Letter to the Editor of the
Asheville Citizen-Times
June 20, 1996

(in response to an article on the Katuah Summer Solstice gathering)

Dear Editor:

Rainbow gatherings perform a service which no one in the media ever seems to acknowledge: we are a surrogate family for people who have never had one. Not a tiny nuclear family, which was only invented in the past century; most of us have one of those. I mean the extended family of aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews and elders that is our birthright from the beginning. Modern `family values' like the nuclear-family fixation are at the root of the problems we face today. Rainbow gatherings are a healing re-creation of the ancient values of community with one another and love for Mother Earth, and this is why people keep coming back.

Unfortunately, your newspaper's coverage of our annual Katuah Summer Solstice Rainbow gathering this past week is full of errors, most of them the result of taking the U.S. Forest Service at its word. Forest Service officers repeatedly and knowingly `misinformed' us as to our rights and their duties all week, and they are misinforming you.

Along with John Johnson, pictured in your Wed. June 19 edition, I was one of five people cited for `public assembly/special event without a permit' last Monday. We weren't cited, as your caption states, `in order for the group to get a Forest Service use permit,' but as a form of blackmail: so all of our friends would see us dragged to jail if they didn't surrender their constitutional right to gather in the forest.

How exactly can I be legally cited for what other people choose to do?

In the story itself (p. B-8), it gets worse. John `reportedly assumed the title of leader of the Rainbows anticipating possible arrest for failing to complete the proper application.' According to the officers themselves, they picked John out of the crowd to be a `leader' because he asked for their names and wrote them down. He had only been at the gathering a few hours; it was his first gathering in four years.

North Carolina's head F. S. law enforcement officer Malcolm Jowers told me that the procedure they used to pick me and the other `leaders' was to `go to the kitchen and see who's making the biscuits.' The rangers also said that we five were chosen because when they came up the hill, we (among others) came forward to hear what they had to say.

Rather than `failing' to apply for a permit, we steadfastly refused to sign a piece of paper that turns our First Amendment freedoms of assembly, association and religious expression back to tree-pulp. Whoever signs a `Special Use Application for Noncommercial Group Uses' is taking legal responsibility for the actions of everyone who attends. The last time this came up in court (Texas federal district, 1988), Judge Wayne Justice ruled that the F.S. has more than enough regulations to deal with the unlawful actions of individuals, and requiring such a permit is unconstitutional.

The `monitoring' that district ranger Paul Bradley describes included officers sneaking through the woods at night, climbing trees and hiding in the bushes. I saw assistant ranger Frank Roth bend over and look inside two private dwellings-- the tipis in the meadow. One sister received a citation for sitting next to a dog without a leash; it was not her dog. Another brother was cited for hollering `Guns in the Church!' from the trailhead as the rangers headed up the trail. He confessed to this crime only because the rangers came back and arbitrarily chose another brother to ticket for what he'd done. The conduct of the officers was extremely disrespectful, routinely breaking their own rules.

As for the citations for `drug possession,' in my opinion it is no more criminal to smoke a joint in the U.S.A. than it was to be Jewish in Nazi Germany, or African in the days of slavery.

The headline of your Thursday, June 20 story, `Some Rainbows Disperse After Citations Issued,' is itself admissible evidence that my constitutional rights have been denied. I was one of those forced to disperse several days before the Solstice ceremony which I had traveled from Atlanta to attend.

When our citations were issued at 9:00 p.m. Monday, the rangers told us that if the gathering did not disperse within 36 hours-- one daylight period-- we five who had been cited as `leaders' would be arrested, even if we had already left the site ourselves. If the gathering still did not disperse, they would come back and arrest everyone else.

On Tuesday, Jowers told a Congressional aide that in fact we had 72 hours to comply, not 36, as a matter of standard policy. He told the same thing to a TV reporter, but never notified the camp. As of Wednesday at 9:00 a.m., the hour of my promised arrest, I still didn't know I had an extension.

Late Wednesday afternoon, district L.E.O. Wilt Stribline arrived to say that we five could not be arrested after all once we left the site, and in fact the rest of us could not be arrested either without an injunction from a judge.

I left any way, partly because it seemed the only way to prove that I am nobody's leader if this ever winds up in court. But I left mostly because the threat of my arrest had been so stressful for my wife. Officers Stribline, Jowers and Roth have no idea what they put her through with their little fib. My mom (a North Carolina voter) was also understandably upset.

The F.S. `was also concerned about the damage a large group could do to the specially managed wildlife area where the Rainbows were camped.' The mountains of Katuah are sacred to us; that is why for 15 years we have gathered here to celebrate this most ancient holy day, and why we have always cleaned up our Solstice sites when we were through. Over those same 15 years the U.S. Forest Service has been busy building roads into roadless areas in order to sell your precious timber to the lowest bidder-- often a multinational or foreign corporation.

A district ranger told us at last year's Solstice gathering that it was silly to make us camp in the woods, which are much more easily damaged, rather than in the wildlife clearings where the grass springs back after two weeks. Yet at gathering after gathering the rangers insist that we can't even put up our tents in these meadows.

The 1987 `national' Rainbow Gathering was indeed a disaster in several ways, but your one-paragraph summary is a bit slanted. The folks who were arrested for refusing to leave the site were the cleanup crew. They were refusing to leave the site because it wasn't completely clean yet. It wasn't completely clean because since the end of the Gathering, the F.S. had been issuing regular warnings to leave or be arrested. So many people left to avoid arrest that the cleanup crew was a fraction of its normal strength.

Here they are using the same tactics of threat and intimidation against a mere 50 to 100 people. If they had succeeded in dragging our small gathering out of the woods, I guarantee your newspaper would have featured a story about all the trash and camping gear we left in the woods.

As for diarrhea, in the nine years since we gathered near Robbinsville we have held Rainbow Gatherings twice that size with no further outbreaks. Instead of depending on the government to regulate us, we have tackled the problems that lead to sickness at gatherings and learned to deal with them ourselves. The Katuah camp has two propane burners to boil water, and a detailed `Rap 107' to explain things like sanitation and cleanup to newcomers. We have had no outbreaks of diarrhea at a regional gathering ever.

A brochure I picked up at the F.S. office in Hot Springs says that 20 million people visit the National Forests of North Carolina every year. I am one of those people: a homeowner, college graduate, published author, assistant Catalog Editor and Recycling Coordinator at New Leaf Distributing Co., one of the fastest-growing companies in Georgia. I came to the publicly-owned forest for my annual paid vacation.

The citizens of Hot Springs made me feel wonderfully welcome. But from their public servants I received only harassment, intimidation and the threat of a $5000 fine and/or six months in jail. The people of Western North Carolina-- and America-- need to wise up to the fact that the U.S. Forest Service's mission is to rip you off: not only your beautiful forests, but your very right to enjoy them in peace.

One love-- One heart.
Stephen Wing