Rainbow Reflections

Lessons Learned: The Rainbow Family

Living in a National Forest is a unique lifestyle that the Rainbow Family has been practicing now for 40 years. They have integrated some modern conveniences into their rituals, such as camping tents and propane stoves (when there are fire bans), but have developed some other customs that are notable to city-dwellers. Following are some lessons that we integrated at an Oregon gathering in the Ochoco National Forest.

Finding People in the woods is easy:

Although it may appear as if camps are invisible in groves of trees, locating fellow Rainbows is simple. Some camps will hang obvious decorations such as signs, tapestries, and flags. Others won’t be so obvious with visual scanning. Pick up your other senses. Sounds of drums travel long distances and sometimes people will flat out blast horns. The Rainbow Family isn’t always meek, so you might just want to yell and see who yells back. It seems yelling, “we love you,” is an easy way to get a response.

How to find people in the woods. Follow your ears and nose. Music, laughter, the smell of coffee and food will point you the right way.

How to dig a shitter (latrine):

Shitter construction is fairly straight forward–aside from the recruiting of labor to pick up a pickaxe to carve one out. However, there are a few rules. Some of these are rather important. The number one rule relates to sanitation and health of the community. Dig your shitter no less that 100 feet uphill from water–300 feet is or more is recommended. Secondly, keep your shitters far from food and kitchens.

Anatomy of a Shitter

Anatomy of a Shitter

If a fly can land on your shit, and then land right on your food, you’ll be eating you’re own shit. Bury your shit. Use lye or white campfire ash. A fly will dig through dirt to get to your poo (I’m not sure why it seems sound interesting to them) but they won’t dig through ash–it’s caustic.

The construction of a shitter involves a 6 foot wide trench, about 6 inches across, and about 2 feet deep (depending on the number of users). A pickaxe seems to be a lovely tool to get the job done in a variety of conditions–rock, clay, or dirt. Keep the dirt piled to the side (with topsoil separate for replacement) and a sealable metal can (e.g., coffee can) of white ash to the side. You can put a roll of toilet paper on a stick and, if the weather’s nice, share with whoever is roaming the woods.

People will gather around…

We  wanted to ask many questions of the Rainbow people, but it seemed that many of our questions were answered by simply observing. When tempted to ask the question “how do you facilitate community interactions?…” we observed the following:

People will gather around food, music, fire, and other fine substances.

A few rules about photography and consent:

Do not take photographs of people without consent. It is considered rude. Do take photographs of LEO interactions to be used as documentation, it is considered a service.

Do not take photographs of people without consent. It is considered rude. Do take photographs of LEO interactions to be used as documentation, it is considered a service.

A sketch of where we learned these lessons and a chat we had with a man, hitching out:

Lessons from the Ochocos

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Intentional Community Inquiry: The Rainbow Family

Rumorz Cafe at the Occupy Portland encampmentThe Rainbow Family celebrates 40 years of gathering in the wilderness and constructing decentralized temporary autonomous zones. Described by some as a modern utopia, the Rainbow Family is a cultural phenomena that continues to fascinate and impassion me. Born of the desire for peace and connection to the Earth, the Rainbow people breathed the spirit of community into the Occupy Portland camp. Rainbow’s Rumorz Cafe, a horizontal “organization” of volunteer “baristas” occupied the center of the encampment 24 hours a day for 45 day straight, serving free coffee, tea and sarcasm to the people.

“Free coffee! Free kisses. Free Bradley Manning!” -Rumorz Cafe

Take One

This summer, I attended my first Rainbow Gathering, the 2012 National Gathering in Cherokee National Forest of Tennessee.  Having never attended a gathering before, I only knew what my friend, Wild, had told me of his experiences. I expected to gather in the woods with a big group of hippies, sit in om circles, hit drums, and eat lots of free food.

I approached the experience with the intention of learning, although I had other intentions as well, including: contribution to the community, self-connection and relaxation. I did not enter the gathering with any specific objectives except to create and hold a safe space for people to read and connect to what is alive in their body, mind, and spirit.

By the end of the two weeks of occupying the woods, I found myself burnt out and a bit disappointed. While I had thoroughly enjoyed the new experience, I had not made some connections I was hoping to make—to people with years of Rainbow experiences. I discovered many challenges of living in community and maintaining peace, but I did not walk away with quotes, lists of observations, or sketches of life in the forest. These physical manifestations from learning would have comforted me in my reflections on the gathering.

