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Further Letters on Rainbow’s Origins

by Jodey Bateman

[from an unpublished book]

This is from the introduction of my book on Rainbow about the context of the times when Barry Plunker (of Marble Mount Outlaws) met up with Garrick Beck (of Temple Tribe) and they began to plan the first gathering.

In May, 1970, the radical youth movement reached its height. When the USA invaded Cambodia, the National Guard killed four anti-war demonstrators at Kent State University in Ohio and two at Jackson State University in Mississippi. Student strikes closed down over 400 universities and colleges across the country in protest against the invasion and the killings. That was the week that Chuck Windsong, who was deeply upset about the killings, went into the forests of Washington to camp out with his cousin Barry. Barry had left Haight-Ashbury long before and was now helping draft dodgers and deserters escape across the border into Canada. That week of student week of invasion and killings and student strikes, Barry and Chuck started making plans to invite everyone who would come to stand in a circle on a mountaintop on a Fourth of July.

It took over two years of preparation before Barry, Chuck, Garrick, Karen, Jean Vision, and the others could have the silent circle at the first Rainbow Gathering in the mountains of Colorado on July 4, 1972. During those two years, the left-wing movement went through a period of decline. Already in June, 1969, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the main radical youth organization, had split at its national convention. SDS chapters around the country had mostly refused to follow any of the rival factions. Thus, the student strike of May, 1970, was not coordinated by any national organization and there was no way of keeping the energy going.

By this time, large numbers of SDSers and other leftists were mentally and physically exhausted from five years of working against a war that went on and on. In May, 1970, there was hope that the revolution – or at least the end of the war – would come soon. By that fall the hope was dying down. Some places the hope died later than others. In outlying areas, young people were just starting to turn onto the counter-culture and the vague hope of the revolution that had come to them at second and third and tenth hand from the radical youth organizations, while in the main centers, the hope was dying. There was a brief surge of hope again around the May Day anti-war demonstrations of May, 1971, but the hope died down again.

The left-wing people who had provided the moral leadership for the counter-culture went out of action. Some went to graduate school, others to a piece of land in the country and others to heavy alcohol and drug use. Some kept on with the struggle, but the media weren't paying attention and the goals looked further away than ever. In 1972, an article in U.S. News and World Report noticed that as protest died down, crime in campus areas was increasing. With no more goal of a revolution to give a moral purpose, the dropouts and runaways in college fringe areas started stealing more and more. As trust broke down, students and other people were no longer ready to give them a place to stay. The use of LSD and other psychedelics declined. There was a big increase in the use of alcohol, downers, and heroin. Apparently in most people, psychedelics inspire bright, hopeful visions and when people no longer believe they can make these visions into reality, they prefer to blot them out.

As young people lost hope that the revolution would come soon to transform the world, many came to believe that Jesus would come soon to do the same thing. Jesus freak groups grew rapidly in counter-culture communities. They usually disapproved of some things that were considered basic in the counter-culture – pot smoking, non-married sex, and protesting against the war. The basic viewpoint of most Jesus freak groups was socially conservative. Although most Jesus freaks did not think of themselves as political at all, they disapproved of protest – anything that might hint that people could make the world a better place by their own efforts. Only Jesus could do that at his coming. Jesus freak groups gave young people stability and hope as the counter-culture communities around them fell into moral chaos, but they didn't have the kind of moral leadership in the counter-culture that the left wing groups once had. The Jesus freaks did not see their job as improving the scene, but as helping their converts to be in the scene but not of it. The same thing is true of the numerous eastern religious groups such as Krishna Consciousness that began to flourish at this time. They regarded the counter-culture not as something good in itself that should be developed, but as a hunting ground for converts.

Among the Plains Indians when they were conquered by the whites, the Ghost Dance arose – the faith that an Indian Savior would appear who would renew the earth and bring back to life all the Indians that white guns and diseases had slain, and all the buffalo the whites had destroyed. It would be sudden – all that would be necessary was to keep dancing the Ghost Dance – making that energy circle and dancing until very soon the power came that would redeem the land for the Indians. For some, the first Rainbow Gathering in Colorado was a Ghost Dance for the hippie movement.

On July 3, 1972 Phil Coyote looked over the thousands of people he had helped prepare the way for in the Colorado mountains. These people had dared a National Guard roadblock to gather at the foot of Table Mountain, a holy mountain of the Arapaho Indians, ready to go to the top on the Fourth of July and make the silent circle as the spirit had said. The counter-culture was in decay. The non-religious protest movement that had given it purpose was too weak to stop the decay. So a spiritual renewal movement had brought these people to the Rainbow Gathering at Table Mountain.

Phil tells his hope at that time – the hope of many who came – for the immediate redemption of the counter-culture, a vision straight out of the Ghost Dance: “I thought it was the end of an old world, the start of a new one. We expected things at the gathering too quick. We expected that the fences would come down around the world, the prisons would crumble, the cities would be gone and the buffalo would come back and Christ would return.”

