By Bill Weinberg
NEW YORK CITY Three members of the Rainbow Family are about to start
federal prison terms for refusing to sign permits for the Summer 1999
Gathering of the Tribes in Pennsylvania's Allegheny National Forest.
The "Allegheny Three" Joanee Freedom, Garrick Beck and Stephen
they are not leaders of the loose network of hippie tribes known as the
Family, and that signing the forms would have itself been illegal. But the
Supreme Court has refused to hear their appeal, and Pennsylvania US District
Judge Maurice Cohill, Jr. has sentenced them each to three months in the
Joanee is a community gardener and freelance desktop publisher on
Lower East Side when she isn't camping with the Rainbows. "It's all so
Restaurant," she says, contemplating having to tell hardened criminals that
she's in for illegal camping. Her appeal for "alternative sanctions" such as
house arrest was turned down, and she is now awaiting a decision from the
of Prisons on whether she'll be sent to a federal lock-up or the local
jail which in her case is New York City's notoriously harsh Rikers Island.
The Allegheny Three are charged with "use or occupancy of National Forest
lands without authorization," which carries a maximum penalty of six months
a $5,000 fine. They could have walked with $100 fines when they first went
before the local magistrate after being ticketed. Instead they chose to
it, and wound up before Judge Cohill in Erie, PA who found that the US
Service was justified in choosing three representatives to ticket, since
the 20,000 campers at the site were willing to come forward. Joanee and her
co-defendants appealed to the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Pittsburgh,
which upheld Cohill's decision. Then there was just one place left to go.
January, the Supreme Court turned down the case.
The three and their attorneys argued that the Forest Service regulations
unconstitutional restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and expression.
maintained that the regs are "substantially more burdensome than necessary
achieve any legitimate government objective," that they give Forest Service
officials "impermissibly broad discretion" in determining whether and how to
permit gatherings, and that they "fail to provide for prompt judicial
the First Amendment requires."
At their June 2000 sentencing hearing, Judge Cohill clearly stated that
making an example of the Allegheny Three. He wrote: "I think the message
received by other members of the Rainbow family. that the punishment may be
severe if they disregard the regulation of the Forest Service."
"We're scapegoats," says Joanee. "The government was definitely pushing
to go to jail."
The annual Rainbow Gathering of the Tribes has been taking place on
forest lands every summer since 1972, with several smaller regional
in between. Dancing, drum circles, communal meals and a wide variety of
spiritual practices are prominently featured, punctuated by a July 4 silent
meditation for world peace. Over the years the Rainbows have developed an
"operating plan" for minimizing impact on the land, protecting local water
sources and restoring areas trampled by the throngs. The Rainbows
refuse to sign permits, but the Feds have been turning up the pressure since
mid-1980s. And more Rainbow people may soon face the choice of capitulation
Three more were ticketed at the Summer 2000 Gathering in Montana's
National Forest, and likewise chose to fight in the courts. Barry "Plunker"
Adams got three months, and is out on appeal. Val Demars, who was installing
water system at the Gathering, got 10 days, and is also appealing. Kalif
got six months on the basis of previous (not Rainbow-related) convictions,
is likewise appealing.
At a Colorado regional gathering in the San Juan National Forest that
three folks were ticketed and paid $100 fines.
At a February 2001 regional in Florida's Ocala National Forest, Fred
Martin was ticketed and later convicted. He paid a $250 fine, and remains on
At a January 2001 regional in Mississippi's DeSoto National Forest,
signed following what Joanee calls a "full show of force" by Forest Service
enforcement roadblocks were thrown up, people were let out but not back in,
separating parents from their kids. One panicked mother signed a permit.
says the permit was signed "under duress."
This was the first time a permit was signed since the 1997 national
Oregon's Ochoco National Forest. And there too, it was signed by an
without consensus by the Family at the council. When signing that permit
to result in less police harassment, the Rainbows decided to stick to their
policy of not signing permits until Uncle Sam turned up the heat.
At the 2001 national Gathering in Idaho's Boise National Forest, 180
ticketed and given $100 mail-in fines, while at least two were given
court appearances which meant the judge could impose a jail term. "Peg Leg"
Martin got two years unsupervised probation; another defendant named Badjer
still fighting it.
At the August 2001 regional in New York's Finger Lakes National Forest,
was signed again without consensus of the Gathering's council.
In October 2001, Joanee says Forest Service law enforcement used
tactics at a regional in Illinois' Shawnee National Forest. Following
buy-and-bust ops by Forest Service officers and local police in the parking
area, gatherers had their children taken away and placed in foster care
marijuana and LSD charges were pending. In what Joanee calls an atmosphere
"terror," a permit was signed.
At the February 2002 regional back at the Ocala forest, a local
organization known as the "931 Group" signed in their name. A second
30 miles away within the Ocala took place with no permit but the Forest
apparently turned a blind eye.
The Rainbows say they have a good relationship with the local Forest
resource-management people in the national forests. But with no permit, an
"emergency status declaration" takes effect and power is turned over to an
"Incident Command Team" of Forest Service law enforcement officers.
Rainbow emissaries met with Forest Service representatives in Santa
November 2000, to try to hash out a solution. The Rainbows agreed to provide
"scouts" or "liaisons" to work with the Forest Service on logistics but not
"representatives" to fill out paperwork.
In October 2001, Rainbows joined a conference call with Forest Service
staff from the Senate Committee on Natural Resources. In this call, the
Service offered to recognize a "self-designated signer" who would not be
answerable to the group. Joanee says the Rainbows turned the proposal down
their Thanksgiving Council in Michigan. "This proposal just satisfied the
process for the Forest Service without correcting something we argue is
unconstitutional in the regs. It is still forcing a structure on the
which has no hierarchy."
Courts have ruled that "time, place and manner" restrictions on public
gatherings do not violate the First Amendment. But nowhere does it say that
having leaders or representatives is a prerequisite for freedom of assembly.
Forest Service has been trying to get the courts on their side for a long
In 1985, three tickets from a regional Gathering in Arizona's Coronado
Forest were dismissed by the courts as unconstitutional. The Forest Service
rewrote the regulations in 1988. But when it tried to get an injunction to
down that year's national Gathering in Texas' Angelina National Forest, the
judge refused, again finding the regs unconstitutional. The Forest Service
rewrote the regs again in 1995 and this time the courts have upheld them.
Joanee seems psychologically prepared for jail. "I hope they have a
room," she says, adding that she wants to take the opportunity to
and get in touch with my spirit side, and write about our experience. But
really hard to believe that this is happening at a time like this. Everybody
talk to is surprised by this sentence. They say this is a waste of the
taxpayers' money and my time."