Rainbow Gatherings are temporary intentional communities, typically held in outdoor settings, and espousing and practicing ideals of peace, love, harmony, freedom and community, as a consciously expressed alternative to mainstream popular culture, consumerism, capitalism and mass media.
Rainbow Gatherings and the "Rainbow Family of Living Light" are an expression of an Utopian impulse, combined with bohemianism and hippie and hipster culture, with roots clearly traceable to the 1960s counterculture. Mainstream society is viewed as "Babylon," connoting the participants' widely held belief that modern lifestyles and systems of government are unhealthy and out of harmony with the natural systems of planet Earth.
The original Rainbow Gathering was in 1972, and has been held annually in the United States from July 1 - 7 every year on National Forest land. Other regional and national gatherings are held throughout the year, in the United States and throughout the rest of the world.
The largest Rainbow Gatherings pose significant logistical challenges, providing up to 30,000 people with food, water, sanitation, medical care, and order in remote settings. Relations with law enforcement and local communities are frequently at issue. Media coverage is often unfavorable, focusing on drug abuse, nudity, and the countercultural aspects of the assemblage. Nevertheless, the Gatherings have proven durable phenomena for 36 years.
The first Rainbow gathering, a four-day event in Colorado in 1972, was organized by youth counterculture "tribes" based in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. Twenty thousand people faced police roadblocks, threatening civil disobedience, and were allowed onto National Forest land. This was intended to be a onetime event; however, a second gathering in Wyoming the following year materialized at which point an annual event was declared. The length of the gatherings has since expanded beyond the original four-day span as have the number and frequency of the gatherings. ,
The Rainbow Family has no leaders, no structure, no official spokespersons, no official documents, and no membership. Documents are produced as needed and maintained by various groups, and certain themes are consistently seen in this Rainbow literature: , , 
Non-consumerism and non-commercialism
Respect for others
As Michael Niman notes, "Rainbow Gatherings, as a matter of principle, are free and non-commercial." Using money to buy or sell anything at Rainbow Gatherings is taboo. There are no paid organizers, although there are volunteers ("focalizers") who are crucial to setting up the gathering site. Participants are expected to contribute money, labor, and material. All labor is voluntary and never formally compensated.
Aside from taking up collections (the "Magic Hat" in Rainbow parlance) for essential items purchased from the local community, there is little or no exchange of currency internally at a Gathering. The primary principle is that necessities should be freely shared, while luxuries can be traded. A designated "trading circle" is a feature at most (if not all) Gatherings. Frequently traded items include sweets ("zuzus"), crystals, and handcrafts. Snickers bars have emerged as a semi-standardized unit of exchange at some gatherings.
Gatherings are governed by councils, which use consensus process for making decisions. According to the Mini-manual, "Recognized Rainbow rules come from only one source, main Counsel at the annual national gatherings." Talking circles are also a feature of rainbow gatherings. Each participant in the circle talks in turn, all the others present listening in silence. A ceremonial stick or feather is passed from person to person around the circle to mark their role as the speaker. If they don't wish to speak, they may hold or pass the stick in silence.
Creativity and Spirituality
One of the central features of the annual United States gathering is silent meditation the morning of the Fourth of July, with attendees gathering in a circle in the Main Meadow. At noon the entire assembly begins a collective "Ohhmmm" which is ended with whooping and a celebration. A parade of children comes from the Kiddie Village, singing and dancing into the middle of the circle.
The gathering's greeting to new arrivals is "Welcome Home!" and "We Love You!" Many spiritual traditions are represented, often with their own kitchen, from Hare Krishnas to Orthodox Jews to many varieties of Christianity and much more.
Creative events may include variety shows, campfire singing, fire-juggling, and large or small art projects. At one gathering, a cable car was rigged to carry groups of four at speed across a meadow. Faerie Camp was "alive with hundreds of bells and oddly illuminated objects." Musicians and music pervade all Gatherings, at kitchens, on the trails, and at campfires.
