Ideologies meld at Aspen Ideas, Rainbow Gathering
July 10, 2006
Last week “tinder-dry” Colorado was enjoying an eclectic watershed of new thinking and deep discussions at high altitude. Two places were awash in topics ranging from the strategic to the sublime. At one, conversations ranged from academic toward practical, played out beneath the Aspen Music Festival’s high-tech fabric roof. Farther north, Routt National Forest provided a venue for ideas from pragmatic to cosmic. Participants there were subject to a reality check by exposure to nature while political ideas were less conceptual and often put directly into action.At the Aspen Ideas Festival, while airport operations shoehorned executive jets onto a crowded ramp, most participants pay the $1,500 fee for a pass plus a few dinners and hotel. Anyone on this path got access to a plethora of diverse concepts. By paying very close attention, one might have taken the limited route of a few select events at $15 each. Up near Hahn’s Peak, the monetary cost was always free but the event is unintentionally exclusive. To attend the Rainbow Gathering requires the bravery to make a road trip through law enforcement spot checks while risking the possibility of citation for failure to obtain a permit to exercise your constitutional right to peacefully assemble in a remote National Forest meadow. From there a hike into another kind of paradise offers an unlimited opportunity to contribute to wide-ranging political discussion and experience.At both places the interactions were almost reluctantly interrupted with an occasional respite to take in some delicious food in a relaxed mountain atmosphere. Intelligence and eloquence, education and debate abound in each. While the metaphysical relationship between Rainbow and Aspen Ideas is inescapable, the physical connection between these two sensory opposites was hard to navigate. I crossed the bridge four times during the past week from a verdant forest-turned Walden to a policy-maker’s heaven and survived the culture shock.There are differences. Participants at the gathering at Hahn’s Peak near Steamboat were characteristically assisting others, sharing responsibility, avoiding conflict, and taking care of all social needs, however mundane. This means sharing in the cooking and cleanup as well as dining on natural log seating at one of the highly evolved and delicious communal kitchens. What one can learn at the Rainbow gathering is, among other things eclectic, how to live intensely but temporarily without hierarchy, without money, without time constraints and for the most part without much impact of expectation.On the other hand, different pearls of humanistic wisdom were encountered in Aspen last week. The Aspen Ideas Festival seems to be about seeking leadership, getting access to power, and learning ways to use and make money to increase the standard of living of a global society.Both of these remarkable and coincidental phenomena actually share the goal of seeking truth as much as they share the Socratic method. Both were at least at the surface bipartisan if not nonpartisan. And both seemed to share a common distaste for verbal strife and stereotype. Either could easily be accused of achieving the appearance of consensus by attracting their participants in a self-selective manner.At Rainbow, Barry Adams (“Plunker”) stood with Debbie Marquez, one of Colorado’s Democratic National Committee members, in a gorgeous forest grove holding a walking stick doubling as a single-string musical instrument. He expounded an eloquent and logical argument for leaving U.S. troops in Iraq in defensive positions to prevent further shedding of American blood. He asked her to promise to carry his vital message to Hillary and other Democratic candidates.At Aspen, we heard about Bill Clinton recommending against a date for withdrawal from Iraq while Democratic Rep. Jane Harman and Republican Sen. Susan Collins shared with an attentive audience their similar opinions about the importance of bipartisan cooperation and keeping Joe Lieberman in the Senate. Jane regrets the extremism of safely seated senior members of Congress in both parties.It seems they each discussed policy compromises and conflict resolution. Yes, but Barry’s Rainbow discussion was face-to-face and contained calls for specific action. This is typical of the gathering where speculation and the making of abstract strategies are not as popular. In Aspen, I heard the audience literally asking: “What can we do?”At the Rainbow gathering, the assembled participants had one other significant responsibility which Aspen lacks: self-government. All interested in that role actually meet daily in a council circle modeled after the Native American tradition to discuss practical issues. They really do decide policy by consensus and by doing so learn valuable skills of governance.It seems to me that participants at the Rainbow phenomenon and those of the Aspen Ideas Festival would definitely mutually benefit from a sharing of their experiences. Would Walter Paepcke have considered that an Aspen idea?Harvie Branscomb lives in El Jebel and is the chairman of the Eagle County Democratic Party.
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