For many of us, when we think about the muse that is Burning Man, it is already an awe-empowering radical way of life. On the contrary, maybe for some, the idea of Burning Man is a huge turn-off, due to the seemingly irrelevant time-wasting that takes place once a year at Black Rock City. Whatever your opinion of this culture and this movement may be, I believe that nothing could begin to encapsulate the magic that took place at the Burning Man Global Leadership Conference in April, 2017, Oakland, CA. Every doubt in my mind I had about this organization was nipped. Every concern I had about this community was addressed. And every excitement I conjured up about this mission was accelerated. Let’s review:
As a huge proponent and supporter of Burning Man, Burners Without Borders, and the regional Burning network, nothing could have prepared me for the extent of what the Burning community is up to concerning social justice, activism and environmentalism.
Many of us saw the #StandingRock popular opinion of Burning Man, painting Burners as festival maggots who were just showing up to party… but few people saw the infrastructure and composting toilets in the news that Burners Without Borders brought to the table. Everyone sees the party, but who is actively looking for the epic goodness? Epic goodness is what the GLC had to offer… Imagine 600 of the world’s most creative, smart, hard working and sincerely kind people all together in one room for a weekend, exchanging ideas and educating each other. Here are some themes that came out of it, for me personally:
If it’s not fun it’s not sustainable!
Have radical hope
Be in the ‘WE’ mindset
Have clear transparency
Allow for multiple entities to participate in the conversation (whatever the topic may be)
When I first walked into the conference, the activity at hand aside from registration, was packing lost-n-found backpacks with donated personal care items for the homeless. Participants were encouraged to take the back packs out on the streets and be prepared to merely offer what’s in them to anyone who looks like they might be in need. What a point of contact with the community, and an excellent foot to start off on.
The conference was then set up like most conferences are, with speakers and break-out sessions. To give you an understanding of the depth of these sessions, a few of the stand out topics of the
GLC break-out sessions were:
•Operation Acculturation: Project Citizenship
•Radical Transformation in Reactionary Times
•Making in the Service of Art, Innovation and Social Good
•Environmental Sustainability and “the Man”
•Defending Decommodification: Intellectual Property Basics
•Scaling Sustainability: from the Playa to the Planet
•Compassionate Response to Community in Bereavent
•Government and Organizational Evolution
•Participation or Politics: How Burner Citizens Handle Communal Effort in a Partisan World
•Supporting Conflict Resolution From Start to Finish
•Design Thinking: Transform Ideas into Action
•Co-Creating Socially Conscious Real Estate Development
•Consent Culture and Community: How are you building it?
My very first (and favorite) session I attended presented by Kostume Jim (Jim Glaser, founder of Kostume Kult) was entitled: Activism! Organize and Mobilize. The focus was on bringing the burn to the rest of the world with an activist approach, using cacophony society tactics such as enticing/scaring congressmen into doing what’s right using via theatrical gorilla performances (i.e.: Billionaires for Bush Performance Artists collective). The Occupy movement came out of this sort of work. Jim emphasized that burner activists are not alone, that this is a place where sociology meets art and that this is an artistic messaging movement start to get the word out. If you have never heard of the cacophony society, read up!
SO, how do we bring about more activism with ease? Ground rules:
1 With efficiency and flexibility
2 Speech first, discussion after
3 Make it a community project
4 Non-Partisan- establishment types (Bernie types vs anarchists)
6 NO political correctness
7 Keep it ethical
A tangible example of an event/activity Jim is trying to head up is assisting inner city people IDs so they can vote. It’s unconstitutional to have a voters tax, and by making people have Drivers License’s to vote we are violating that freedom. Another idea: create a Fare Force… “an activist hive mind project where we conceptualize media stunts, act them out and then try to make them go viral. Cacophony for causes,” Jim says. We are talking about mixing cacophony society and experimental marketing, and then taking that content from those events and showing the world via video and social media. What crazy and interesting messages can we do at bigger protests? “Focus on millenials and counter fake news,” Jim says. Jim and his team are also working on a cause-connectivity app, sort of a tinder of social causes. And they are always looking for leaders/volunteers to move this movement.
In another talk, Cory Mervis who used to work for Donald Trump spoke about how to reach people just like him. It was a powerful conversation about radical inclusion, a principle we all cherish. Harley k Dubois, the Chief transition officer talked about what “it” is, the magical thing we all are here to “get” and transformational experiences, which we are all here to create. We have quite a network, and quite a mission, and how we have quite the task of spreading this goodness.