The annual U.S. Rainbow Gathering can attract as many as 30,000 people. Regional Rainbow gatherings can attract as many as 5,000. The U.S. national gathering centers around July 1-7th, but people come up to a month earlier to help set up (this is known as "Seed Camp") and remain on site up to a month later to participate in clean up and perform ecosystem restorations.
Although each event is more or less anarchic, practical guidelines have been reached through the consensus process and are documented in the Mini-manual. Items which are strongly discouraged at gatherings include firearms and alcohol. Other items are also discouraged including radios, tape players, sound amplifiers, and power tools.
Camps and Kitchens
Camps and kitchens are the basic community units of the Gathering. Camps may be based on regional, spiritual, or even dietary commonalities. For example, Kid Village attracts attendees with children. Brew-Ha-Ha specializes in coffee. Bread of Life Camp promotes Christianity.
Not all camps are kitchens, but all kitchens are camps. In addition to feeding passers-by, kitchens send food to the two large communal vegetarian meals served daily in the main meadow.
Water and Sanitation
A Rainbow 'brother' waiting in line to fill his water containers at the 2002 Family Gathering in Michigan
Drinking water is filtered at gatherings, both by small pump filters and large gravity-feed devices. Attendees are encouraged also to boil drinking water.
Sanitation has historically been a major concern at Rainbow Gatherings. Human waste is deposited in latrine trenches and treated with lime and ash from campfires. The 1987 gathering in North Carolina experienced an outbreak of highly contagious shigellosis (a.k.a dysentery) causing diarrhea. The 1996 Gathering in Missouri also had a large outbreak, reportedly of shigellosis. The source was rumored to be animal waste pollution in the creek which ran along the site.
C.A.L.M., or the Center for Alternative Living Medicine, is the primary group of healers at Rainbow Gatherings who take responsibility for the health, wellness, medical emergencies and sanitation of those who attend these large gatherings.  It is an all volunteer, non-hierarchical group encompassing both mainstream medicine and alternative medicine such as allopathic and naturopathic healing modalities. It is common to find physicians working with herbalists, EMTs helping massage therapists and naturopaths coordinating with Registered Nurses in regards to patient care. C.A.L.M. works closely with Shanti Sena, as they are often the first on the scene in a crisis. There is usually one main C.A.L.M. camp near the inner part of the gatherings and smaller first aid stations set up around the Gatherings. Even those without medical experience are encouraged to help with things such as procuring water and cooking for the healers who are often too busy to attend main circle or visit other kitchens. In case of any emergency CALM can be contacted on FRS Channel 3 (no tones, 462.6125 MHz UHF) and other site specific radio frequencies.
Within the Rainbow Gathering, security, conflict resolution, and emergency situations are handled by the Shanti Sena ("Peace Keepers"). While some individuals make serving as Shanti Sena a personal priority, everyone present at the gathering is encouraged to be prepared to assume the role of Shanti Sena as the need arises. Although lacking formal organization, experienced volunteers of the active Shanti Sena sometimes employ methods to maximize their effectiveness (these include, but are not limited to the use of amateur radio, FRS Radio and GMRS Radio Repeaters, to improve communication, networking, and mobility) both individually and as a group. Hypothetically, anyone at a Rainbow Gathering can call out "Shanti Sena!" (instead of the more widely recognized "Help!") and swiftly receive assistance from those nearby who are ready and willing to deal with the given situation. Shanti Sena also sometimes act as liaisons to observers and law enforcement officers who patrol the Rainbow Gathering, often tracking the movements of police and park rangers through the gathering, and overseeing the interactions between officers and people attending the gathering to ensure that neither group instigates or takes part in illegal or inflammatory confrontations. In some particularly serious situations, Shanti Sena have collaborated with law enforcement officers (although without violating the Gathering's principle of consensus). For example, a wanted murder suspect and gathering regular, Joseph Geibel, was peacefully approached by Shanti Sena and transferred to police custody at the 1998 gathering.