Intriguing Practices

When I arrived at the National Gathering, what I noticed right away was that hippies were not the only faction in attendance. There appeared to be a great diversity of sub-cultures: train-hoppers, schwilly kids (drunk youths), crusty kids (un-bathed youths who typically live on the streets), travelers, yuppies, Buddhists, clean children, elders, and lots of unleashed dogs. Despite the diversity, the trails buzzed with tidings of “welcome home!” and “loving you family!” There was an instant sense of belonging and familiarity upon entering “Rainbowland” at the front gates.

The Rainbow people have evolved some cultural norms that fascinate me. The unregulated, completely organic ebb and flow of people at the gathering creates an atmosphere of total freedom of movement within Rainbowland. The physical barrier of being tucked in the woods requires attendees to set an explicit intention to be there.  The gifting culture produces common exclamations such as “free food in the woods!” and “random pocket trade?”

Shanti sena” is the peace-keeping tactic employed by the Rainbow family for 40 years. The method involves the calling of “shanti sena” when there is an imminent threat of physical violence, or when violence is being witnessed. The moral imperative of the call is for anyone who hears the call to run towards the scene and help to deescalate the situation. Some shanti sena calls result in an om circle: people holding hands in a circle around those engaging in violence and channeling peace through the collective “om.” Other calls utilize more dynamic tactics.

A Second Chance: A Second Glance

A few weeks ago, I emailed Finch, a Rainbow brother who had bottom-lined the 2012 Rainbow Family publication “All Ways Free.” I had collected a small sampling of art created by Rainbow people that I wished to share with him and the family at large. Finch responded to my email by informing me that he would be at the Oregon gathering August 21st-27th. I was thrilled to hear that I had a second chance to observe a Rainbow gathering in a totally different setting, with different people and new intentions.

Tomorrow Patrick and I will launch from Portland on our journey to connect with communities, such as the Rainbow Family. On day one I intend to observe the family and write a list on inquiries for interviewing family members. I also hope to do some sketching of Rainbow culture and customs. This gathering is rumored to be Rap 107 and workshop centric, which alludes to a revisiting of initial family values and setting the intention for learning (as they do every year). My kind of gig! I am excited to see what comes of the next few days.

Stay tuned for Reflections on Rainbow and accompanying art, and don’t be shocked if you don’t hear from us while we’re in the woods!

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Our Plight of Passion

As I’ve witnessed in my interaction with the Occupy Movement over the last year, humans are so full of passion and creativity when given the space to explore it. When I set down my gear in Chapman square last October, it was more than open grass: I had a blank canvas. Over the next 5 weeks, I was given safe space to express, create, and collaborate on the vision that was the Occupy Portland Library. My passion for learning, holding space for connection and intellectual creation was unleashed and unchained.

I am so grateful for the tools I learned through Occupy: to set intentions to connect with my passions, to let my affinity guide my exploration, and to exist in perpetual reflection. Being honest about my intentions and allowing safe space to self-connect was an act of resistance in itself. I’m thrilled and relieved to announce that after almost a year of freedom from the prescribed, mainstream intentions, I’ve designed my dream job: to travel the world studying, documenting, and sharing cultural practices that allow communities to thrive.

Forging a Partnership

Patrick and myself discovered this summer that we share so many similar affinities and have enough complimentary skills to facilitate a beautiful shared vision: the Mobile Learning Lab. We have found great joy in sharing our passions and holding space for others to explore theirs. We yearn to continue facilitating safe spaces in communities to communicate about values, passions, emotions, and projects.

Dynamism: A cycle of action, reflection, learning, integration, application, and action (again)

Remaining dynamic is an important element in our core beliefs. Specifically, keeping the intention of learning and growing.

It is both an honor and a burden to be an autonomous, active human driven by passion. In an attempt to remain authentic to our dreams, Patrick and I have opted out of the traditional lifestyle that would keep us slaving for a wage. Instead of answering to a boss (who may or may not share our intentions), we answer to our own intentions, the intentions to directly serve our brothers and sisters of the earth. To us, it seems insincere to model horiztonalism, mutualism, dynamism and creativity to the people through a static, hierarchical business structure. We wish to plant the seeds of a gift economy by offering what gifts we have to give and accept the gifts that others give with joy.

Horizontalism, a core belief: a flat power structure encourages collaboration

A flat power structure, where everyone has an equal chance to contribute encourages a diversity of tactics to be explored, and allows for passions to be followed.

