Top Ten Things People Going to the Rally for Sanity Can Learn From Burning Man

While I love the idea of marching on Washington, it is purely for symbolic reasons. Real change cannot and will not ever come from Washington. Real, transformational change is the only kind that will do at this point, since our political, educational, financial, and religious institutions are failing miserably. And that can only come from the people; our small businesses, our ideas, our communities, and our individual choices and behaviors. So it is with that in mind that I write this post.

For those of you who don’t know, Burning Man is a week long “arts festival” held in one of the least hospitable places in the world, the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. I used quotes around arts because, unless you have been, it is nothing like you have every experienced before in your life, and is very hard to describe with words, so while it is the most artistic place I have ever been, it is nothing like the idea you get in your head when you think of an “arts” festival or “music” festival. Have you ever woken up from a dream that was so beautiful words could not do it justice, and when you try to describe it, the dreams seems to be pushed further away into the depths of your subconscious? That is what Burning Man is like, a living and breathing dream that can only be understood by experiencing it. The following are loosely based off of the 10 central tenets of the Burning Man ethos.

1. Radical Self-Reliance- a huge part of corruption is due to the fact that we rely on large institutions to do the work for us. When institutions are large, cumbersome, and lethargic, they end up using resources to preserve and/or abuse their power. While at face value, it’s nice that Stewart is accepting donations for the Trust to Restore the Nation Mall, Burning Man is an example of a large event where people do not trash their surroundings, there is a strict “Leave No Trace” policy, and nothing gets left behind. Nothing. Why pay for others to clean up the mess, when their doesn’t have to be a mess in the first place. I am not saying that the Trust for the National Mall is corrupt, what I am saying is that our reliance on institutions to the job we can do for ourselves is cultural problem that is at the root of our political suffering. We give our power away to easily and too much.

2. Leave No Trace- Lets respect the physical environment of Washington, why laying siege on its ideas! We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

3. Participation- Going from passive observer to active participant is easy and changes everything. If you plan on standing there and being a passive observer, why not just watch it on TV. Participation means engaging in intelligent conversations and interactions with other marchers. Burning Man is an awesome example of this; create games, puzzles, or interactive competitions to bring people together and help the exchange of ideas, and form relationships, business and otherwise, that will last beyond Saturday.

4. Immediate Experience- At Burning Man, we strive to overcome the perceived barriers that stand between ourselves and others, which has the beautiful affect of increasing empathy for others, something that is clearly missing from the national narrative of media hostility and hate. No idea can substitute for direct experience; people going to the rally can use our immediate experience during the rally to exchange ourselves and ideas for one another for the better of all.

5. Communal Effort– people going to the rally should strive to make real and lasting connections and build a community of likeminded people that will stay in touch after the rally. While it should be fun to march, and see all the kinds of interesting people who are bound to show up, to make a lasting difference we have to maintain and build on the connections we make on Saturday, and use those connections to support the communal good.

6. Performance Based Exchanges– because seriously, just sitting around talking is boring and passive, even when the MC is a hilarious comedian. Drive the point of your ideas and perspective home with some visual art, a live performance, or anything stimulating that will help wake people up, exchange ideas, and inspire people. Let’s blur the line between audience and performer, instead of passively reacting to what someone on stage has to say.

7. Civic Responsibility– we aim to set a higher standard for ourselves and society. As a community, we can work together and assume responsibility for public welfare during the rally, while conducting ourselves in a manner that is in accordance with the laws in D.C. Seriously, we all know the propaganda agencies (masquerading as investigative reporters) who are going to focus in on anything crazy they can find. This is not to say we shouldn’t express ourselves, but rather, that we should NOT go acting crazy and breaking laws just because there is a large group of us. Let’s make their propaganda just a little bit harder to create.

8. Radical Inclusion– at Burning Man, everyone is welcome, and there are no prerequisites for participation in our community. Let’s make the rally the same. A huge part of the problem in the political discourse is focusing on our differences, judging people harshly, and forcing them in to groups. Let’s welcome all political and cultural groups/ideas at our rally, tea party and all. Besides, when we start looking at commonalities, it is hard to resist the fact that most politicians on the left and right have more in common than they do not! Despite the fact that we are constantly told by the media how different left and right ideas are, isn’t possible that the things they have in common are a huge part of the problem. Aren’t the assumptions that they are making causing a lot of issues? Don’t both people on both the left and right have good ideas, and bad ideas? Isn’t the real issue corruption vs integrity, no matter how much the mainstream media tries to distract us from that fact?

9. Decommodification- it’s time to start defining ourselves by things other than what we watch on tv and what we buy at the mall or online. Burning man is a gifting community, seeking to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. At the rally, let’s resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience. This can mean gifting cool signs to other participants or other items/t-shirts, etc, or just giving the gift of your energy and help when someone else needs it.

