Reaching Across Party Lines with Participation and Civic Responsibility

“Vegan. Lunch. Nearby,” my thumbs quickly type into my phone. “Search.” I’m standing on the corner of Sutter and Fillmore in San Francisco’s Japantown, across from Dennis Kucinich. The two-time Presidential candidate, former U.S. Congressman, and longtime flagbearer for the left wing of American politics has just delivered the keynote address at Burning Man’s Global Leadership Conference and he’s hungry.

Serving as Burning Man Project’s Director of Communications can lead to some unexpected encounters. When I left my career in electoral politics and government (or at least put it on pause) nearly a decade ago to come work full-time for Burning Man Project, I didn’t expect to find myself chatting with Dennis Kucinich about how he sees Burning Man as a collective manifestation of humanity’s yearning for transformation. 

Just a few months after the vegan lunch in San Francisco (we ended up at The Grove on Fillmore, for those keeping track), I would find myself on a late-night Esplanade walk-and-talk across Black Rock City with conservative stalwart and anti-taxer Grover Norquist. He extolled the value of the Burning Man experiment as a vibrant and important example of what humanity is capable of when government stays out of the way, as I pondered how much government intervention actually exists in Black Rock City (quite a lot!). Grover had much to say about his first trip to Black Rock City in 2014, and he has been returning ever since.

A Culture That Values Participation Over Partisanship

Here in the United States, as the day dawned on what is likely the most consequential Election Day of my lifetime, I was struck by, and filled with appreciation for, how Burning Man appeals to and resonates with people across the political spectrum. At a time when the conversation about what it means to be American feels more polarized than ever, I’m seeking spaces and places to connect with those who hold differing views. Black Rock City seems an unlikely solution, but in fact Burning Man culture brings people together across a ‘great divide’, enabling a space where the Dennis Kucinichs and the Grover Norquists of the world find value in the model Black Rock City offers.

Our political diversity may be one of our greatest strengths as a community. Black Rock City Census data reports a high number of participants on the progressive end of the political scale, but there’s also a solid number who identify as Conservative, and many with a strong Libertarian streak (what’s more Libertarian than Radical Self-reliance?). 

How many social spaces exist in the U.S. today where people gather across political and ideological lines? Where they not only ‘break bread’ together, but ideate, collaborate, and at least experientially, for a short period of time, depend on each other for survival? Black Rock City is the only one on my list so far. 

It’s not just that Black Rock City supports political diversity, it’s that Burning Man culture nurtures and supports an engaged citizenry. So again, what’s more “Burning Man” than voting?

As my friend Caveat said in 2017, “Burning Man may be the most effective master class in social transformation anywhere in the world – but this is possible precisely because we don’t tell people what to believe. Creating the conditions whereby people can learn to become active participants in their lives begins with not giving them orders to follow.”

Burners on the Ballot

Some members of our community are taking their participation beyond voting and Civic Responsibility — they’re raising their hands and stepping directly into the ring.

In a recent Burners Without Borders community call Civic Activation: Running for Office, Burner and former candidate for Los Angeles City Council Aura Vásquez shared, “I have been able to see the best in humanity attending Burning Man… This idea that we can actually come together and collaborate and create and share and uplift the best of us was something that was very aligned with my personal values, and the reasons I decided to run for public office.” Other panelists on the call shared how Burning Man served as a source of inspiration for their campaigns and for their approaches to local policy solutions (watch the full conversation here).

Here are some members of our extended Burning Man community who are currently running for office in the United States (note: this is not a formal endorsement of any kind — just an attempt at a “who’s who” of Burners in politics as a way of sharing information):

Know any other Burners running for office (anywhere around the world)? Let us know in the comments!

AND, if you’re an eligible voter in the United States, don’t forget to VOTE in today’s election!!

About the author: Megan Miller

Megan Miller

Megan is an accomplished communications professional with experience in the private, public and nonprofit sectors. She’s a skilled leader, writer, editor, public speaker, and strategic adviser. Megan is passionate about the art of sharing information in creative and impactful ways, and believes in the power of ideas and authentic self-expression to change the world for the better. Before joining the year-round Burning Man staff in 2012, Megan spent ten years working for environmental protection, HIV/AIDS prevention, political campaigns, and the United States Senate. Born and raised in Juneau, Alaska, Megan earned a Bachelor’s degree in English & Art History from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and is a 2007 graduate of the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs. She is also a certified yoga instructor who loves shaking it loose on the dance floor.

5 Comments on “Reaching Across Party Lines with Participation and Civic Responsibility

  • Buck says:

    Trump 2020! MAGA!

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  • Cathy West says:

    Please go back to only the original Burning Man 10 principles and do not try adding new ones based on some latest cultural fads. These new ones don’t have numbers yet but they are endorsed by Burning Man and and/or have a special web page. These new principles mean well, the intentions may be good and noble but they are either A) unnecessary/redundant; B) are accusatory or insulting to some; C) split people apart instead of focusing on commonality like the original 10 principles, or D) will eventually destroy Burning Man.
    Here’s just some of the these new unnumbered principles:
    POLITICS/VOTING see above
    VIRUS IRRATIONAL FEARS this is why I doubt there
    will be a 2021 Burn
    On a very positive note there are also some very very good things that have endorsement by Burning Man with no negative effects such as Doctors Without Borders, Tribal assistance, and many others.

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    • HalfNote says:

      Rather than advocating for a new principle, this post seems to be about some of the things Participation and Civic Responsibility can mean — and we could throw in Radical Inclusion and Communal Effort — and how we express these things on playa and off. Where is the border between BM and the default world? What crosses? What doesn’t? What does it mean each time an idea moves from outside in or inside out? We all have our own answers to these questions. And Radical Self-expression says they could lead anywhere. For some, even into politics. I’m just grateful some Burners are willing to do it.

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