A Thousand Fractal Shards: One Burning Man Revolution

Introduction: A Choice Point for Humanity

Our world is on fire. Police violence, racism, economic collapse and injustice, public health crises of COVID-19 and chronic disease, broken and corrupted democracies, ecocide, epidemics of addiction and suicide, mass incarceration, cultural genocide, state and corporate surveillance, slavery and human trafficking are all interwoven into an overwhelmingly complex web of failing systems that threaten the soul of humanity.

As the collective trauma of racial violence and inequality is at the forefront of our shared awareness through profoundly painful images of police violence, we have the opportunity to participate in a trauma-informed revolution that brings us together to heal our deepest wounds and discover the unconditional solidarity of our shared humanity. Unlike social movements of the past, we have the opportunity to meet this pain with love, healing, and integration so that we can truly rise as an international Unified People’s Movement. Listening to leaders and healers from Black, indigenous, and all other systemically marginalized communities, we can participate in the collective redemption of our deepest shadows.

For decades, the Burning Man Project has been a creative hub that has provided an outlet for visionaries to imagine a new world together. There has never been a more crucial time to reimagine and rebuild our world to honor the sanctity of all life. While the Burning Man community has been predominantly white and privileged, if we choose to listen deeply to those most impacted by our broken systems, we can activate the resources, relationships, and skills we developed building Black Rock City in service to a larger movement that addresses the core systemic failures of our civilization.

Radical Inclusion can and must mean more than simply including diverse groups in the Burning Man event. At best, this is only partial ally-ship. Radical Inclusion and Communal Effort can mean deep partnership with, participation in, and service to the movements that are defining our time.

This is a call for the radical countercultures of the Burning Man community to unite around a transformational movement that heals the underlying traumas that have created systemic failure and brings together our nation and world around a vision for a thriving future that supports all life on Earth.

This is a call for you to find your purpose and highest expression of service in your community and region. Life has positioned each of us with unique gifts that are being called forward by the moment of crisis we now face. You have something crucial to offer and create, alongside millions of others doing the same.

The legacy of Burning Man isn’t yet fully written, but our history and our present moment give us clues as to the greater design that Life might have in store for our collective future.

Life Created Burning Man

Life ingeniously designed a dominant culture whose limitations on certain forms of expression and behavior forced all the non-commodifiable and culturally unacceptable aspects of humanity into the underground, an underground that bubbled to the surface in the Black Rock desert of rural Nevada in the early 90s.

As a result, Burning Man contains the darkest shadow and brightest light of our civilization. It’s home to hedonism, sexual deviance, widespread drug use, experimental ideologies, artists, musicians, technologists, entrepreneurs, neo-shamans, visionaries, hackers, hipsters, hippies, anarchists, and cultural critics. As a counterculture hub that has been increasingly gentrified by the new elite and powerful of Silicon Valley, this petri dish of the disallowed and repressed aspects of Western civilization has been brewing and growing. Novel relationships across various fringe communities have formed in the building of massive art projects. Hedge fund managers and defense department contractors have tripped acid with visionary artists.

From its inception, Burning Man was created as a Temporary Autonomous Zone, a temporary space that deconstructs formal structures of control by concentrating on the ephemeral present moment and on releasing one’s own mind from the controlling mechanisms that have been imposed on it. In that spirit of continuous redefinition and complete abandonment of dominant thinking, Burning Man is an ideal experimental ground for the rapid prototyping of an entirely different set of cultural norms. While many have tried to define Burning Man or proclaim that “it was better last year,” the creative autonomy of this extravagant social experiment has continued to drive new forms of thinking, collaboration, and entrepreneurship.

As powerful and influential elites were drawn like moths to the flame of Burning Man’s cultural capital, the underground ideas of radical fringe communities started to flood the mainstream. Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Google founder Sergey Brin, both longtime Burners, are archetypal stand-ins for a new class of billionaire Burner that bridges the worlds of art and decommodification with capitalism and entrepreneurship. While this new class of super wealthy and their lavish turn-key camps may appear on the surface to be profoundly misaligned with Burning Man’s core principles, perhaps this cultural trend was also designed by Life for an as-of-yet unactualized purpose.

Image by Planet Collective
Image by Planet Collective

Apocalypse: The Great Revealing

For all its excess and shadows, Burning Man has been knowingly and unknowingly preparing for the time of apocalypse. From the playful apocalyptic fashion choices to the very real challenges of building a completely off-grid city in a matter of weeks, the Black Rock Desert is the perfect place to prepare for systems collapse and rebirth. Burners know how to rapidly deploy essential infrastructure, leave no trace, survive extreme weather, and how to throw a good party at the end of the world.

