Rhianna Hobbs & Madeline Snow
Each year, Burning Man hosts a Global Leadership Conference, this year its 11th, designed to bring Regional Contacts and Community Leaders together from around the globe. Over 630 burners attended the conference in April, to share and learn from each other under the theme ‘Sparking a new Citizenship’.
The theme for the conference was chosen carefully and strategically – a nod to the current times of political tension and upheaval not only in the States, but around the world. As such, there was a strong political thread that ran throughout the plenaries and breakout sessions. Even Donald Trump made an appearance*.
Interestingly, many burners tend to shy away from discussing politics. The principles of radical inclusion and radical expression can spur many heated discussions, and once politics is thrown into the mix it becomes a discussion that many will want to avoid. The conference confronted this head-on, and provided a platform for exploring the role of burners and Burning Man in these challenging times.
One presenter reminded us that Burning Man is now “mainstream”. As Burners, there is something about this that inherently makes us cringe. But she was right, and that’s ok – “mainstream” doesn’t have to be a dirty word. What Harley was referring to was that Burning Man now has social capital in the default world. As citizens of Burning Man – living by the 10 Principles and gathering together at regional burns around the world – we, as a community, have the power to influence social change and have a positive impact on the world and our communities. We are a global community of passionate, creative do-ers and problem solvers, and we can leverage this to make positive change. We met and listened to a number of people at the conference that introduce themselves as ‘activists’, who have leveraged burner culture to spark political change through events.
One such event is Catharsis on the Mall. This event, on a weekend in November, is held across the lawn from the White House, at the foot of the Washington Monument. Catharsis on the Mall was first put together in 2015 by a group of Burners seeking “a local experience that integrated the best of our Burner values with the immediate desire for political and cultural change”. In exercising their First Amendment right to hold a vigil, organisers have a permit to burn an effigy, as well as host art and mutant vehicles, run workshops, and dance until sunrise at the National mall. The best part is that the event is free and open to the public.
We also heard from Burners without Borders representatives, who spoke about the great work they are doing for international disaster relief and community initiatives around the world. BWB teamed up with the Permaculture Action Network for a project called Permaculture Action Days on the road to Burning Man. Last year, this event brought 200 burners together to plant trees, build composting systems and construct a butterfly and pollinator garden in a community garden. There’s even an Australian chapter of Burners without Borders, who have chapters in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. You can get involved with these groups by contact them via their Facebook page, or even setup your own chapter if one of these isn’t local to you.
We left the Global Leadership Conference feeling inspired and re-energised, and also with the understanding that Burning Seed is part of a truly global network of people using the 10 principles to make change. The GLC this year was a great reminder for us that as burners, we are part of something bigger, and collectively we have the power to effect real change - political, social, cultural, and spiritual.
It also reminded us that the most impactful places to be a Burner could actually be outside of Burning Seed, or the respective Burns that we attend every year. We saw that Burns across the world are a melting pot for ideas that can be turned into default world realities, bringing very real change to people who might never attend a Burn. Be the change you wish to see, be a Burner citizen.
*Ok, it was a life-size cardboard cut out.