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Katrina five year anniversary; revisiting the good work of Rainbows and friends

by Rainbow press crew Sunday, Sep. 05, 2010 at 2:17 AM

This press release is from a year ago, the hurricane hit five years ago...and the Gulf Coast still needs help


Contact: Website:

Email: rpcrew1 at


Santa Fe National Forest, NM (July 31, 2009) - When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, a grassroots emergency relief effort was born out of dedicated volunteers with years of experience working at outdoor kitchens and medical stations at Rainbow gatherings. Their prompt mobilization to the Gulf Coast fully equipped with supplies, know-how and ingenuity tremendously helped victims survive and recover from one of America’s most epic disasters. Their accomplishments were recognized all the way to the highest level of government, the Bush administration’s White House. In May 2008, these intrepid volunteers accepted an invitation and attended a function in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building within the White House complex, where they were thanked for their work. Some of these same volunteers are currently enjoying their visit to this year’s Rainbow Gathering being held in New Mexico’s magnificent Santa Fe National Forest, now in its final phase of “clean-up.”

In late August 2005 when these skilled Rainbow gatherers saw people literally dying on television after the hurricane hit and no one was helping them, they sprung into action. Familiar with surviving quite well for extended time periods with no running water or electricity in the woods, they first headed to Waveland, MS – where there had been a 32-foot storm surge – and set up a huge relief center in the parking lot of Fred’s Department Store across the street from the Waveland Police Department. From there more Rainbow volunteers branched out to New Orleans and quickly built another center in Washington Park that ran simultaneously with the one in Waveland.

At both locations free kitchens, medical clinics and supply distribution areas operated without skipping a beat. Each center adhered to the their own strict sanitation specifications, thereby meeting the approval of their local Departments of Health. They treated hundreds of patients and pumped out thousands of meals a day, sometimes in 100 degree temperatures. The relief center in Waveland became the New Waveland Cafe, also known as the New Waveland Cafe and Clinic, and the center in New Orleans became the Welcome Home Cafe. Both cafes had makeshift stages so moods were uplifted with frequent live music in the air.

The New Waveland Cafe provided a children’s art space and even professional dance lessons. One of the first things the Welcome Home Cafe workers did upon their arrival was to clear the park’s playground of debris such as giant fallen trees. Children laughed and played in this newly safe, fun space provided just for them amidst the surrounding devastation that no child should ever see. This cafe was alive with activity. The New Orleans Jazz Vipers often performed there, volunteers ran an herbal tea stand, musician Ani DiFranco stopped by and visited and one day a drum corp marched through the park.

The storm victims were everyday Americans not used to receiving charity. They were so thankful and touched by the manner in which they were helped that they wanted to become part of the relief effort and began to pitch in at the cafes. They were transformed from helped to helpers, from victims to survivors. Their help was welcomed and appreciated.

The Rainbow volunteers also coordinated with numerous groups in their relief work including the Bastrop Christian Outreach Center, Organic Valley farms (the owner’s son was part of the New Waveland Cafe’s initial crew), the Common Ground Collective, Seeds of Peace, Barefoot Doctor’s Academy, Food Not Bombs, the local Teamsters Union and the Missouri National Guard. In addition, Rainbow volunteers set up two more relief efforts called Emergency Communities and the Rainbow Emergency Management Assembly.

Where were the governmental and mainstream relief agencies in all this? They were doing all they could, but it was obvious from day one that it wasn’t enough. Jenka Soderberg is a freelance journalist and occasional Free Speech Radio News reporter who traveled to New Orleans post-Katrina. She explained that all of the shelters within three hours of New Orleans were either shut down or full. Only one FEMA center was open to the public. Blackwater Security forces staffing the center outnumbered the FEMA workers about 5 to 1. The remaining FEMA centers were solely for their workers and contractors. Each of these centers displayed a sign that read “No public services available at this site / Authorized personnel only.”

Volunteers from the Red Cross constantly defected and joined the ranks of the grassroots led efforts.

“In an April interview with NPR, acting Red Cross Director Jack McGuire admitted the organization had made major mistakes after Katrina, including not reaching out to community groups that were doing some of the best work in the area. The organization promises to implement a ‘cultural shift’ that includes working more closely with grassroots organizations, a tack the institution has historically shied away from. Kay Wilkins, CEO of Red Cross’ Southeast Louisiana chapter, called Katrina ‘the great equalizer’ of relief organizations.” - Reason Magazine, Dec 2006.

Some governmental agencies harassed the cafes, saying they didn’t have “permission” to be there. Nonetheless, individuals from various law enforcement agencies would occasionally lend a hand in the kitchen. A Mississippi state trooper in full uniform was spotted chopping celery. One volunteer said that various other “mutiny magic manifested.” Soderberg noted, “We’ve had National Guard soldiers sneak supplies out of their warehouses so we could distribute them directly to people, we’ve had Amtrak police sneak ice for our clinic from their stash….so many many examples of people trying to get supplies to the people who need them — even if they have to defy orders from above in order to do it.”