But now the dress rehearsal for the end of the world is canceled and Life has scheduled the real show to begin. Is it possible that Life is intelligent enough to have designed a temporary city of well-resourced visionaries, builders, and creators to perfectly coincide with the slow faltering crash of our current iteration of civilization? Could the cascading crises of 2020 be the switch that finally gives radical visionaries the permission they’ve been waiting for to redesign our world? Could systems collapse be the incentive that drives wealthy Burners to make the ultimate investment in rebirthing our civilization?

Image by Ian Mack
Image by Ian Mack

Perhaps the founders of Burning Man saw this coming and were planning for it all along, or perhaps a larger symphony of Life has been orchestrating all the pieces into place before shattering them apart again, sending the revolutionary and creative spirit of Burning Man crackling back into the communities many of its participants had been escaping from.

After decades of building community, infrastructure, and art, Burning Man 2020 at Black Rock City is canceled. Despite the temporary nature of the city, many Burners could never imagine a year without the gathering. Our entire world is reeling in protest, violence, confusion, misinformation, broiling political and cultural discontent — and Burners, who have spent millions of dollars preparing to build their temporary city, are all dressed up with nowhere to go. If properly channeled, Burners’ capacity to both effectively build infrastructure and ground new innovations could be the spark that catches the fire of a new national revolution.

Image by Ian Mack
Image by Ian Mack

Revolution: Integrating Love & Power

Standing Rock, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter — the defining social movements of the aughts and teens–were defined by their opposition to the dominant culture. Opposing ecocide, predatory banking, and police brutality were absolutely necessary ‘holding actions,’ as defined in Joanna Macy’s framework, The Work that Reconnects, but they have yet to inspire a unified social movement for holistic thriving and fundamental systemic transformation.

The two other critical dimensions of the regenerative paradigm shift that Macy calls ‘The Great Turning,’ are the proliferation of Life Sustaining Systems / Practices, and Shifts in Consciousness. Integrating these dimensions into a social movement that leverages the profound care and yearning for justice of activist culture with the openness, creativity, and ingenuity of the Burning Man community could unleash a profound force of community rehabilitation, connection, and resiliency.

This vision has already been successfully tested and implemented by Burners Without Borders through their partnership with Permaculture Action Network and an Oakland elementary school to support, enhance and celebrate the school garden that local legend Wanda Stewart has been tending for decades. In the course of a weekend, Burners brought their art, music and physical labor to Hoover Elementary School to make lasting developmental contributions including art, sacred space, refurbished infrastructure, and new relationships between local Oakland families and the many of the artists who have set up shop in nearby warehouses.

Image by Carmen Mauk
Image by Carmen Mauk

In the face of COVID-19, many Burners are self-organizing into mutual aid networks across the Bay Area to provide food and support to those most impacted by the crisis. Nick Farr of Burners Without Borders writes about the transition from disaster relief to Long Disaster Responding, the shift from emergency disaster scenarios to the long rolling disasters of systems collapse. These shifts in thinking are emerging organically from Burners’ truly human desire to be of meaningful service in a time of systemic failures.

As communities become increasingly aware of the instability and potential collapse of our economies and supply chains, coming together through community resiliency, food, art, healing, and restoring relationships is both a common sense preparation for the future as well as a completely new vision for how our world can be organized.

Image by Carmen Mauk
Image by Carmen Mauk

Amidst the largest ecological and economic collapse in history, imagine if the profound discontent and disillusionment of our current moment were channeled into a transformational movement that reclaimed the public commons of our communities and environment. Imagine if instead of Occupying, we come together to heal the deep wounds of race, class, gender, and identity, grow community gardens, and rehabilitate our neighborhoods in the spirit of art, unity, and visionary possibility — while practically organizing to create structural political and economic change.

Trauma-Informed Revolution

We’ve been training for this. Since Occupy Wall Street began in 2011, the communities that were activated by that movement have been learning new skills of group facilitation, distributed governance and decision making, collective and personal healing, trauma release and integration — meeting the deepest wounds and limitations that had constrained our collective power from being actualized. Instead of simply protesting, we can organize a mass social movement to build the more beautiful world we know in our hearts is possible.

