Radical Involvement in the Uprisings

Burning Man Principles applied to our current shared state

Burning Man Project
9 min readAug 18, 2020
Original post by UrsaLee | July 24, 2020

What does it mean to surrender to the storyline and participate without knowing where it will end?

How does saying yes to a 4 AM dance party sound, or giving a friendly stranger some extra food you have without any expectations or hopes of what it might bring? Does it mean that you help organize a food drive for your Mutual Aid Group or make masks for the protesters in your city? As most Burners apply the Burning Man 10 Principles (11the which is Consent) to their lives during the Big Burn in Nevada, a question to be considered is “how do these principles manifest into other parts of my life off playa?”

Gate Road into Black Rock City

As we surrender, how does one make sense of all that has transpired over the past 6 months? Each month has become some surreal chapter in a never-ending story. From Australia burning, to the truth about the unknown beings outside our planet, with the biggest disruption of a global pandemic that brought the Earth to her knees. Each one of us has responded differently to these factors and it’s understandable. We are all so unique and different so why should your reaction to collective trauma be similar. For COVID-19, the reactions were and continue to be all over the place. Folx is going inward, Organizations are evaluating if it makes sense to continue to operate. Others have jumped to the front for help during the response such as grocery store workers doing their normal jobs that are now deemed essential, to individuals that are starting to volunteer for the first time.

In our Burning Man community, there were some folx that organized with Burners without Borders to mobilize a collection of PPE across the nation for Get Us PPE Organization. There were other Burners that started for the first time working with Mutual Aid networks in their respective cities. When reflecting on this, some principles ( Radical Inclusion, Participation, Gifting, Radical Self — Reliance, & Immediacy) come to mind when looking at what our fellow Black Rock City Citizens are doing for the people around them. As we look to Larry Harvey’s vision of the principles

They were crafted not as a dictate of how people should be and act, but as a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed since the event’s inception

We can start to see how these can be directly applied when entering unknown times that are challenging and scary. If anything, the past few months have shown us that Burners can take a week worth of guiding principles, and turn it into an outline into how we operate in non Burning spaces.

Adding to the never-ending story, Memorial Day weekend left us reeling in 400 years of repressed emotion, pain, and anger. The incident in Central Park and the death of George Floyd broke open that levee. As with Hurricane Katrina, the stark treatment of Black, Indigenous, & People of Color (BIPOC) was broadcasted on our nightly news for all to voyeur at. The Twin Cities rose to march in the streets, setting up Mutual Aid stations, participated in a protest in many forms to get their voices heard once in for all. The injustices that plagued the Black Community would no longer be tolerated starting with the end to Police Brutality. The protest quickly sprang to other cities and Countries such as Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Mexico City, and Washington DC. Something resonated with those who marched alongside strangers who experienced the collective trauma of White Supremacy.

I hit the streets hard the first few days in Washington DC. The climate was erratic, there was an uncertain aura in the air that left primarily young people organizing on a large scale for the first time. There were calls on Social Media for loudspeakers and mics. They needed canopies to set up medic tents in addition to the call to action. In speaking with friends in Los Angeles and Seattle, it was the same story. A call to action for prized resources that your average high school or college student wouldn’t have laying around. The push was slow but folx were starting to mobilize.

A paper installation of names lost to Police Brutality in Downtown Washington DC (Picture by Author)

The mobilization was happening so quickly it was hard to see what group was leading what. In considering how Burners can best provide to the movement is a tricky one. Everyone is so layered with our own identities, figuring out what to do with your energy is important. Having the understanding that not everyone needs to be on the frontlines, while also seeing that having 20 “Facebook Philosophers” reposting pictures of cops hugging protesters is harmful to the movement. It might be helpful to use some of the principles in helping with understanding how you can assist with the movement. Mobilizing can look differently depending on each person’s circumstance. I’ll break down how some of the principles could be applied. The first thing to understand is centering those who often fight the most — Black Womxn and Femmes. As Black Womxn and Femmes are often putting their bodies on the line for everyone else such as Patricia Okoumou did when she was arrested for climbing the Statue of Liberty in protest of Family Separations at the borders, there must be a concerted effort to ensure they are centered and protected.

Radical Movement Work — The BM Principles in Radical Practice

1) Radical Inclusion

Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.