FEMA and the Red Cross continuously struggled to provide adequate aid to the desperate storm victims. Soderberg revealed that these agencies reached a point in which they began “turning people away, sending them to our tiny organization, common ground, for help. Let me repeat this, because I just find it so astounding: FEMA AND THE RED CROSS ARE SENDING PEOPLE TO _US_ (Common Ground) FOR HELP.” - Jenka’s Journal, Nov 2, 2005.

The cafes’ operations reached their peak on the first Thanksgiving after the hurricane when the Welcome Home Cafe shared a huge feast and the New Waveland Cafe held a parade for the town. A film entitled, “Rainbow Family & Christians Unite to Give Hope after Katrina” captured a parade watcher’s heartfelt reaction: “All of these beautiful people from the Waveland Cafe and what they’ve given to us, we can never repay (tears up, happy tears). I know that Hancock County could not have made it without what they have done. And to give us this parade! (more joyous tears welling up)”. When asked if she’d ever had a parade like this before she rejoiced, “No and I think they’re fabulous! They’re the most beautiful people that there are!”

Out of the success of the Rainbow volunteers’ achievements, two well respected organizations were born and remain in operation to date. The Community Center of Saint Bernard is in New Orleans’ Saint Bernard Parish and assists survivors daily. The American Rainbow Rapid Response (ARRR) based in Asheville, NC transports, builds and runs mobile kitchens in newly disaster-ridden locations. In the years since Katrina, ARRR has provided aid to residents of such catastrophe-stricken areas as Houma, Louisiana after Hurricane Gustav, and to Wisconsin during their floods. It is set up with two kitchens to provide 15,000 or more nutritious, mostly organic meals a day and is ready to help out wherever the next natural disaster hits.

Gratitude graced these volunteers with amazing rewards. A volunteer named BW felt most appreciated when a high-ranking Waveland police officer thanked the Rainbow workers and gave them an open-ended invitation to return, saying that they were “welcome back any time.” This type of sincere recognition presented itself at all levels of authority.

Aaron Funk is an Arthur Murray dance instructor who has volunteered with the New Waveland Cafe and ARRR since their inceptions. In May 2008 the news came that the Bush administration was aware of their accomplishments when he received an official email from the White House office. It was an invitation that was sent to 100 faith based and community efforts. The beginning of it read: “Jay Hein, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, invites you to attend the White House Compassion in Action Roundtable, ‘Partnerships in Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery: The Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Building Resilient Communities.’” Funk thought it was a hoax and did not reply.

Funk received a personal email a week later from a “secretary of an Assistant to the President” with the same invitation. Funk called the White House and reached Evette, one of the President’s secretaries. He asked, “Are you sure you want US to be there?” Surprisingly she answered, and with immediacy. “Yes. Listen. We know that we are in an ivory tower. YOU guys are the man on the street and we NEED your input. You are the common man and we need to be in touch with that. Please come.” Funk accepted the invitation and Evette arranged for Funk to bring a friend, fellow volunteer Matthew Atwood.

By the month’s end Funk and Atwood found themselves inside the White House complex as part of National Hurricane Preparedness Week. A writeup by ARRR entitled “ARRR Responds to the White House” notes, “The entrance of the Deputy (Secretary Michael Chertoff, U.S. Department of Homeland Security) was something right out of a novel, rushed in from a side door, hurried and urgent. However, when he spoke, it was with calm assuring. Again with comments of praise and encouragement for the efforts of all in attendance.”

Funk reflected on the Rainbow volunteers’ work at the New Waveland Cafe. “It worked so well because we took a 100% neutral, positive and COOPERATIVE attitude towards every individual, organization or governmental official. We didn’t bring any political or religious agendas into the cafe.”

Volunteers for this year’s Rainbow Gathering in New Mexico made numerous attempts to cooperate with authorities; the latter had the power to take the higher ground and reciprocate with the same dignified behavior that Rainbow volunteers exhibit. Instead they chose to harass the peaceful attendees whose one united purpose in gathering is to pray for world peace. The gatherers still had a good time and considered the event a success.

The United States Forest Service (USFS) overestimated the Gathering population once again, attempting to make the event out to be a problem that needed to be dealt with. They frequently name the Rainbow gathering an “incident” in their documents. New Mexico news station KOAT-ABC took the bait for their first newscast on the coming Gathering. They reported it as a “potential threat” and “invasion,” and pictured these printed words zooming out from a document and magnifying them to fill viewers’ TV screens. The local residents’ initial “fears of the unknown” were squelched once they became familiar with the consistent kindness of Rainbow attendees visiting their region.

USFS officers drove over the water pipe at the start of the Gathering, causing interruption of water flow to camp. They said it was an accident. Near-daily checkpoints into and out of the Gathering were annoying, caused traffic backups and were illegal. The last roadblock was reported to have been on July 5th. Hundreds of early gatherers were ticketed mostly for minor traffic offenses like “dirty license plates.” They were ordered to make 240-mile round trips from the Gathering to court, and if they did not show up, federal warrants for “failure to appear” were issued for their arrest.