Adrienne Marie Brown’s definitive work on Emergent Strategy builds on the legacy of legendary organizer Grace Lee Boggs and the work of science fiction visionary, Octavia Butler, to provide a natural living systems approach to collective power. Brown’s conceptual and practical work provides the training for communities to strategize, deepen relationships across diverse movements, and hold a brave space to practice generative conflict. Her Kitchen Table (Movement Mediation Method) is a practiced method of collective healing that helps movements remain coherent as conflict emerges.

Tony Moss, community leader, musician, and ayahuasca advocate has integrated the ancestral indigenous healing modalities of plant medicines into the context of personal and collective transformation through his non-profit I.AM.LIFE. I.AM.LIFE produces interactive soul circles, contemporary community ceremonial experiences that re-establish community connection, and has collaborated with Pachamama Alliance and Generation Waking Up to provide workshops that galvanize diverse groups of young people to rise in their leadership and empowerment.

In 2012, the State of Maine and the Wabanaki nation conducted the first ever US Truth and Reconciliation Commission to process the collective trauma of the brutal Native American boarding school cultural genocide program. In fluorescent-lit public school cafeterias, elected leaders and community members came together to share the horrific stories of our violent past and, through witnessing the pain together, provided healing and a shared commitment to addressing the legacy of Native American genocide.

For over 40 years, European intentional community Tamera has been working on collectively healing some of humanity’s deepest human wounds that have emerged from violence and destroyed communities. Their trauma-informed cooperative work foregrounds personal healing as a primary driver for systems change and links global challenges with the deep inner work of healing and liberation. Their Forum practice is a social technology for practicing honesty in community and relationships. This elegant community practice creates solidarity through mutual empathy. It’s a practice that transforms collective trauma and allows healing to take place, as community members feel seen and loved.

Kailea Frederick’s Earth Is `Ohana is an immersive and adaptable environmental educational framework that integrates ecological stewardship, ancestral indigenous wisdom traditions, and cultures of deep listening and dialogue. The framework facilitates healing social and environmental divides by finding connection to ourselves, each other and ultimately the spaces we live in. The emerging leadership from spiritual ecologists provides place-based and trauma-informed practices that help us care for the earth as we care for each other.

These examples are just the beginning of what could become a global transformational healing process that meets the existential crises of our time. If all systems of oppression and violence are rooted in and perpetuated by collective trauma, then a truly holistic revolution for systemic change must have collective healing at the center.

As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Our lives are inextricably linked to one another and none of us are truly free until we all experience liberation, healing, and unconditional love. In this moment of seeming division and separation, we have the opportunity to address the deepest roots of humanity’s trauma by meeting the pain with honesty, humility, and love.

Conclusion: A Call for Non-Violent National Revolution

It’s not that Burning Man is the solution to all the world’s systemic challenges. By design, the liminal space of a temporary autonomous zone is the perfect place to discover new solutions together. By taking the time to listen and integrate multiple perspectives, we can align ourselves with the emergent self-organizing patterns of nature. By creating radically inclusive maker spaces that aren’t attached to one perspective over another, we provide a basis for healing, integration, and novel combinations of perspectives that aren’t accessible in traditional hierarchies and silos.

Image by Leori Gill
Image by Leori Gill

We can bring these autonomous zones into our communities with the same revolutionary fervor of the 1960's, now equipped with the social and digital technologies we need to create meaningful collaboration and lasting change.

Instead of building a Man and Temple that we burn to the ground, we can build temples dedicated to our collective potential in cities and rural communities around the country as gathering points, testing grounds and laboratories for co-creation and the realization of our shared humanity.

Image by Leori Gill
Image by Leori Gill

Through the leadership of organizations like Global Ecovillage Network, land-based community projects around the country are poised to unite around this vision and offer their land and infrastructure as gathering places for revolutionary energy to ground and manifest into physical form.

From the lens of story of interbeing, it is clear that Life designed Burning Man and all of the interweaving contexts, communities, and capacities that are now ready to be activated, integrated, and leveraged to create a new revolution for universal thriving. Burning Man brought us together and our current moment is sending us back out into the world with the most urgent call to action that we have ever received as a species.

We have the potential to ground the transformation of Burning Man into lasting, meaningful and revolutionary changes in our homes and communities. We have the potential to be a new generation of visionary leaders that accomplish what our elders and ancestors dreamed of achieving: the complete transformation of our social, economic, and cultural institutions for a world that truly works for all.

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