Radical Inclusion for anyone participating in the movement for Black Liberation and Indigenous Sovereignty must understand that space and community is driven by BIPOC. You are a guest in the movement space especially if you are new. Take the time to become familiar with all that has been done and listen. This is not the time to offer a suggestion based on some political theory class you took 10 years ago. We welcome all that are here for our freedom because no one is free until we are all free.

2) Participation

Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.

Participation for anyone within the movement depends greatly on what you want to do but more importantly, what is being asked to do. There was a Social Media frenzy of Black squares that everyone thought was a good idea. Performative measures like this don’t do anything for real systemic change. We need folx to educate themselves, to do some real internal work on their position within a White Supremacist society, to ask the hard questions. This does not include asking your Black friends for free labor or getting into a defensive posture. We need humility and compassion for our lived experiences. Participation can also take on many forms again, especially as COVID-19 is not going away, understanding your own capacity and spoons is important. This is not a trend that dies with a hashtag. In the words of Nipsey Hussle, this is a Marathon.

Camp Que Vivas Protest at Black Rock City, August 2019 (Picture by Author)

3) Gifting

Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift-giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

Gifting in the movement is similar to gifting on Playa. The only thing is this is radical gifting as you are gifting your time and energy, you are gifting your body to be on the line. You are gifting the movement so we can be free. This isn’t to be taken lightly either. As a motherless Auntie, the first few days had me running around to young folx telling them to get proper shoes on, giving money away so they can get a better PPE, and even offering my home to complete strangers. I was also tear-gassed and chased down by Riot Police. Understand that if you Gift during the movement, you could potentially be gifting your life as well. The many Freedom Fighters we have lost in the past month will only increase as the response is becoming more covert. Coming to terms with what your Radical gift is important for the movement. We need to know who to call for the front lines and who to lean into for a hot meal.

4) Radical Self-reliance

Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise, and rely on his or her inner resources.

Radical Self-reliance has a few different meanings for the Black Liberation and Indigenous Sovereignty Movement. On playa come prepared with all you need to survive the harsh desert. In the Movement, we need you to use your position, privilege, and power to care for others. Radical Community-reliance will only help in the long run. With the previously stated words, it is important to hold space for the community. White Supremacist culture thrives on individualism and capitalistic theories. We need to begin to shift our understanding of what it truly means to be in community with one another. This is part of it, if you have the resources, provide and give them. If you have a technical skill, the Movement can use it! Again, if the other stuff is covered, Radical Community-reliance is something that can usher in a new way of life.

Protest Signs in front of the White House in Washington DC in July 2020 (Picture by Author)

5) Immediacy

Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.

Think of Immediacy in terms of actions happening in and around you. There are actions that occur real time such as a group tearing down a racist monument, or there is a standing meeting discussing best protection methods during stressful situations. When thinking about all that is happening, one can get caught up in what is trending as brought up before, but Immediacy looks different in the Movement. As opposed to FOMO (fear of missing out) from Daft Punk at the trash fence, it needs folx to process a text message warning real time to see if it is creditable. Immediacy for the Movement is remembering to apply Critical Analysis to the reality you are experiencing. It might be making a quick decision over information received that either needs to be assessed immediately, stored until you are able to revisit and do proper research, or simply forgotten. Especially as a new folx to the Movement it is important to become a sponge for experiences and information and remember not to apply judgement until you are able to process it through a space that is safe. An Immediate action one could do is seek out intentional discussion spaces for White Allies. Additionally, constantly checking in with yourself throughout the process. We might not see the fruits of our labor in this generation but know that what is done in the near future will forever set the seeds for our Collective Liberation and Healing.

I’ll end this with a quote by the famous Science Fiction Author and Oracle Octavia E. Butler from her book Parable of the Sower,

Freedom is dangerous but it’s precious, too. You can’t just throw it away or let it slip away. You can’t sell it for bread and pottage

This Movement is dangerous, but the end of it is essential. We cannot throw away this moment or let it slip away due to fear or lack of a clear path forward. We cannot sell it for the price of bread and pottage in the form of trendy hashtags or 15-minute protest but a multitude of efforts that each and all of us can participate in.

We are who our ancestors prayed for. Let us channel them in the fight for our Collective Liberation.

Originally published by Ursula Wright on July 24, 2020



Burning Man Project

The nonprofit Burning Man Project facilitates and extends a global cultural movement united in the pursuit of a more creative and connected world.