Some gatherers believed that the early-on heavy handed tactics of the USFS’s Incident Command Team officers within the Gathering were decreased by the arrival of US Marshals. However, US Marshals soon began arresting attendees with “failure to appear” warrants and removing them from the Gathering. They were then transported to Sandoval County Jail about 85 miles from the Gathering. There, gatherers arrested for offenses like “not wearing a seatbelt in the backseat of a car” typically spent 3-5 days in custody and were then released.

Rainbow gatherings differ from festivals largely because they have always been held in the woods. Volunteers work painstakingly to ensure that all motorized vehicles are kept at least a mile away from camp so the event has a safe and secure back-to-nature feel. It was reported that on July 3rd two USFS law enforcement SUVs blatantly and provocatively drove into the Gathering, parked in the lower meadow where they were visible to many people including those in several kitchens and camps in the meadow’s tree line. They were met by US Marshals and the local sheriff’s department who proceeded to just stand around. Witnesses gathered to keep an eye on things, since officers have a pattern of attempting to provoke gatherers, particularly on July 3rd. They were looking for a girl with a toy gun. The girl was found, the toy was not and they left.

Regardless, the Gathering forged ahead. It was a sight to be seen amongst the birches and pines. Recently at long-time Christian Rainbow kitchen Bread of Life, several of its crew have gotten married and have had children. This year at this child-friendly camp, they constructed a kiddie playground paradise featuring a merry-go-round that rotated atop a tree stump; monkey bars; a teeter totter and a screened-in arts and crafts area. Kid Village held their traditional fun Rock-n-Roll Spaghetti dinner on July 4th and New York’s Purple Gang kitchen had their always fabulous brunch on July 5th.

Now that the Gathering is over, clean-up has begun. A crew of Rainbow volunteers has stayed and is working to revitalize the land and “leave no trace” behind. One volunteer reports that daily rainstorms have soaked the earth; there is already green ground cover in all the high-use areas. Plants are growing back abundantly and are all native to that forest. The job is nearing completion. Rainbow gatherers are known to leave the woods they temporarily inhabit in better condition than it was in when they arrived; this has been so since the gathering’s inception in 1972.

Some Rainbow volunteers on this year’s clean-up crew in New Mexico were also part of the initial post-Katrina humanitarian response that operated with a mixture of ingredients – diligence, compassion, style, ease and most of all, love – all in the midst of the hurricane’s immense aftermath. These actions made history and earned Rainbow gatherers a trip inside the White House complex, a milestone that will be remembered forever.

Media advisory for getting to and around camp: Have all paperwork and be sure vehicles are in good repair. Have nothing on the dashboard or hanging from the rearview mirror. Keep windshields and license plates clean, especially when driving on unpaved roads. Obey all traffic laws, watch for stop signs, and use turn signals, especially at all unpaved intersections. Many gatherers love interacting with the media and will gladly be filmed. But in respect for people’s freedom of religious expression, it is requested that anyone taking photographs or film images ask permission from each individual to be included in the shot.

Directions to the Gathering (from Cuba, NM): Take State Road 126 east for 13 + miles to FS Road 103 on left, go 2 miles to FS Road 69 on left then drive 9 miles to where FS Road 69 meets FS Road 70.

For more information:

Notes in parentheses are snippets of video titles and are good search words for finding them online. Quotations help

2009 New Mexico Gathering footage:

Post-Katrina volunteer Heather Bee discusses New Waveland Cafe (“Cook Tells of Helping”)

Heather Bee explains Rainbow gathering clean-up procedures

Clean-up crew at work (“2009 Rainbow Recycle”)

USFS clean-up report from 1995 New Mexico Gathering

Unedited footage of USFS attempt to incite riot, July 3, 2007 at Arkansas Rainbow Gathering where five USFS law enforcement SUVs drove into main meadow, parked in river that ran through it, blared their sirens and arrested a female gatherer who had “failure to appear” warrant. Part one (from Soaring Eagle’s MySpace page) long version plays audio only; video peculiarly missing as of July 2008

Part One, short version

Part One, long version

Part Two (“Arrested. Call for Peace”)

Part Three (“Officer Looses Temper”)

Part Four (“Police After Call for Peace”)

Unedited footage of police riot at Kid Village, July 3, 2008 at Wyoming Rainbow Gathering where unprovoked USFS police opened fire on the camp using pepper spray rifles and aiming projectile tasers. Both children and adults were traumatized. Attack left permanent scar on the agency’s reputation (“Rainbow Family / Police Incident 2008″)

Evidential hearing transcript; top officer Gene Smithson reveals under oath that USFS receives yearly continuing education credits for field “training in formations and how to protect themselves, how to dissipate crowds, how to deal with crowds” at Rainbow gatherings

USFS Taser purchase document

More on Hurricane Katrina:

Abandoned prisoners drown in their cells

Oil spill half the size of infamous Exxon Valdez spill

Houma Indian Nation in Louisiana bayou hard hit

More on visit to the White House

Additional video evidence of the USFS’s harassment campaign against Rainbow gatherings can be made available to the press.

This press release is provided as a service of the Rainbow press crew, an unofficial affiliation of volunteers. Additional press releases are on the Rainbow press crew’s website,

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