The Global Village

RSA to BRC the hard way

It doesn’t seem all that long ago when everyone at Burning Man came from California and the only language spoken was English. This year, in a single night, I overheard conversations in Russian, Japanese, Mandarin, Dutch, German, French, Portuguese, Afrikaans, and a half-dozen other tongues I couldn’t ID. I clinked glasses with a cider-maker from England, an architecture student from Russia, and an intrepid young South African named Kayden, who had ridden his bicycle all the way to Black Rock City from the RSA.

According to early census numbers, nearly a quarter of our city’s population now comes from outside the US, or roughly 17,000 people this year. And for every one who makes it to BRC, how many friends did they leave back home who would love to join us if they could? Though now written on a global canvas, it’s an old story: people come to BRC and get their lives changed, and they take that experience home to whatever part of everywhere they came from. Maybe they’ll be back next year or maybe they won’t, but they can’t stop thinking about it, talking about it, and wanting to live this way year-round.

Regional burner groups
Regional burner groups

Small wonder, then, that the Regional Network has grown so dramatically over the past few years, with hundreds of sanctioned groups now hosting scores of burnerish events around the globe. Afrikaburn alone had over 7,000 attendees this year. Whatever it is we’ve built here in the desert, demand clearly outstrips supply. The playa can only hold so many, but we’re not just the playa anymore – we’re the planet.

This global spread of our culture – organic, viral, and largely unplanned – is where all the action is. On a personal level, it’s why I chose to rejoin the Burning Man Project after a long hiatus. How do we channel and fuel that mad growth? How do we translate the Ten Principles, and stay true to their spirit as we cross cultural and linguistic boundaries? How can we continue to serve as a catalyst for positive change in the world? From the beginning, we’ve always viewed our event as an experimental community – but who could have guessed that the subjects would assimilate so completely with the observers, burn down the lab, and take the experiment to so many corners of the globe?Burning Man 2013: State of the Art

If you’re wondering what part you can play in all this, I have a few suggestions. Pick a region – any region – and get involved with your local burners. Maybe it’s just an afterburn they’re after, or maybe it’s something more ambitious, like the YES project or the Carver Garden Alliance, two great examples of how burners are working with kids in their local communities. If there isn’t a regional group yet in your area, think about starting one. And if you’re short on free time, but still want to add a little fuel to the fire, consider making a tax-deductible donation to the nonprofit Burning Man Project. Your dollars – or yen or rubles or pounds – will help keep things burning those other 51 weeks of the year.

Thanks to all of you. Danke, merci, xiexie, and gracias. Wherever you live in the default world, you are part of an amazing global community. The playa speaks, and the world is listening.


Stuart Mangrum coined the phrase “TTITD” and claims to have seen the Playa Chicken. He works for the Burning Man Project.

About the author: Stuart Mangrum

Stuart Mangrum

Stuart is the director of Burning Man Project's Philosophical Center and host of the Burning Man LIVE podcast. Since his first Burn in 1993 he has participated as a theme camp organizer, artist, and year-round staff member contributing to the Project's communications, education, and storytelling efforts.

8 Comments on “The Global Village

  • Pen Muni says:

    Burning man is as much multicultural as Klu Klax Klan. At 380 dollars a ticket, all you got was representatives of rich countries.

    Get a map of GDP per country, place it over your proud global map and you will get the idea.

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  • AsOfTime says:

    @ Pen Muni…Amen. Burning man is nothing more than a rich kids playground with its own group of lawyers to bend the rules favorable to themselves.

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  • freeman says:

    Privileged folks stepping outside the habituated box of “culture” and learning about community, interdependence and living in a gifting economy. How is this a problem?

    Any nudge in the right direction for attorneys, engineers or anyone labeled as “Them who have caused the problem” is fine with me.

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  • Carolyn Eddy says:

    I am far from rich and got a low income ticket. Part of the proces for getting the ticket was an essay on how I would contribute to the playa. I passed, because I am useful. (I hope.) It was a lifetime experience and cost less than $400 for the whole week, incuding gas and a motel.
    Be resourceful and your ticket will come.

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  • Tim H says:

    @ Pen Muni & AsOfTime…… Haters gotta hate i guess. IMHO people from less rich countries(monetarily speaking) that live a simpler life are much richer in the aspects of community and family and giving. In my travels it’s generally the person who doesn’t seem to have much who is more willing to give you the shirt off their back than someone at home who is more “well to do”. I feel like the cultural web in many “rich” countries has been torn apart by greed, fear, and hate and is where the true message of the playa is perhaps needed most. Is everything perfect at BM? Hell no! But it’s a starting point for many to see and create a better world.

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  • Ghost says:

    For me the gist of the post is that we have people from around the world coming to the Burn. If we are going to judge countries, then we should go down to evaluating States and Counties. This is best left to politician and economists.
    For me the questions is, if we are truly an international event why do we not have communications on the playa to address that community? Like sat phones are a Band-Aid, we need cell coverage (which we had at one time), and a WI-FI.
    This is one of the fundamental failures of the BORG, it appears they can set up a WI-FI system for themselves but unable to do it for the city. As for cell coverage, well we have a city of 70,000 that should be some leverage on either ATT and Verizon.
    Well, argue on the rich vs. us, and money vs poor, I heard this argument over 10 years ago, and it continues on —- almost as exciting as watching a dust storm.

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  • Jack Fool says:

    I’ve been working on an ‘Alchemical Progression’ of BM for the past 7 years and after battling insurmountable odds, I’m finally making headway.
    The recent discovery of a huge undersea pyramid in the Azores (which believe it or not) has a direct correlation to Burning Man (long, wonderful story).
    The project is called ALTER MAN 47: The Alchemical Voyage.
    Take a visit to my site if you truly dig a revolutionary project (that I need loads of help with) that is set to travel around the globe and help Alter Mankind.
    Have a see and please Like, Comment & Share it if you will!:

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