10. Radical Self-expression- every person on earth has a unique gift to share with the world, and our American culture teaches us to censor and repress our gifts, our bodies, our talents. Let’s use the rally as an opportunity to express ourselves and our ideas in a way that is healthy, thought provoking, and interesting, to better exchange ideas and make the kind of lasting connections we need to actually achieve the transformation our country desperately needs.

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20 Responses

  1. Jonathan says:

    Nice post John Cara! Very reasonable 🙂

  2. BbopTulsa says:

    This is a very well intentioned guide and the information is useful in everyday life.

  3. Snonugget says:

    loving the comparison!

  4. mooper 9 says:

    I only got to the first point, and unfortunately, you’re wrong. People do leave a mess, and someone does have to be paid to clean it up. I know, I was there, and I picked up the feathers and beads and crack pipes off the playa, for many years in a row. By and large, attendees at recent BM events DO leave an unbelievable mess behind, and are reliant on RV’s, not themselves.

  5. Jack says:

    The idealism of Burning Man is wonderful The yearly festival is a creation of powerful positive energy. Yet, in our present day political world, it is just naive to think that huge corporations and their spokespeople in Washington are going to join in with progressives and environmentalists to create an ecologically responsible world. The people funding the tea party are greedy, power- hungry people who will spread war and poverty while increasing deadly pollution. Obama’s biggest error was in thinking he could get along with, compromise with, and win over the corporate puppets that have dominated the Republican and Tea Party movements. It would be nice if we could all get along; but in today’s world, that just means letting the rich and powerful destroy the planet. Sometimes, it is necessary to take a stand.
    My hope is that Jon Stewart will do that and let speakers make a forceful, progressive statement before the universally forecast debacle on Tuesday.

    Jack Miller

  6. so stop charging people beaucoup bucks to use a spot of desert for a few days!!! not all of us are rich!!

  7. Kim Smith says:

    I am helping organize the Rally to Restore Sanity in Portland and am in charge of clean-up. I am applying the Leave No Trace ethic and am using the principles of Burning Man to educate and inspire the crowd. I am an environmental sociologist and studied the Leave No Trace efforts at Burning Man (leading to a paper and many presentations) and am excited to put my research into practice.

  8. Iris Jones Simantel says:

    Brilliant! Change can only come from within and it is within all of us to make miracles happen.

  9. Groovy Groovy Groovy !

  10. In a sane world this evaluation would be right on. Unfortunatly, the Snidley Whiplashes running the right into into insanity are / have painted a big target on our backs. Why?

    We must honor what these elites are about. And then we must act.

    Self Defense is not a Crime.

    Get your head stomped on after being pushed to the ground?

    File charges.

    Sue them.

    Let everyone know who the actors at the bottom and the top are.

    Perhaps we could eliminate the nonsense that corporations are pepole, that if you’re too big to fail you’re too big. If you are in the top 2% you don’t need a tax cut.

    Just a sugestion.

  11. Dianamite says:

    Hmm… I like your article but I’m wondering how Gifting morphed into Performance Based Exchanges.

  12. deb orr says:

    There’s a grammatical error in number one. It should be there rather than their. ” … when their doesn’t have to be” .
    signed the Grammar Police

  13. Joanne says:

    “Have you ever woken up from a dream that was so beautiful words could not do it justice, and when you try to describe it, the dreams seems to be pushed further away into the depths of your subconscious? That is what Burning Man is like, a living and breathing dream that can only be understood by experiencing it”
    That is seriously the best way i have ever heard it be described…thank you!

  14. Cassandra Rose says:

    EXCELLENT ! THANK YOU ~~ When I first found out about Burning Man in 2002 and was out West.
    It stood out the stark contrast between the free spirit of West and the Entrapment of East Coast…

    Our world, lives are filled with such beauty naturally ! But no one see’s it… This is a wonderful message to project on the screen at Rally… I know some volunteers Plus will send this to some of the producers who are posting their twitter address’s etc… and put on Rally FB page if you already have not….

    The East Needs to know they are ALLOWED to be Free Creative Spirits and Experience the Moment !!

  15. GregG aka Gadzoooks says:

    I couldn’t agree more!

  16. Dementia (a burner) says:

    Brilliant linking of the Burning Man experiece to another one. You make almost too much sense .

  17. What I get that you’re saying is that the place to create the radical changes we want to see is in our own community, which is where we Burners and Network For New Culture folk create it. Avant-garde cultures feed society as a whole, so we can expect some of the radical values of our communities to slowly impact the mainstream. In the meantime, we need to vote responsibly and otherwise fulfill our duties as citizens at the local, state and national levels while thanking goddess that our real home is *much* nicer than what is available anywhere in default culture!

  18. jonathan says:

    *** Follow the author of this post here: <—(jon cara aka cosmic serpent fan page)

  19. Nice way to start the day John. I too believe there’s hope.

  20. Gail says:

    This is amazing – I am in my fifties and have believed this since the sixties!! I’m so excited to hear that there are others out there with the same beliefs, dreams and respect for our way of life. We are too influenced with the media and need to become more like our ancestors before us. Thank you for reminding us!!

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