Law enforcement answered questions about the upcoming Rainbow Gathering at an Iron River town hall on Thursday night — addressing concerns and questions about the mobile event.
Members of the audience questioned Bayfield County Sheriff Paul Susienka, Iron River Police Department officers and members of the U.S. Forest Service about the July 1-7 event, according to a Facebook live-streamed video of the town hall. Individuals with the Rainbow Family also jumped in to answer questions and concerns as needed.
The Rainbow Gathering is an annual event, often associated with counterculture movements, that changes locations each year. This year, the gathering chose to meet in the northwestern portion of Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin. Members of the Rainbow Family assemble each year to build a community and pray for world peace.
The audience’s primary comments and questions related to the high volume of people moving through the national forest in the upcoming weeks. They raised concerns about traffic volume, environmental and community impacts, and the group’s interaction with law enforcement.
“We are faced with an issue, and we are going to deal with it, and the community is going to be fine as a result of it,” Susienka said at the meeting. “We are going to do what is necessary to keep the community safe.”
An unnamed, self-identified member of the group said at the meeting she estimates anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 people will attend throughout the course of the gathering.
The department will work overtime to help manage the event and its impacts, Susienka said. With around 500 people already at the site, he said the department has already increased patrols.
The forest service will compensate the department’s overtime work, he said.
“In my position, we have no choice but to see it through,” Susienka said at the meeting. “We’re going to devote whatever resources are necessary to protect our community.”
Some raised concerns about the group not obtaining a permit, which the Forest Service confirmed at the meeting they had not done. Groups larger than 75 people are required to have “special use” permits for federal recreation areas.
The Forest Service is working with the group to obtain a permit, an official with the Forest Service said at the meeting.
However, an unidentified member of the Rainbow Family said no one would sign a permit. “Because we don’t have leaders, because this is all about cooperation and collaboration. Nobody can legally sign a permit,” the woman said.
In response to concerns of environmental impacts, an unnamed member of the Rainbow Family said most people in the gathering are respectful of the forest. In an earlier interview with the Duluth News Tribune, participant Karin Zirk said they will stay at the location until the area is completely clean.
The crowd and gatherers seemed to agree on one thing: the purpose of the gathering. Community members applauded as the Facebook live-streamer explained the purpose of the gathering: “We come together to build community and pray for peace on the Fourth of July. As Americans, we want to love our country by using our First Amendment right to assemble.”