The next day, the great circle on the mountain was held. There was no big, sudden, universal change. Phil Coyote comments, “A lot of different people went up to Table Mountain to wait for the world to end. It didn’t.” But Phil didn’t go up the mountain to see what did happen. Apparently Table Mountain is a center in a mountain complex that might be compared to a human nervous system. This center would amplify the energy raised by this huge circle of intensely praying silent people as they gathered on the day of independence with the sun directly overhead. Many Rainbow people deeply enjoy the release of energy done by what Light Owl calls “a lot of strong praying.” JaySun apparently considers the “boogying and praying” he did in Colorado to be different aspects of the same thing.

The human energy was apparently supported by the energy from the natural world, The deepest feeling of Rainbow people seems to be that the inmost energy of humans, the sun, the mountains, and the other natural objects is the same as what has been called period or spirits. Chuck Windsong told me, “Barry and I seen Christ appear on Table Mountain. At every gathering people have seen him ascend.” I asked Chuck did he mean descend, but he insisted Christ' ascended from the earth. In other words, the earth we are on now is a sacred place as much as any far-off heaven or different state of consciousness. This sacredness is recognized in many ways, from praying on a mountaintop to picking up cigarette butts and waste paper from the ground after the gathering is over.

I have used the word energy a lot. It is a frequent word in Rainbow. Someone will tell a friend, “I like our energy.” Matt would not use cocaine because the greed of the coke dealers “fucked up the energy around the cocaine.” Once when somebody started to crush a cockroach on a blanket at a gathering, the blanket’s owner, nine-year-old Erica, came running to prevent the insect from being killed. “No!”; she shouted. “I don’t want that kind of energy in my blanket!” The world is felt as all alive with everything radiating energy – good or bad – that can connect it to everything else. And there is trust that the most basic energy is good.

Of course not enough energy was raised on Table Mountain to transform the world in a moment. But there was enough generated to begin to drive away the darkness that had fallen on the counter-culture. A long, slow process began there of individuals changing and communities trying to form, using the Rainbow Gatherings as a focus. It is not being done by a spectacular, apocalyptic force from the outside, but by slow, steady work – like digging a latrine at a gathering. The Rainbow Family links together many thousands of people – more all the time. The Family is assuming the moral leadership among counter-culture youth that the left-wing groups had in the sixties. When I hitch around the USA, many young people who pick me up have heard of the gathering and wish they could go. If they know nothing else about Rainbow, they believe it stands for share what you have and don’t steal.

Jackson Phelan was one of the people who was sent out by Don Kelsey – called Mountain Don in Barry Plunker’s book, Where Have All the Flower Children Gone? Jackson and the others went out to ask everyone they knew to come to a gathering in the mountains near Nederland, Colorado in the summer of 1968.

Best wishes, Jodey (postmark 1/28/91).

There were rumors that an asteroid called Icarus was going to hit the earth and that the safest place would be there in the mountains around Nederland, near Boulder. However, Jackson says that Don Kelsey never said anything of the kind and he [Jackson] never told that to anybody.

Jackson went to the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers! – they were a group of anarchists who lived on the lower east side of New York. Ben Morea of the UAW/Motherfuckers was at the June 1967 convention of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and in December, 1967 U.A.W./Motherfuckers was recognized as a chapter of SDS.

The Motherfuckers had a group of young people staying with them who took on an identity of their own as the STP family. The STPers went to this gathering in the Colorado mountains that Don Kelsey called. John Johnson, now well-known in Rainbow as John Buffalo, met the STP family there in Colorado in the summer of 1968 and he became part of STP. He does a lot of the security for Rainbow now, and hopes to do a kitchen.

Barry Plunker and his first wife Ellen were at that gathering in the mountains that Don Kelsey called. They went on to New York. About 2,000 people in all showed up that summer. Some vigilantes came and tried to make them leave. They hit Don Kelsey over the head with a rifle. However people stayed camped there near Nederland all summer and through the fall.

Jackson Phelan says that he stayed in Boulder over the winter. He worked part of the time in a restaurant. [Then] that summer of 1969 the gathering started up again in the mountains near Nederland. Barry Plunker hitch hiked from New York sometime in late June and early July. Jackson says he believes it was before the space ship landed on the moon [on 7/21/69]. He went camping in the mountains with Barry. Another person showed up who was important in the early days of Rainbow, Michael Bison Bear. He had been to the Woodstock festival [of 7/69[. He left the gathering in Colorado and went off to the Big Sur region of California and camped with the Salmon Creek Family [around late Aug. 1969]. Barry left Boulder shortly after that; he went to Alaska and then down to Big Sur to be with Michael Bear and the Salmon Creek family. When hunting season began in early fall, the Salmon Creek Family started being harassed by hunters so they moved up to Marble Mount, Washington.

Barry and Michael Bear and part of the Salmon Creek Family became the Marble Mount Outlaws. They set up the camps called Love One and Love Two and Love Three to take draft dodgers and deserters across the border to Canada. They went down to the Renaissance Fair in Portland, Oregon and met up with Garrick Beck and the Temple Tribe and began the discussions with him that led to the Vortex free rock festival near Portland over Labor Day weekend', 1970, and then (onward) to the July, 1972 (first) Rainbow Gathering near Granby, Colorado.

Best wishes, Jodey (postmark 1/28/91).

[These letters from Jodey were included in the 1996 Rainbow Anthology.]

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