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Monday, May 13, 2013

Process Prevails

Today's blog post has been brought to you by a guest blogger (Sibling).  Enjoy!

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What follows is a brief summary of how the folks gathering and the Forest Service have dealt with usual issues related to gatherings: health and safety, environmental and ecological concerns, and the permit issue.  This covers the last three peaceable assemblies aka Annual Rainbow Gatherings in TN 2012, WA 2011, and PA in 2010. For the last three years, I have assisted with facilitating the manner in which the gatherers and the Forest Service interface.  The manner that works best for the long run of the gatherings is face-to-face communication, in a circle or council, with an invitation to all to all attend.  Using a feather to speak one at a time and listening to each other’s concerns, questions, and solutions. 

I will take you back a bit though. There was a regional gathering in PA before the annual gathering in 2010.  Planning for that regional, a few of us had a hunch that one-day the annual gathering would return to the Northeastern US.  We felt that the way we dealt with the Forest Service would become an important steppingstone to future interactions. The outcome of that regional was an Operation Plan crafted by all interested gatherers and a signed permit, but most importantly, it was the circle/council process where the FS was able to present the issue, the gatherers were open to ask questions and answer questions and an Operations Plan that was agreed upon.  We had open and transparent dialogue where all who were interested participated, and spoke for themselves.

If one does not know the legacy of the permit issue, it is worth looking into. Some years, permits have been signed and some years, they have not.  For the past three years, we have done the circle/council with the Forest Service and have agreed to an Operations Plan without the need for a permit signature!

Historically, the permit issue has strained the interactions between the gatherers and Forest Service Resource folks and Law Enforcement. Occasionally it has infringed upon the open flow of communication with local health and safety officials, FS Resource, tribal councils, the press, and other interested parties.  In general, most gatherers have faced the gauntlet of police presence at some time during their gathering experience.  Some gatherers have been harassed, ticketed and even imprisoned over the permit issue. For some of us, at times, it has felt like we were at war with the US Forest Service over the permit.

 During the times of heightened conflict over the permit issue, I estimate that probably a third of those attending the gathering were not even aware of what was going on, the importance of the issue, the risks certain individuals took to solve the problem, and/or the consequences of our non-compliance.  For many years, it seemed that there were a few dozen or so dedicated individuals dealing with the permit issue but not nearly enough were informed.  And unfortunately, the issue was usually dealt with in the parking lot; at roadblocks; at meetings held before the actual gathering where decisions were made; or permits signed from someone’s office a thousand miles away from those who were actually assembled. What bothered me was that the issue seemed so rarely be taken to circle or council for a full hashing out.  I wanted to create the opportunity to hash it out!

So that became our goal for facilitating the regional gathering in PA.  Briefly speak with the Forest Service before the regional and then insist that any further meetings happen at a circle, that we would be willing to facilitate.  Of course, it works, go back to basics. A circle that they attend, pass a feather, ask questions, answer questions, and everyone is welcome.  You know, like we do so well. 
For the past three annual assemblies, after initial contact with the FS, those who have initiated contact have insisted that the next exchange of information would be “on the land” with the goal of transparency thus leading to an increased input and understanding for all.

Despite the fact that nobody can or should try to speak for anyone but themselves, the Forest Service and others not accustomed to non-hierarchical decision making - ie. Group process, process or consensus decision-making - have a hard time seeing in this way.  This has led to sort of defacto leaders in the eyes of the FS who are accustomed to navigating in a hierarchical structure and it is often difficult for them to even imagine a community functioning via consensus as the gathering community does. But gatherings have no leaders; every voice is important and vital to the beauty and full spectrum color of the rainbow. All of us had to start somewhere and with patience and a willingness to listen we get it done. As challenging as it is, process prevails way after personalities have gone.

For the last three years, those attending spring council and seed camp for the annual gathering who were interested in participating have been able to be a part of a circle or council with the Forest Service Resource people and the Law Enforcement, when requested.  It has been the most efficient for the FS to speak for themselves and communicate directly with the community that has assembled regarding issues related to the health and safety of the land and the people gathered.

The Operations Plan used during that regional and the last three annual gatherings are worth looking at. Each one is individual are reflects the specific needs of the gathering location.  Hopefully they will be discussed in full at this years’ spring council/circle on the land. 

In service, Sibling 5/2013


  1. good interactions with the FS at that PA regional.. Rangers Bob and Tony were good to work with and much respect to them to coming to sit in circle with us and discuss their concerns from the heart.


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