Exchanging Certainty for Sovereignty

Our work is never doneBy daring to be the change in the world that we are looking for, we have sacrificed our physical security and comfort. We are currently being hosted by the generous people in our lives who wish to support us and watch our passions affect change. Without the loving gifts of our friends and family, we would be joining our brothers and sisters on the streets, in solidarity. Many young street dwellers I have met have chosen that life because the alternative, to serve a system that perpetuates global human suffering, is the death to their spirit.

Sadly, without the skills, resources or space to develop their passions, most people default to the predetermined methods of survival—either jobs with paychecks or asking for spare change on the streets. Patrick and I are privileged in a way that has gifted us the tools to express ourselves through art, text, digital media, and public speech. We have so many skills and talents to share—so many gifts to give! While praised by the public, it remains difficult to get what we need, in return.

Our Vision

Getting work doneWe envision visiting communities which have set intentions for learning, self-connection, community-connection, growth, communication, sustainability, spirituality, creation, and action. We wish to offer these communities the gifts of being witnessed, recorded in the people’s history, listened to, and facilitated in ways to enhance their community experience. I hope to share my artistic skills and practices of compassionate culture. Patrick wishes to share his talents with word and digital media.

Although our gifts would not be as authentic in the traditional arena (where our passions are tamed by others’ intentions) we cannot offer our gifts effectively without purchasing the tools of our trades. It is discouraging to lack these tools. Further, it is a burden for the tools we do have to be constantly at risk of being damaged in our travels.

Traveling by way of backpack and thumb is a frugal way to get around, but does not allow us the safety and comfort we seek. We yearn for a Mobile Learning Lab to house the tools and technologies we need to build media and host an online free information network for the people.

We have lost valuable possessions in our travels due to our lack of reliable transportation and shelter. In a massive rainstorm, Patrick’s laptop screen got soaked. I had to make the tough decision to leave original art behind due to lack of safe storage space and funds to mail it home.

Eli, our loyal companion

Eli the dog

I woefully made the even harder decision to find my dear travel companion, Elijah the dog, a new home because of the nature of my travels. For our objectives, the traveling scholars, scribes and posties need a set of wheels!

Don’t get us wrong; we seek not to needlessly burn more fossil fuels, but instead to be transported by the power of plants—hoping to use the skill in our network to convert a diesel engine to run veggie oil.


Maintaining Movement

This Thursday, we are setting off from Portland, by thumb, determined not to let our circumstances impede the ability of our messages to reach the people. We resolve to discover the best practices of the people and broadcast them, virally. We will spend the next 40 days (the remainder of our Indiegogo fundraising campaign duration) facilitating round one of our project, connecting with as many willing communities as we’re able to with our extremely limited resources. Regardless of whether the Universe has a spare RV, bus, or van to donate to our cause, we will still march on and use the tools we have to the best of our abilities.

For readers who are curious about our requests for resources, please view our wish list . If you think you can help, please let us know.

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Reflections on the AERO Conference

Preparing for the Education Revolution

AERO Conference Poster

Poster for the 2012 AERO conference

A week ago, Patrick, Agent L, and myself gave a keynote speech at the Alternative Education Resources Organization annual conference. This years’ tagline was “Finding the Catalyst for the Education Revolution,” a theme that thrilled us to address. More than 6 months ago, AERO extended the invitation to present when the Our School project was in full force. Being a brainchild of Occupy Portland volunteers, the decentralized organization was a prime example of emergent energy attempting to catalyze the education revolution. AERO, an organization that connects the alternative learning network, seemed eager to bring fresh tactics, inspiration and change to the alternative and institutionalized education fronts.

Patrick and I detached from organizing around Our School projects for the last few months as we took our learning from our most recent activist endeavors across the country on a national tour. When we returned to Portland in the middle of July, we were pleased to find that Our School projects had continued to develop. The Community Supported Everything project had blossomed into a weekly community ritual in Colonel Summers Park. The brilliant pairing of the passion-harvesting-and-connection-facilitating activity with food-not-bombs catalyzed a reaction that continues to grow and create tangible action. Other projects that had roots in Our School that are still alive include an adult civics workshop, non-violent communication group, and a forming intentional community. These thriving projects inspired us to share the past, present, and future of our activist experiences with the AERO community.

For the remaining several weeks before the conference, I collaborated with my two companions on the most effective way to communicate Our School’s best practices and lessons learned. As Our School was rooted in the desire to make information and learning accessible to all people and learning styles, we developed an engaging presentation. Please share!

