Tribes tour comes back home

My well-attended reading last night at Pegasus Books in Berkeley was the 11th event in my The Tribes of Burning Man book tour. I’ve enjoyed every one them and appreciate the support and insightful questions and comments from those who have attended. Really, the discussions have all been great. But I have to say that I’m really looking forward to returning to my home turf of San Francisco for my reading at Booksmith on Haight Street on May 25 at 7:30 pm.

I’m hoping to really blow this one out because that block is like burner central, the strip that all San Franciscans visit during our Burning Man preparations, picking up art supplies and fake fur at Mendel’s, tickets and goggles at Distractions, and cool costume clothing at Held Over and Buffalo Exchange. And hopefully people can add “buying Scribe’s book at Booksmith” to their preparation lists for this year.

All of my presentations so far have been unique, choosing different chapters to tell a variety of stories based on the audience, my mood, and recent events. I’m expecting this discussion to be particularly timely and relevant considering Black Rock City LLC just moved into its new headquarters on Market Street and it is about to announce the seven new directors that will run The Burning Man Project, the new nonprofit that will take over operation of Burning Man in the coming years.

With a core audience of veteran San Francisco burners in attendance, we can get deep into the challenges and complicated questions that our shared culture faces during this pivotal year, from how the event should be governed in the future to what kinds of new ventures are possible and appropriate. I plan to have all the latest info to facilitate what I hope will be a lively discussion, which I’m sure will continue over cocktails at the Gold Cane or Hobson’s Choice after Booksmith gives us the boot.

I hope to see you there.

Is Burning Man a revolutionary training camp?

The next reading and discussion of my book will be tonight at 7 pm in Berkeley’s Revolution Books, a store whose ethos is shaped by the Revolutionary Communist Party and its belief that only a full-on people’s revolution will cure what ails this country. So as I work on my program for that event, I’ve been contemplating this question: is Burning Man a revolutionary training camp?

Those who have read my book, The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture, know that I don’t think the event is animated by communist zeal, and that most burners are actually fairly apolitical. Much of my six-year narrative center on efforts by founder Larry Harvey and others to try to nudge the culture toward great sociopolitical relevance and engagement, without much success.

But there are some undeniably revolutionary aspects to the annual creation of Black Rock City, an egalitarian village based on communal effort and a gift economy, a place that probably realizes the true communist ideal more than the Soviet Union ever did. Karl Marx’s edict, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” would fit right in with Burning Man’s 10 Principles, alongside concepts that include Participation, Communal Effort, and Radical Inclusion.

Larry, who wrote those 10 Principles, is most certainly no communist, but he said that the principles were derived “from the ethos that guides Bohemians.” In other words, they are a repudiation of American exploitation, commodification, and imperialism the Chairman Bob Avakian and his RCP comrades are targeting with their revolutionary rhetoric.

But the question I’m raising isn’t just whether Burning Man is a revolutionary concept, or whether it shares some values with the communists, but whether it is a revolutionary training camp. And what I’m trying to get at with this distinction is whether this annual ritual of building and destroying Black Rock City is an exercise that prepares us for revolution.

Think about it: we organize into thousands of cells called theme camps, collectives, or tribes; we do outreach and fundraising, often through clandestine activities like throwing huge underground parties; we engineer crazy fire-spewing contraptions and mutant vehicles off all kinds; we have spawned a vast, interconnected, and well-organized network of regional groups in cities around the world, all organized according to the 10 Principles; we have internal security forces (Black Rock Rangers) as a buffer against outside policing agencies; and we have created an extensive system of social services and outreach bureaus, from medical services to the arts (Black Rock Arts Foundation) to communications (from Jack Rabbit Speaks to Burning Man Information Radio) to energy (Black Rock Solar) to facilitating disaster response and good works (Burners Without Borders).

But beyond all those functions that mirror those of a revolutionary movement, there’s the more basic notion that we’ve being practicing building and then rebuilding a new kind of society, over and over again, for a quarter-century. And at this point, we’re very good at it, and we’ve learned a great deal about how to do it and the pitfalls to avoid. We have a revolution every year, just for the fun of it.

In his books “Basics,” Avakian sounds a basically Maoist philosophy, stressing the need to organize the masses along revolutionary principles to be ready for the day when the unsustainable capitalist/imperialist system begins to falter in order to wrest control of this country away from the fascist forces who will seek to maintain power and order through force.

When that day comes in this country, when the wheels start to come up the wagon and the Tea Party, Christian fundamentalist, wealthy end-gamer, and militia crowds make their play for control, I’m going to go link up with all my burner friends and tribes and find out whether this practice we’ve been engaged in could transform us into the vanguard party for the grand and glorious revolution that Marx predicted.

Power to the people!

TED picks Flux (and other burner success stories)

Temple of Flux, Guardian photo by John Curley

Apparently I’m not the only one who thought the Temple of Flux and the Flux Foundation that it spawned had something interesting to say about the times in which we live – at least worthy of a Guardian cover story and the ending of my book – because the TED organization today announced the Flux is a finalist to speak at TED2012: Full Spectrum. And to go big, they’ve started a Kickstarter campaign you can kick in to.
“We built community through art and we’d like to show you how,” was the final tagline for a cool video that Jess Hobbs and the rest of the Flux crew produced as an application to TED, today’s most cutting edge speakers forum.
Now, the Flux crew and 16 other finalists are headed to New York City where they’ll be presenting the project live on May 26, an event that TED will stream over the Internet. I wish I could be there to see it live, but my own trip to NYC for The Tribes of Burning Man book tour is June 7-13. Missed it by that much.
But honestly, there’s more going on with the culture that I covered in my book than I can keep up with anyway, at least while busy promoting said book, which I’ll be doing this week with bookstore readings on May 11 at Books Inc. in Mountain View and May 13 at Revolution Books in Berkeley.
Last week, Marco Cochrane, Katy Boynton, and the rest of the Blissdance crew installed that beautiful, 40-foot sculpture of a dancing nude woman on Treasure Island, where she will reside in a temporary placement until at least October, with a welcoming reception for her planned for May 26.
Also out on Treasure Island, Peter Hudson and his committed crew have been hard at work on Charon, his latest stroboscopic zoetrope that sounds like it could be his best piece yet. It’s definitely on my list to get out there, check it out, and lend a hand – as I’ve been promising to do – but life seems awfully demanding right now.
What else? Last weekend, my Garage Mahal campmates threw a great fundraiser party that set them on the path for another rocking year, while my publisher Brad Olsen and his How Weird Street Faire crew staged one of the best outdoor dance parties in San Francisco, ever, and I really don’t think I’m exaggerating. Just. Killed. It. And I suppose the weirdly warm San Francisco weather that peaked that day didn’t hurt either.
Yes, it’s a life of abundance that we lead, party people. See you around.