Is there anything more “Burning Man” than voting? Hear me out.
Burning Man spaces are intentionally, and importantly, non-partisan. They welcome and are inclusive of people who identify with a variety of political parties and ideologies — but that does not make them apolitical.
According to Webster’s, politics is “the total complex of relations between people living in society.” As humans alive today, we are navigating and experiencing politics whether we consider ourselves “political” or not. Burning Man experiences are in fact rich with political lessons, learnings, and discourse. Any time Burners gather, we are co-creating a political experiment — we are actively imagining and testing new ways of relating to each other, making decisions, and distributing power.
Black Rock City is the largest and most obvious example of this collective experiment. What forces create the world we live in? Who designs the systems that shape our lives? Every year in the desert we build a deeply participatory city, one whose citizens determine what gets built, what happens, and how. It is through the process of tens of thousands of highly passionate, participatory and dedicated citizens working to make their desires a reality that the beautiful sum total of Black Rock City is realized. And every year, we learn from this grand experiment and take away lessons to apply to our daily lives and our year-round communities.
In the words of Burning Man founder Larry Harvey (from a speech about Matt Gonzalez’s candidacy for San Francisco Mayor), “It’s time for people to do what we do every year at Burning Man. Don’t be a spectator. Get out there. Connect like crazy with people you don’t even know. Tell them that they must participate, and, above all else, please, welcome them home.
Democracy is a System We Build Through Participation
Our experiment in the desert wouldn’t work without Participation, Communal Effort, and Radical Self-expression. These key elements are why Black Rock City is so vibrant and engaging, and why leaders from other cities look to BRC as a model. In 2018 and 2019, I had the pleasure of co-hosting a bipartisan group of mayors from across the United States who visited Black Rock City to see these principles in action (check out this video and this BMIR interview for more about their visit).
So we know from our experience building Black Rock City that communities are stronger when citizens speak up and participate. The political processes in the “default world” may be broken or at least deeply imperfect, but we can’t change them by opting out. We can change them by opting in, by taking responsibility and accountability for shifting the system ourselves. Which brings me back to the importance of voting.
As a way to participate, express yourself, and realize your civic duty and legal right, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Burning Man’s ethos than by voting (especially if you happen to be an eligible voter in the United States this week!). Our Black Rock City Census stats seem to back that up — Burners in the United States vote at a higher rate than the national average (go us!).
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Burning Man Project does not endorse candidates, specific ballot initiatives, or campaigns. But we certainly support civic engagement, which is reflected in our mission, our six official program areas, and in our most celebrated cultural guidepost, the 10 Principles, which include Civic Responsibility.
How Burners are Bringing Civic Responsibility to the 2020 US Election
Inspired by the participatory, civic-minded spirit of Burning Man, The Voter Party is activating doers, costume lovers, and fun-loving humans across the United States to participate in democracy. Co-create an activation or set up a gallery walk experience for voters waiting in line! Have a quick read about the The Voter Party in this Burning Man Journal article, or go in depth by listening to our Burning Man Live interview with its co-founder.
For more voting-related resources, Burning Man Project has created this resource section on Kindling, our new portal for online engagement.
Whether you’re in the United States facing a big election next week, or anywhere else in the world… the stakes are high. I hope you get out there and share your perspective, make your voice heard, and participate in building the world you want to live in.
Cover: “Welcome Home”, 2019 by Olivia Steele (Photo by Scott London)