Michael Niman, associate professor of communication, will read from his book, People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia, second edition, Friday, November 4, at 7:00 p.m. at Burning Books, 420 Connecticut Street in Buffalo.
He notes that the non-hierarchical model historically used by the Rainbow Family of Living Light coincides with the tactics of the current Occupy Wall Street protesters.
“Occupy Wall Street has consciously modeled itself as an acephalous organization. This is a tactical advantage that has kept the Rainbow Family alive for 40 years,” Niman said. “For years, the government has tried to thwart the Rainbows, but as long as there is no leader to threaten, cajole, co-opt, arrest, you can’t cut off the head and destroy the movement.
“The difference is the Rainbow people see themselves as a healing gathering; the Occupy Wall Street protesters have a job beyond modeling a utopian society—to represent the 99 percent.”
Since 1972 the Rainbow Family of Living Light, a loosely organized and anarchistic nomadic community, has been holding large gatherings in national forests to pray for world peace and create a model of a functioning utopian society without formal leaders. Niman’s original People of the Rainbow, published in 1997, was the first comprehensive study of this countercultural group and its eclectic philosophy of environmentalism, feminism, peace activism, group-sharing, libertarianism, and consensus government.
The new edition, released in early October by the University of Tennessee Press, builds on the original book by adding a new introduction and two extensive chapters, taking Niman’s research in new directions. The new work questions some of the premises of the first book and expands Niman’s examination of the efficacy of nonviolent conflict resolution strategies.
“The Rainbow people have a very serious commitment to nonviolence, which is why they have survived,” he said. “No one can find images of Rainbow people attacking police.”
At the same time, the Rainbows present a “massive model of civil disobedience that liberates a piece of time and space.”
In addition to addressing changes within the Rainbow Family and its complex relationship to “Babylon” (what Rainbows call mainstream culture), the book’s new material explores the growing harassment Rainbow people now face from U.S. law enforcement agencies—especially those associated with the National Forest Service. As Niman contends, this particular saga of a U.S. bureaucracy at war with its own citizens is a subplot in the larger—and disturbing—story of how the relationship between Americans and their government has changed during the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Following his talk, Niman will sign copies of People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia, second edition, which are available at Burning Books. All are welcome to attend. To reach the bookstore, call (716) 881-0791.