Volume 8, Number 14 - June 26, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
by Derek Farr
Who thought praying for peace could be socomplicated?
More than 70 people attended a community meeting at the Pinedale Library Thursday that the Rainbow Family of Living Light intended to host as an informational seminar concerning their July 1-7 national gathering in the Big Sandy area. The Rainbows wanted to answer questions about their event from Forest Service (FS) and Sublette County officials and community members.
Instead a semi-cantankerous conflict of two distinctly different cultures broke out and the Boy Scouts of America were in the middle of it all. The three-and-a-half-hour meeting concluded with everyone holding hands for a moment of silence.
The temporary solidarity came after the Rainbow Family promised to consider moving their national gathering from the Dutch Joe Guard Station near the Big Sandy River to Snyder Basin near Big Piney to accommodate the Boy Scouts.
But neither a decision nor a promise was made.
Prior to the meeting a diverse crowd of Rainbows, government officials and citizens mingled in the late day sun while a middle-aged woman in a tie-dyed dress pushed a small shopping cart and demanded to meet with a Rainbow named “Forest.”
She had no description of the person but insisted “Forest” was her ride to the gathering.
Inside the library, Rainbows arranged chairs into a circle.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Mark Rey, 23 Rainbows, the FS Incident Command Team (ICT), Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) District Ranger Tom Peters, Pinedale Mayor Steve Smith, Sublette County Sheriff “Bardy” Bardin, Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman, media and about 20 Sublette residents sat in a short-lived silence.
It didn’t take long for the debate to begin. And when it did, there was plenty to discuss.
“Some of you people, I actually like,” Pinedale resident Shane Wasem (as a citizen) said to the Rainbows. “But I don’t think you’re above Forest Service rules.” His objection is fundamental to the Rainbows’ existence. FS permits are required for groups of 75 people or more to gather on the forest but this year the Rainbow Family, which attracts up to 20,000 people, doesn’t have a permit. Instead they are working under an operating plan.
Wasem noted he obtained a permit for his family’s reunion. Then he asked Rey why the Rainbow Family doesn’t abide by the same rules.
Rey explained the FS and the Rainbows have struggled over the permit issue for many years.
“This issue of signing a permit became so contentious (the FS and Rainbows) were at risk of losing our relationship,” Rey said. He explained that this year’s operating plan is a necessary experiment because the Rainbows are not compatible with Forest Service rules and regulations.
That and the Rainbows’ inability to sign a permit are rooted in the family’s organization.
Since its inception in 1972, the group has rejected hierarchical leadership and opted to operate as a leaderless mass of individuals. They have no formal power structure.
With nobody in charge, the Rainbows claim they lack a leader to sign a permit.
It’s their power structure, or lack thereof, necessitating an “alternative arrangement” between the FS and the mish-mash of family members.
While it was a simple concept for the family members to grasp (they repeatedly insisted on being leaderless), the Rainbows’ structure is difficult for people in the “outside world” to understand.
“I’m beginning to wrap my head around organization without organization,” Pinedale Mayor Steve Smith said. “How do you deal with communication? Do you have a head messenger? Do you have a chair of communication?” The Rainbows replied they correspond through “people with radios” and while those people are not leaders they are “people who know how to communicate.”
They also have a daily “noon council” that makes decisions.
It was the Rainbows’ Spring Council held around June 10 that decided on the national gathering’s location. And as soon as the announcement was made, people started gravitating toward the site in what the Rainbows describe as an almost-irreversible migration.
The Boy Scouts
On the opposite end of the chart is the Boy Scouts of America’s National Honor Society, the Order of the Arrow (OA).
For three years the OA had planned a massive conservation service project on the BTNF slated for July 26.
They were visiting the Big Sandy area as well.
According to the OA, Scouts plan on bridgework, camping improvements, fence-building, erosion-control and weed-control projects.
The service project is scheduled to begin July 26, two weeks after the Rainbow gathering ends.
Tuesday, Boy Scouts of America announced its decision to relocate the 150 Scouts who were planning on fence removal and wildlife habitat enhancement projects near Dutch Joe.
“Due to a scheduling conflict with the Rainbow Family, who only recently planned to use the same site, the Boy Scout’s leadership has asked for this portion of their service project to be relocated to another portion of the Bridger-Teton National Forest,” said Mary Cernicek, BTNF spokeswoman.”
Cernicek said BTNF and the Scouts have been “diligently preparing” the project for three years.
A total of 1,100 Boy Scoutswill volunteer on the Forest that week.
Other Boy Scout projects are not affected by the Rainbow Gathering. They include fence removal and wildlife habitat restoration near Goosewing Guard Station near the Gros Ventre Wilderness and trail construction on Teton Pass.
At the meeting, the Rainbows admitted a small contingent of their people would still be at the site for clean-up.
While the Rainbow Family officially discourages drug and alcohol use, their gatherings are synonymous with behavior that might make an Eagle Scout blush. Clothes are optional and the Rainbows, without a command structure or leaders, are powerless to prohibit drugs and alcohol.
Regardless, the Rainbows argue the vast majority of their revelers will have departed and those left won’t be in the exact same area anyway.
That assertion isn’t changing the FS stance: The agency wants the Rainbows to move. “I can’t tell parents who spent money on plane tickets that we can’t provide the site that we promised the Scouts,” Under Secretary Rey said. “A gathering of this size has a very large footprint. There’s no way to mitigate, in an effective way, its effects with our other projects.”
There was a “high certainty” some of the Scouts are going to stay home, he added.
Rey offered to help the Rainbows move to the Snyder Basin site (the same location as their 1994 national gathering) and clean up their Big Sandy site.
“This is a red herring created by the (FS) Incident Command Team to try to embarrass us,” interjected Rainbow Michael Berg, who has a long white beard and goes by the name “Santa.”
Other Rainbows voiced displeasure with Santa’s comments.
Loudest among the voices was the family’s Chief Orator. Gary Stubbs said he would be “willing to accept that there were mistakes on both sides” but the family cannot move because it has hauled too much equipment into the Big Sandy site.
He added the incident team is staffed by overly aggressive and under-trained personnel and a move would expose family members to ICT harassment.
Rey appealed for the family to show a “spirit of cooperation” by moving. He said next year his successor might not be as sympathetic to the Rainbow Family.
The debate lingered until Stubbs agreed to advise the Rainbows to move to Snyder Basin. After a brief discussion the Rainbows concluded they would meet at “12:30-ish” for a council meeting where Rey’s request would be discussed.
A Rainbow named Greg then asked ICT Commander Gene Smithson if the family could move freely without the presence of law enforcement officers.
“I am amused but not surprised by some of the baseless allegations I have heard here tonight,” Smithson answered.
He refused to discuss the issue any further.
To close the meeting, “Bajer” asked the remaining audience members to hold hands in a moment of silence of hope and clarity.
It was dark when the meeting ended.
Bajer and another Rainbow walked out the front doors,past the ICT team and onto Fremont Street.
“So what did you think about the meeting?” Bajer asked. “Well,” his friend responded. “Nobody got shot.”
According to ICT Information Officer Rita Vollmer, the Rainbows held a council on Friday but did not reach a decision.
Saturday, the Forest Service attempted to reach the Rainbows by phone but the group’s elders were “unavailable.”
“From our understanding they intend to stay,” Vollmer said. “The group is growing larger every day. We anticipate the numbers are going to grow dramatically by the end of this week.”
Photo credits: Derek Farr
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