“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):
- Sri Preston Kulkarni, Candidate for U.S. Congress in Texas
- Candidate for U.S. Congress in California Shahid Buttar
- Portland Mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone
- Candidate for Washoe County Commission Alexis Hill
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!!