There are over 286 regional burner sanctioned events arounds the world, but burning is not just limited to Burning Man. The 10 principles are a way of life, a participation in creating our own world. And according to Harley, “We are the adults in the room… we aren’t the hipster stoners in the green room, we are the producers of the world. Burning Man has become mainstream, and grown, we haven’t sold out, we have arrived, and we are here to own that space.”
We heard from Christopher Breedlove many times throughout the weekend about BWB: Burners Without Borders, a community driven non-profit group of self-etsbalished burners who saw a need and wanted to do something about that need in their local communities in the name of burning. As I mentioned before, BWB showed up at Standing Rock and built compostable toilets in a time of great need. BWB is also working with international refugees to design solar powered lighting systems that lead refugees where they need to go upon arrival to foreign countries. Another exciting project, turning shipping containers into tool libraries in third world countries where underprivileged communities can rent the tools they need to fix their homes/cities and civic issues. This is a program designed to empower these communities to be radically self-reliant, and the shipping containers are a huge hit.
BWB has 22 active chapters, 81 working projects and 22 partner organizations. In 2016 there were 2,186 volunteers, 14,322 hours, over 47k raised. Three types of projects: 1 Homeless outreach, 2 Food collection and distribution , 3 Intentional park beach cleanup. Any one can start a working group in any city and add to this movement. BWB is cultural sensitive, while also pushing the envelope when it comes to the Burner world. BWB is that container of those who want to do the work. Corpus christy picked up 16,000 lbs of trash. Chicago’s Chididorod raised $15,000 for BWB projects. You can join the Heartland BWB chapter here. Or look on Facebook for your local chapter.
Another speaker, Ryan Wisling gave a talk on the Permaculture action network, Permaculture action days and their involvement with artists who are interweaving their art and social action concerning the environment, artists like The Polish Ambassador, The Elephant Revival and Rising Appalachia, pairing carbon farming and sustainability with their musical events. He also told us about the approved Tiny home village initiative in Denver, Co for the homeless.
Saturday’s sessions began with a presentation about Catharsis on the Mall, a DC Burner event in November on the National Mall, full of healing and education. Check out this video about what amazing work they are doing:
The same group of gentleman presenting Catharsis on the Mall were all wearing red hats, FREEDOM HATS, which community member Halcyon describes here:
Katalunda Dee gave a break-out session about Respect 101: Defining and Understanding the Language of Race and Privilege and the US, asking the difficult questions such as why is burning man so homogenous? “Privilege is invisible if you have it.” We are a word-of-mouth community, and we tend to bring people we are comfortable with people who are like us and share our values and our comfort levels. We learned about the Empathy gap: distance between something bad and how much you care about it. As a group we talked about micro-aggression: low level statements made from place of privilege that we may see as innocent but can be offensive. The presentation stressed that freedom of speech means you’re free to say what you like but you are not free from consequences. The goal was to heighten our cultural awareness just by having the discussion, and the emphasis we took away was education! Our mission should be educating outside communities who may not be familiar with the burner concept and lifestyle, but who may still be able to benefit from our goals and mission. Outside reading suggestions included:
Kimberlee Crenshaw- Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color.
Also: Racial bias in perceptions of others pain by Sophie Trawler, Kelly M Hoffman, Adam Waltz.
Lastly, the well known: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy Macintosh
Maryanne Goodell, Founding Board Member and Chief Engagement Officer of the Burning Man Project, spoke about her goals to take burner principles out into the world. “We are the connective tissue,” she says. “We are a platform for social change”. She said it is important to make eye contact when talking with anybody, in or outside the burner community and empathize. She also announced that the 2015 annual report is now available online: http://annualreport2015.burningman.org #transparency
Mark Hammond, a burner who Ran for Utah legislator in 2016 shared his story on coming from Mormonism to Burnerism to Political activism. Barry Ivan Silber’s intro cued us to his remixing thinking a tool: Toloposogo. That means when looking at an issue, use the Tolosposogo to analyze any situation: Where are we going TO, LOoking where we are, POssibility actions we can take, SOlutions, GO take steps to action, O=obstacles analysis.
These were just a few of the sessions I happened to attend that moved me. There was SO much more happening. Post convention, Mia Quaflirello published this article about several women leaders from the GLC we should all know. We were surrounded by brilliance, and I personally was blown away.
Something I learned during the convention, is that the word “Radical” means forming the root. It is our mission as Burners to change the root. To nurture the root. To always be pushing the envelope, pushing ourselves and our societies to be better and more humane. Thank you GLC for the opportunity to learn and grow as a human and as a burner. We’re off to a great start!
PS, if you want more, check out this guy’s video recap here:
Global Leadership Conference 2017