The Rainbow Gathering: 5 Decades of Beta-Testing Anarchist Society (Part 3 of 5: Layout, Camps & Kitchens, and Infrastructure)

in philosophy •  3 years ago  (edited)

Now we're getting into the fun stuff! What the gathering actually looks like, how things are broken up, how people are fed, where the water comes from, and what happens to the waste. Once again, most of this will be referring specifically to the National Rainbow Gathering, and if you haven't read parts 1 & 2 yet, please spend a couple minutes catching up before you read further.

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This is a work-in-progress paper on the Rainbow Gathering, and specifically the importance that I believe it holds to the freedom movement, both as proof-of-concept and as an already established global network. I am very much looking for input, please give any feedback, ask any questions, and generally just let loose, so that I can create the most fleshed-out writeup possible.


Most gatherings have a very similar layout. Everything starts with the parking area (lot/field/road), and the main gate (a gateless gate). Main trail starts at the gate, and winds its way through the Gathering, sometimes for many miles. Somewhere close by the main trail, generally close to the middle of the Gathering will be Main Meadow. Main Meadow is where the family comes to eat dinner together each night, it's where councils are held, and it is where everyone gathers on July 4th for the peace prayer (discussed in part 2).

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The Gathering could be most closely analogized to a county or state, made up of a large variety of cities (camps), each with their own agreements and purposes. Though the entire Gathering pretty much holds true to the principles I discussed in part 1, as with most theoretical anarchist societies, the Gathering is a large community made up of smaller communities, called camps. Most camps are kitchens, providing food either for dinner at Main Circle, or serving meals during the rest of the day. With that said, there are also a HUGE variety of camps (dozens at any Gathering) that do all sorts of other things. Here's a glimpse at just a few of them:

  • Instant Soup is the camp that I have called home since first attending a Gathering. Instant soup is a 24-hour vegan kitchen, and in 2016 we celebrated our 20th anniversary. We hold ourselves to the standard that "Nobody leaves hungry". Our kitchen, at any given time, will have 10-50 humans in it; making food, playing music, sleeping, smoking weed, giving massages, etc. The only extra agreement that holds true here is: no animal products under the tarp.
  • Granola Funk Railroad is a camp that spends the weeks leading up to the main Gathering dates building a stage, and for the peak days of the Gathering, they hold concerts and variety shows. Many musicians have played the Granola Funk stage, mostly before becoming famous, including Wookiefoot & Medicine for the People.
  • Green Path is the camp that is always farthest off in the woods. Their focus is on teaching survival skills, everything from edible plant walks to tincture workshops to orienteering.
  • CALM is the Gathering's medical camp, made up of doctors, nurses, herbalists, and other healers. They not only provide their services for anyone who is injured or ill, they also offer classes & workshops.
  • Lovin' Ovens is one of the most unique camps. They arrive at the Gathering early, and build dozens of mud-brick ovens, and throughout the Gathering cook up thousands of rolls, sticky buns, or pizzas at a time. After the 2015 Gathering in the Black Hills, members of the kitchen went out to Pine Ridge and taught people how to build the ovens, both temporary & permanent.
  • Home Shalom, Jesus Camp, and Krishna Kitchen are pretty self-explanatory, and just go to show the variety of cultures, beliefs, and goals that bring people together into a Rainbow camp.

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One of the most amazing things to me about the Gathering is the actual physical infrastructure, the way in which we handle the needs of thousands of people without electricity, petroleum, or plumbing. This comes down to a few basic things: water, food, shelter, and waste disposal


One of the key elements when picking the location for a Gathering is the presence of a water source, from which we run miles of hosing, gravity-feeding water to the kitchens with filtration systems. From those kitchens, everyone without filtration of their own will come and fill up from the reservoirs. For example, Instant Soup has a 50 gallon drum that we keep full at all times, as well as a spicket so folks and fill their large jugs as well.


All of the food in the Gathering is donated. Most people coming into the Gathering bring something with them, whether it is a dozen pineapples, or a 25lb bag of beans. My first Gathering, I had just quit my job at Bob's Red Mill, and I brought 600 pounds of grains, beans, and seeds with me. For the last few years, Organic Valley has also been donating a truckload of food, as one of their higher-ups is a long-time Rainbow. Every evening at Main Circle, the Magic Hat is passed around, and money is collected for town runs, and when a kitchen is really needing a boost, they get creative :-)
All cooking is done with fire, either pits with grates over them, or ovens as pictured above. Very little is used that needs refrigeration, as the only options would be a few coolers scattered throughout the gathering. Fresh produce and dried beans & grains account for most Rainbow fare.


Most everyone at the Gathering brings their own tent to live in, but those that don't are never out of luck. Many bring extra tents and hammocks with them, just for family in need. There are also many, like Lucid of Shining Light, who bring tipis to offer up for the tent-less as well, and worst case scenario, people just sleep at one of the camps. Instant Soup's fire is always burning, and every morning there is at least one person who spent the night in the kitchen.

Waste Disposal

Each camp separates its trash, recycling, and compost on-site, and throughout the Gathering, teams collect trash and recycling. There is a collection site created, usually near the main entrance to the Gathering, and everything is carefully sorted. This sorting is much more thorough and holistic than you will ever find in a commercial operation, with people pulling out anything that can be re-used or re-purposed. Compost is buried on-site in each camp, giving that sustenance right back to the Earth.

Instead of bathrooms, the Gathering has "shitters", which are approximately 4 foot deep, 8 foot long, trench-style composting toilets. This design serves a multitude of purposes: it once again gives all the nutrients right back to the Earth, the physical act of squatting is much more natural for the human body (once someone gets comfortable with the idea, they quickly find it's much easier to poop in the woods than on a toilet in a tiny room), and by sprinkling ash or lime over the waste, it ensure that flies don't spread bacteria to the food & water supplies. Did you know that flies will dig through a foot of dirt to get to human feces, but a millimeter of ash or lime will stop them?

To be continued in Part 4: Conflict resolution, Consensus-based decision making

Thanks for your time, and I hope you enjoyed this! Be sure to follow me to catch Part 4, as well as my vegan recipes and articles about world travel, philosophy, and living a life you love!



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This thing is totally insane. I read part 2 today. I had never heard of The Rainbow Gathering before and I have read almost all of the web.

It's quite amazing to me how most folks have never heard of it, after 45 years and literally hundreds of thousands of people all around the world attending it. There are dozens of documentaries on youtube, going back to the year YT was created, but it's just so overlooked.

After years of activism and connecting with anarchist, permaculture, vegan, and other groups trying to make the world better, there is literally no more important thing for them to all know about, and be a part of, in my mind.

Great post @ kennyskitchen.Good work.upvote.greets
You are welcome to visit my post.thanks

Thank you!

Just discovered you and this wonderful series about the gathering today...

Thank you! I must put a gathering on my bucket list. 😄😇😄


Thank you, I'm glad you're enjoying it! This year's National Gathering is in Oregon :-)

Great license :D, I'm sure many will find it disgusting :D Dirty beasts, primitive barbarians, no electricity, no plumbing, where is your culture :D

Great post true that :)