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You Can’t Be Nonviolent Without Violence: The Rainbow Family’s Nonkilling Nomadic Utopia and its Survival of Persistent State Violence

Michael I. Niman Ph.D., Buffalo State College

Abstract

Since 1972, the Rainbow Family of Living Light, a nonhierarchical nomadic community, has been holding large temporary gatherings in remote forests around the world to pray for world peace and to create a model of a functioning utopian society. Wherever and whenever they gather, the temporary Rainbow city remains essentially unchanged, modeling what anarchist theorist Hakim Bey calls the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ). Revolutions, Bey writes, seek permanent change and, in doing so, lead to violence and martyrdom. Revolutionaries aim to hold territory. The TAZ, by contrast, does not directly engage the state, but instead “liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to form again at another time or place.” TAZ theory maintains that a “free enclave” can be maintained by regularly “moving the entire tribe.” Unlike immigration or other migrations, the TAZ moves by dissolving into the larger society (what Rainbows call “Babylon”), and reconstituting in another time and space, practicing what demographers refer to as “fission-fusion.”

This chapter examines the Rainbow Family as a TAZ, proposing that its ability to survive peaceably for well over a generation is the result of this fission-fusion strategy. By disbanding and reforming, the Rainbows also avoid the internal conflicts that lead toward intra-group violence. The Rainbow Family, in attempting to model a utopian society, has succeeded in modeling something much more plausible – a relatively non-violent TAZ.

This chapter addresses all of these issues in detail, giving specific examples of how the Rainbows have used TAZ theory to avoid confrontation. It will also briefly examine other movements, such as the Critical Mass movement of urban bicyclists that have also morphed into TAZs, and have also survived and grown despite repression and overwhelming odds.

Suggested Citation

Michael I. Niman Ph.D.. "You Can’t Be Nonviolent Without Violence: The Rainbow Family’s Nonkilling Nomadic Utopia and its Survival of Persistent State Violence" NonKilling Societies. Ed. Joám Evans Pim. Honolulu: Center for Global Nonkilling, 2010.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/niman/1