Once you’ve seen it in action, it’s pretty clear why people call Black Rock City a city. But do the mayors of more permanent cities agree?
“The first time I came out, I kinda came out kicking and screaming,” says Mayor Hillary Schieve of Reno, Nevada, “but it actually really changed my life.” That is to say, Mayor Schieve has been to Black Rock City multiple times. In 2018, she was back with a contingent of 11 mayors of U.S. cities, a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Mayors (you may have heard about it on NPR). The Conference of Mayors has started to take an interest in what they might learn from our temporary city — which is big enough to qualify for the Conference of Mayors, by the way.
They are definitely getting it. “It’s not a festival,” says Mayor Elizabeth B. Kautz of Burnsville, Minnesota. “It’s a snapshot into a way of life that everyone can experience, and enjoy. And then say what do I take away from who I am? And how do I live differently in my everyday life?”
“Seeing radical inclusion in action is amazing,” says Mayor Stephen Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina, the current president of the Conference of Mayors. “It pulls out the very best of us.”
“The citizens of Black Rock City came out here and built a city,” Mayor Benjamin observes. “All the infrastructure needed to be a true 21st-century city is right here, right now, built in record time, and will be deconstructed in a way that reflects our commitment to sustainability.” Did you hear that? He said “our!” One of us! One of us!
The mayors participated fully in the spirit of things. They contributed to a “Before I Leave Office…” wall at the Everywhere Pavilion that had previously traveled to U.S.C.M. meetings in D.C. and Boston. Shout-out to DeOxidized camp for hosting the mayors for dinner, and to Controlled Burn, the fire troupe from Reno for performing there. The mayors later took a night tour of Black Rock City on Wednesday. Do you remember how dusty Wednesday night was? These people definitely got the Burning Man treatment.
“I just feel like it’s made me better able to relate to the full range of my constituents that have these kind of counter cultural tendencies, or interest in the arts, or in trying new things, or different philosophies,” says Mayor Christopher Cabaldon of West Sacramento, California. “It was a really profound experience.”
For the next two years, the agenda of the U.S. Conference of Mayors is focused on infrastructure, innovation and inclusion. As national politics get more divisive, city politics seems positively sane — even thriving — by comparison. These mayors came to a city where a giant shish-kebab of cars built by the locals is one of the central civic gathering spaces, and they fit right in. And they want us to bring our creative energy back from Black Rock City to our own cities, engaging with our elected officials and community leaders, perhaps even becoming those leaders ourselves!
“We need more people who care about the cultural fabric, the spiritual fabric — the fact that we are all in this together — serving in public office,” Mayor Benjamin says. “You can make a dramatic change in the lives of the people who need you.”
Those crazy ideas you bring to life in BRC? They’re worth a try in the city you live in the rest of the year. “Don’t be afraid to actually reach out to your mayors,” says Mayor Schieve. “I get people all the time that email me with projects, and I reach out to so many [of them]. If you think that you have something that would benefit your city, do that!”
You can hear Mayors Benjamin and Schieve’s enthusiasm in this interview with Burning Man Project’s Megan Miller live on playa for Burning Man Information Radio.
(Top photo: L to R, Tom Cochran, CEO and Executive Director, U.S. Conference of Mayors; Mayor Debra March, Henderson NV; Mayor Craig Thurmond, Broken Arrow, OK; Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, Burnsville, MN; Mayor Pauline Cutter, San Leandro, CA; Mayor Jim Donchess, Nashua, NH; Mayor Stephen Benjamin, Columbia, SC; Mayor David Terrazas, Santa Cruz; Mayor Hillary Schieve, Reno, NV; Mayor Alberto Santos, Kearny, NJ; Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, West Sacramento, CA; photo by Robert Burnett, U.S. Conference of Mayors)