the camp,
Rainbows call in the Shanti Sena. A
Sanskrit phrase that can be translated as
"peace seeker" or "peacekeeper" or
"peace center," Shanti Sena is the name
of the peaceful "army" Gandhi envisioned. The Rainbows say "everyone
with a bellybutton is Shanti Sena."
Shanti Sena operates out of the Cooperations tepee, in a grove of trees central to the main meadow, which is the
nerve center of the camp. Dave Massey,
a carpenter and martial artist from
Washington is Shanti Sena. He's originally fram Fort Worth, Texas, and he
knows how to project an air of understated menace if he has to.
Close to the Cooperations tepee are
the info booth and Rumor Control,
when volunteers deal 24 hours a day
with the powerful rumors, or "movies,"
that sweep through the camp. Many
people were mad about the division
of the Rainbows into two gatherings (as
it turned out, about 10,000 people finally showed up in Alabama and about
3,000 went to Kentucky), and rumor
circulated consantly that a caravan of
cars was coming from Kentucky, carrying an American Indian "peace pole"
that had been in Rainbow hands since
the late '70's. The caravan never showed
up (though individual messengers were
constantly moving back and forth).
THE SECOND NIGHT OF THE GATHERING,
word of a more sinister nature began filtering
into the info booth that a man
in the camp had molested a number of
Massey was asked to investigate the
situation. "I went to find the guy," he
explains evenly, "'physically' chatted
with him and talked about the need for
him to come with me. Luckily, he was
happy to come."
About 30 women crowded into a circle
in the Cooperations tepee to await
him while another Shanti Sena - a lanky, laconic
straw-chewing Rainbow named
Duane - guarded the entrance.
According to Julia Moon Sparrow, a second-generation hippie in her mid-20s
from a small town in Northern California, the confrontation went on for several hours, and as many as 10 different
women spoke up. The guy was accused of
massaging one woman then fondling her
sexually. Another woman said he bragged
he could fuck her in two minutes. He
tried to pull a third woman into his tent.
'He was in denial," reports Moon
Sparrow, who wanted the man thrown
out of the camp immediately. "We felt
that we did not want to be in constant
fear while we were in a sacred place. He
was absolutely a threat to our safety."
Other women argued against putting
the man back out in Babylon. The guy
needed to be healed, they reasoned, and Rainbow women
are strong enough to take on the responsibility.
Ultimately, they agreed or as Rainbows like to say, "the
group mind spoke." The man could stay in the camp for
another 24 hours but he would be under 24-hour-a-day
counseling and observation. People would be watching
him when he took a shit and when he went to sleep. His
picture and his MO would be available at the info booth.
A little later, I saw the guy in a big knit cap with
dreads dangling at dinner time, walking toward Kid
Village with Shanti Sena sisters on both sides.
Everybody seemed to know exactly who the
guy was. Later that night, Massey got another call on his walkie-talkie. "The women finished counseling this
guy at 2:00 in the morning," Massey recalls. "That's when the men
were supposed to take over. But he said to me,
'I've had my gathering'; So I drove him into
Heflin, to the bus station and that was that."
BY THE THIRD DAY OF THE GATHERING, Robbie and I are being
swallowed by the heat. Flies that camouflage
themselves as bees crawl all over our peanut butter and jelly but
we're too enervated to shoo them off. He lights another
smudge stick to drive them away. Robbie makes
his own smudge from sage, and cedar, juniper
and pinion gum he gathers on the windswept
mesa where he usually pitches his tepee, just the
other side of the Rio Grande at Taos, NM.
He brought a bag of them here to trade. He's
already gotten a beautiful orange carnelian
necklace which is hanging from our tent pole
and a massage.
Using an eagle feather, Robbie wafts the
smoke upward. We watch it drift toward the
smoke hole. Robbie tries to do everything
involving smoke in a certain manner. When
he lights a joint, he touches it to his forehead
and toward the sky. He always passes the
pipe clockwise, he says, because American
Indians saw that the sun moves in a clockwise
circle around the sky.
The poet Charles Olson said that an American is a
"complex of occasions"--that is we come from every-
where. And like America the gathering is a gumbo of religious and cultural traditions. But nothing it seems is
more central than the rituals and beliefs of American
Indians. In a Rainbow circle, holding the eagle feather signals that the holder has the right to speak.
Circles themselves are the essence of Rainbow. We
form circles, Rainbows say, to bring all our relations into
a net. Before all meals and all meetings at Rainbow, everybody present circles, joins hands and OMMMMs or
observes a moment of silence. Except for the JULY 4 meditation, the biggest circle at the Rainbow Gathering is the
daily dinner circle in the main meadow.
The focalizer of the dinner circle is Rainbow Light, an
intense, blond, sunburned peace activist with deepset
eyes who hitchhikes to the gathering every year from
Santa Santa Cruz, where he organizes community gardens for
homeless people. Dressed in purple, a big red tie-dyed
heart covering his entire chest, Rainbow Light sets a
heartfelt emotional tone striding around the dinner circle waving his long arms, directing the people into concentric
circles. He then turns people to face one another.
Dinner comes out from the kitchen then, brawny
servers hefting immense tireens of rice and beans, and
is ladled into outstretched bowls.
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