The Festivities Begin

We arrived at the conference on August 1st to be greeted by dedicated AERO organizers Josh Cook, Eric Ludwig, and Jerry Mintz. They were excited to have received a request from us to print some folding comics developed by myself and several other Occunauts (see http://www.occutour.org). They had printed hundreds of copies of the foldies, including the new “foldie foldie”, and had spent hours folding the night before (thank you!).

A Out-take from the Foldie Foldie

Click to get the Foldie PDF. Print double-sided, with no size reductions. Fold.

We set out our community organizing sheets, foldies, and other relevant information– 1, 2, 3… activate! It wasn’t long before we realized that for this conference of people, we represented the leading edge of social change. We had been invited to inspire  alternative-minded educators to take action!

Over the following few days before our keynote, we connected with educators, asked evocative questions of workshop leaders, and handed out tons of foldies. The graphic attraction brought many new connections to our table. I was particularly excited about my connections with other young adults. Some were either searching for ways to start their own schools, while others were interested in otherwise affecting change in their communities through community-building practices.

Challenging the Alternatives

My most profound workshop experiences were those in which I challenged the workshop facilitator with a politically relevant inquiry. For example, in a workshop illustrating the peer court method of “conflict resolution” (prominent in democratic schools), I posed an inquiry: “Do you leave space in the curriculum to explore the nature of their judicial system, a system that is modeled after a system that currently has 2 million citizens incarcerated in this country alone?” The workshop leader answered by reassuring me that in his class, these topics would be discussed. He could not speak for other teachers, as the topic was not included in the required curriculum. I found myself disappointed at his answer, but pleased to see that the question opened up conversation about restorative justice. PSU Conflict resolution instructor and friend, Danielle Felecia, also raised concerns about the lack of restorative justice practices, stirring the ideological stew that the discussion was becoming. After the workshop several attendees thanked us for our contribution.

Ken Robinson, alternative education guru and advocate, spoke on the evening of August 3rd. I had been eagerly waiting to hear him speak and wasn’t surprised that he drew the largest crowd of the conference. After an hour of wandering monologue, I found my mind stale and my heart yearning for visuals to put his words into context. I was disappointed to hear many similar sound bytes from his past speeches and wondered if he had come to the conference intentionally or out of a sense of duty.

Rather than become another face in the book-signing line, I chose to Occupy the moment by slipping a few folding comics into Ken’s hands and mentioning that the illustrations in his RSAnimate had inspired me. I couldn’t tell if his “thank you” was genuine and decided that I didn’t care. I hadn’t come to the conference to see Ken. I had come to model what it looks like to build something beautiful…

Keynote Experience

Saturday evening when we addressed a surprisingly small audience of about 50 humans. We arranged the seating so that we were sitting in a semi-circle around the projector screen and were able to see all faces. We began the experience with an explanation that we’d rather be sitting in a full circle, but had to work with what we had. I introduced the moment of silence, explained its purpose and invited everyone to experience one with us.

A moment of silence

A moment of silence visual

After a moment of presence with the audience, Patrick invited everyone back to the room by modeling different hand signals that we use frequently in conversation. We then introduced ourselves with short anecdotes about how we became involved with activism and the extent of our participation with the Our School project.

Then the fun began: we opened up the conversation to the group. How quickly the audience became enlivened and impassioned! There was much curiosity about the Occupy Movement in general and the larger political picture. We spent the majority of the time addressing issues of diversity, spirituality, consensus models and facilitation.

Participants caught onto the dynamic facilitation process quickly: in many cases, someone would raise their “one” or “two” finger and would receive an expression of recognition from one of us facilitating. The facial expression changed rapidly from nervous or curious to relieved or pleased: the power of connection was in action. Although the pace of the facilitation felt overwhelming at times, I felt empowered to connect with as many people as possible and was eager to answer all of the questions. We nearly doubled our expected time on the floor and spent another hour connecting with people following the formal session.

Final Reflections

That evening concluded our AERO experience. We left the Big Box Hotel feeling all fuzzy inside, having professed our strong affinity and hopes to collaborate with our AERO organizer friends in the future. My excitement chemicals flowed most noticeably when AERO reps and members expressed their interest in supporting our ongoing and future projects. Conversations about developing a teachers WWOOF-style network, a modern lexicon, and the “book mobile” journey really got the juices flowing.

The AERO experience was truly inspiring: I was reminded that support follows a strong vision, and we are building one! I am so grateful to have connected with the organizers of the Education Revolution and to have experienced the concentration of wisdom, love and light that permeated the entire conference. I am impassioned to continue my organizing objectives and alternative learning endeavors. A special thank you to Josh, Eric, and Jerry for your efforts.

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