Recently I saw someone share a video entitled “The Heart of Burning Man”, and while the video was slick and impressive, I came away disappointed because it almost entirely focused on Robot Heart and the dance camp experience.
To be fair to the creator of the video, they did say, “To me, the Heart of Burning Man is the people who make it happen year after year…” and you know, I absolutely agree. But I take issue with equating the people partying at a sound camp with “the people that make Burning Man what it is”. That’s a part of some people’s Burn, but I think it’s the minority, and it’s certainly not what makes Burning Man happen year after year.
What makes Burning Man happen year after year is the volunteers, and if you are not volunteering, you are missing out on the Burning Man experience.
To really understand what makes Burning Man special, you need to participate, and the best way to do that is by volunteering.
This year will be my fifth year on playa, and I’m as excited about attending this year as my very first year. That’s because I am looking forward to spending time working as a Ranger, Greeter, and Theme Camp member. During different times of the week, you’ll find me wearing khaki and helping people help themselves, dressing people in fabulous outfits at the Black Rock Boutique, or welcoming people home at the Greeter station.
Will I go see the art and dance to EDM at a dance camp this year? Sure, I enjoy those things. Will these events define my Burn? No way! As much fun as I’m sure I’ll have dancing, I can guarantee you that if someone asks me to tell them a story about my Burn, I will be telling them about one of my volunteer shifts.
In fact, probably one of my favorite experiences to share was working on an early morning Greeter shift. I had just gotten back to camp around 3 am when people in camp were loading up the art car to head out. I was still dressed in my giant bunny outfit from marching in the Billion Bunny March the evening before and frankly ready to get out of it and get some rest. However, my campmates would have none of my excuses and refused to give me time to change, so I jumped on the art car and rode out to the Greeter station with them.
There was nothing so magical as watching and listening to the city quiet down and then come back to life as the sun came up over the mountains from the Greeter station. Blinky lights and sound were replaced with the gentle rumble of the city in the early morning and the stream of excited people arriving to start their Burn steadily increased. My concerns about being a giant bunny proved silly, as there could have been no better way to welcome people to Burning Man than getting a big dust hug from a 7’ 6” tall rabbit. I thoroughly enjoyed helping people to become one with the dust with playa angels, ring their virginity away on the bell, and welcome them into a new experience they will always remember.
Burning Man is not a “festival”. It’s so much more. It is a way of life, a culture, and it could even be the start of a new society. To focus on only one aspect of Burning Man is a disservice to our community. It gives people the wrong impression, and it doesn’t set a good example.
So get out there, volunteer, participate, and make sure to share ALL your experiences with others this year when you get back to the world beyond the trash fence.