Publication of the final Group Use rules was expected at about this
time, but it never came: USFS staff announced that they would be
delayed a third time, for a "few months". Then on May 18 the Chief
announced that the 'Law Enforcement' proposal was being withdrawn due
to overwhelming opposition, with apologies to the American public...
Truly amazing... Maybe the efforts made a dent: Neither rule would
take effect this summer as feared. The 23rd annual Rainbow Gathering
of the Tribes would go to Wyoming, July 1-7 on the Land -- still free,
unburdened by illegal regulation. A pretty big win, for now.
The road to the Gathering wound westward through dry foothills into
the south Tetons. On the morning of the 2nd, parking crew was out
greeting arrivals and directing cars to a grassy field. Then an easy
hike up the trail a couple of miles into the heart of the
Gathering... Welcome Home. Something was different this year: The
usual heavy police presence was not around -- no roadblocks, searches
& harassments, video surveillance, armed incursions and low
overflights as in recent years... nothing like a year ago, when the
cops set up a Command Post inside the Alabama gathering, and when a
National Guard detachment was kept out of the Kentucky site by a bunch
of young Post-Punkers, who sat down in the road in front of them!
Aside from a few routine 'hippie-stops' out on the main roads and
low-key Ranger patrols on horseback, things were very laid-back this
year. But there was another danger: FIRE.
On the afternoon of the 2nd and again the next morning, two small
blazes were put out with buckets, and gatherers took stringent
precautions; only properly-made kitchen and community fires were
allowed, and never left untended. But on the afternoon of July 3rd
events turned dramatic: The call of "Fire!" went up again and echoed
around the valley, black smoke billowed from a remote ridgeline to the
northwest, Council broke and people were moving everywhere -- some out
of the woods, evacuating Kiddie Village, many hustling buckets to the
springs and racing up the gap to the blaze, now crowning fifty feet
over the treetops and blowing toward the forested west ridge, sitting
there like a tinderbox. Thousands rallied to form long bucket
brigades and line crews with available shovels, axes, and bare hands.
Rangers tried to wave them out of the area, they kept coming back.
The winds turned around as if moved by common will. In a
five-&-a-half hour firefight, the flames were brought down, perimeters
were scoured for hotspots, root burns were dug & doused, the scorched
forest floor stamped & cooled. The People saved Bridger National
Forest from a major inferno... and they saved the Gathering.
On the Holy 4th, after the morning of silent peace-prayers and the
Great Circle at High Noon around the meadow, about a half-mile across
sunlit bright... ...A marriage ceremony commenced at the Peace Pole,
the drums & feet began beating, the people danced wild for fertile
rain to cool the land, the skies darkened and boiled clouds over the
valley, and It Rained... drums pummeled, the crowd howled and the
newlyweds kissed in spattering windblown mists. It kept up all
afternoon and into the evening, welcomed the stars, then the rhythms
went all frenzy and hoots rose around the valley as everyone out there
greeted a UFO that came over the south ridge, hovered high flashing
luminous hues, then disappeared. It kept going all night, the
carnival of firesides alive with music, dance, & heartsongs. As first
light reached over the mountains, the night-drummers at Main Circle
thumped in triumph and faded away; the day-drummers at Everybody's
Kitchen beat greetings to the dawn.
Something important happened in Wyoming. Three Fed Firefighters who
worked alongside the Rainbows were amazed at the level of cooperation
they saw, how determined Folks were, and how kind. Welcomed into a
circle after the fire, they offered high praise and thanks, and were
visibly moved. A Forest Service 'Incident Commander' mused at the
strange winds; he acknowledged that it could have taken their crews a
week to control this fire, and that 10,000 acres of forest had been
But beyond just stopping a fire, the Rainbow Family of Living
Light seized the high ground in the whole debate on Rules &
Rights in the National Forests. With the stellar history of
non-impacts and full cleanups on their sites, the Gatherings never
qualified as "land uses" under environmental law. In fact the Forest
Service has ignored its own guidelines under 'NEPA' (National
Environmental Policy Act) by defining short-term "group events" in this
way, to justify regulatory control. Now events have forced a major
paradigm shift: The People 'Walked the Talk', demonstrating Public
Stewardship on Public Land as a working reality and a viable policy
alternative, winning respect for tribal Consensus, and maybe
sovereignty for their Gatherings. This touches many Big Things.
Politically, it's all problematic: The process grinds on wheels of
its own -- Publication of the revised 'Group Use' rules is still
expected this Fall, and there is no indication of any real change of
intent. Similarly, Chief Thomas promised a new 'Law Enforcement'
proposal to come out around the same time, but his grand apology did
not address the Fourth Amendment threats that really matter.
The serious policy issues remain. The fact that a Cadre of
Rulemakers within USDA has even tried to justify such extreme powers
over Constitutional freedoms, and has proposed them as Law to be
systematically applied -- this is cause enough for continuing alarm.
Apparently they are still at work, writing rules, re-crafting the
language to defuse mainstream opposition but leave the tilt of power
intact. Senator Baucus (D-MT) called them "...a bunch of busybody
Beltway Bureaucrats run amok...", but they're still getting paid for
There is deep paradox in the politics: Gatherers again cooperated
with the Rangers who care for the land, and got along just fine, same
as it ever was. The official report on Wyoming should be very
positive. And there are signs that a few officials 'high & inside'
might be taking a hard second look at these rulemakings. Yet it
cannot be assumed that any Fed-Libs have bought out of their blind
belief in 'the right of the government to govern' -- they still think
it's OK to require permits for the exercise of rights, and still seek
a powerful police force with USFS badges.
Some kind of showdown will happen this Fall. Much rides on Forest
Service honchos, the play of recent events, & what they do now. There
is a sober knowledge that if the rules are pushed into law, the Big
War will rage for years with confrontations, arrests, litigations.
The Gatherings will go on, upholding Rights and holding the line on
the Land for all people, at all costs. Yet there is also a sense that
the campaign is no longer on the defensive... ...That it can build a
broad-based mandate for big changes in public land policy, that it
must do this for the ancestors, the seventh generation to come, and
"all our relations".
The Fight is on.
We have called for a new direction in USFS policy, and continue to
seek public hearings. We are launching a new letter & petition
campaign, more pressure on Congress, and a broadened outreach to
public interest organizations and media... NOW IS THE TIME.
Your ideas are welcome, and your help is needed.
If you want info or have inputs, let us hear from you. If you can
move brochures and petitions or focalize public education and outreach
in your area, we will send out a resource package to put tools in your
Please get in touch.... Call the DC Office or the Chicago Hotline and
leave word. Thanks for what you can do.
For further information, contact...
PEOPLE FOR COMPASSION AND UNDERSTANDING
PO Box 27217 -- Washington, DC 20038
PO Box 6625 -- Chicago, IL 60680
202-462-0757, 202-265-5389 (Fax)
FS Regs Page | Public Views | Government Views | Rainbow in Court
1601 Pennsylvania Avenue