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Rainbows Celebrate Mother Earth On Fourth Of July

Nina Keck
Rainbow family members Madia, Chris and Five Star Mike are looking forward to celebrating the Forth of July in a more back to nature way that honors the Earth.

Many Americans will celebrate the Fourth of July at barbecues or parades, or at band concerts or fireworks displays. But for more than 5,000 members of the Rainbow Family, who are celebrating Independence Day in Mount Tabor this year, the Fourth of July is a very different kind of holiday.

The Rainbow Family is a loose-knit group of peace activists with members all over the world.  Each summer, they hold a gathering on national forest land to reconnect and celebrate Mother Earth.

Credit Nina Keck / VPR
One of many signs at the national Rainbow Family gathering in Mt Tabor. More than 5,000 people are camped out at the event.

They create a musical, friendly atmosphere, a temporary tie-dyed city in the wilderness, where people cook up venison chili and bake bread in community kitchens and campsites are connected by a network of dirt pathways.

Madia, a Rainbow member from Buffalo, stops on one of those pathways with a group of friends. “I think America is very corporate America for the Fourth of July,” she says. “They go to Wal-Mart and buy red, white and blue table cloths and stuff. And we’re more about celebrating the land and the natural aspects of it, more like the way the natives would celebrate the holiday,” she says, smiling. “We’re more about the family vibe.”

Feather Sherman, a 68-year-old mother of five, has been coming to Rainbow Gatherings since the very first one back in 1972.

“The peak of the gathering and why we come is for on the Fourth of July,” she explains. “We start the night before. We ask all the drums to be quiet and everyone observes a silent meditation for world peace starting early in the morning.”

“We make a big circle in main meadow, which is right here,” says Amanda, a Rainbow member who traveled to Vermont from Minnesota. Pointing to a beautiful green field behind her, she explains the meadow is “where we meet to eat, greet, drum circles at night, everything. And we form a huge circle of thousands and we just om,” she says explaining how people meditate out loud.

“It’s more of 'om-ing' for peace and love and just being together . . . that’s my favorite part,” she says, smiling.  "You should come," she says as she walks away. "Oh, and welcome home!” she calls out.

Credit Nina Keck / VPR
Feather has been coming to the national Rainbow Gatherings since the very first one in 1972 and says the prayer for world peace on the Fourth of July is what brings her back year after year.

These gatherings are not without controversy and run-ins with local law enforcement. As of July 3, the National Forest Service reported 182 warning notices and 164 violations had been given, most having to do with traffic and drug violations. Rainbow members have complained that local law enforcement has been overly aggressive and has infringed on the group's freedom to assemble.

But Feather says anyone who wants to really experience the Rainbow culture should join hands with them and feel the power of their annual Fourth of July circle.  She says the quiet is broken when the children of the gathering, along with musicians, parade into the ring’s center. “And then we go, 'Yahoo!'” she shouts. “We come down into the middle and out come the drums and the dancing and families sit together and we feed each other watermelon, and we play with the babies, and that’s what we do on the Fourth.”

It’s magical, she says, and it’s what keeps her coming back year after year. 

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