On a recent afternoon stroll along Higgins, my girlfriend and I passed a couple of folks and their dog, sitting in repose on the sidewalk, with seemingly all of their possessions. Their appearance was disheveled, but their vibe was light and their faces optimistic. Then I noticed their sign, which read, "not rainbow, just hobo." As if that is somehow a positive contrast.
True, the Rainbow gathering has been a hot topic this summer, and it seems at times that popular opinion, as well as articles both in print and online, consider the gathering an unmitigated disaster. In general, the Rainbow Family seems to have garnered a reputation as a rough collection of jobless, homeless, sketchy, vapidly arrogant, drug-addicted, aggressive panhandlers that exude a mysterious sense of entitlement. A blight upon our fair, hardworking society. Well, occasionally I would say that's pretty fair, at least as an assessment of what people often see out here in the cities. However, as someone who has attended 15 Rainbow Gatherings, both regional and "national" (national simply referring to there being one really big one in the states each summer), I can tell you it's quite a bit more complex than that.
For starters, despite various casual media commentary discussing "official dates of the gathering" and the like, no such official dates exist. The Rainbow Family of Living Light, as it is unofficially known, is actually not a group at all. It is a spiritual and social movement, an outgrowth of the well known hippie era of the late '60s and '70s that now, in the minds of the mainstream, dwells in the realm of counter culture. Really, it is just a different culture, a tribal culture, like you might find in other countries or in this one perhaps a hundred years ago. It is not clearly defined by any constructs of organization, such as forest service land use permits or dates. True, the main part of the national gathering is July 1-7, but that is only a temporal guideline. People arrive much earlier than and stay much later than that week. There is no gate, no admission, no money exchanged (except discreetly between individuals), no explicit rules and no judgment of individual behavior (except that which occurs in one's own mind). It is not a festival. It is not an excuse to do acid in the woods with naked people, although that does occur. It is, as is suggested by the name Rainbow, a broad spectrum of opportunities, experiences and energies. It is a chance to create a totally unique version of yourself, if only for a few days or weeks, against the unspoiled canvas of wild meadows and forest. It's a place where kindness really matters, where artistic endeavors are social currency and where fun, love and laughter reverberate amidst the ebb and flow of drums, flutes, sitars and wildflowers. It is a place where saying "I love you" to total strangers before 8 a.m. and meaning it with all your heart is completely normal. It is a place where moments of spiritual transcendence are encouraged. It is a place where you can be whoever you want. No strings. Just the uninhibited dance of life set to the music of the soul. Haters need not apply.