Consent and Sexual Harassment at Burning Man: What You Can Do to Help

[This is the third in a series of blog posts addressing sexual assault, sexual harassment, and the importance of consent in the Burning Man community. It was compiled with the invaluable assistance of Bonnie Ruberg, a six-year Burner, university instructor and a queer community organizer in the Bay Area, and Gigi-D L’Amour, a founding member of and volunteer coordinator for the Bureau of Erotic Discourse.]

(Photo by NK Guy)

(Photo by NK Guy)

Black Rock City is a place where we go to be ourselves. We travel to the playa to feel “at home” in our community, our experiences, and our bodies.

Unfortunately, sometimes the public spaces in BRC don’t feel welcoming or even safe for some Burners because they receive unwanted sexual attention when they walk down the street. Sometimes they get catcalled. Or poked and prodded. People on bullhorns shout at them to take off their tops for bacon and get surly if they refuse. Moments like these are unfortunate but they happen — probably more often than you think.

What is sexual harassment? At its most basic, sexual harassment can be defined as unwanted sexual advances or sexually-charged remarks made toward another person. It can happen to all types of people, and it can occur between friends and acquaintances as well as between strangers. Sexual harassment is harmful because it makes those who are harassed feel targeted and vulnerable. Harassment that doesn’t seem sexual can still make a person feel uncomfortable in their body. Remarks about someone’s gender, race, age, body type, physical ability, etc. also have the potential to be deeply hurtful.

And harassment doesn’t just happen to women. LGBTQ folks and folks who are transgender or genderqueer also often find themselves on the receiving end of hurtful comments and inappropriate behavior. Men can be harassed, too. Everyone deserves to feel welcome and respected in Black Rock City. That’s what Radical Inclusion is about — that’s what Burning Man is about.

Making Black Rock City a more welcoming and respectful environment is a responsibility we all share. Here are some simple guidelines you can follow to help prevent sexual harassment on playa. (more…)

Early Art, Insects and Clowns

photo by Sidney Erthal
photo by Sidney Erthal

As our esteemed “Burning Man Organizer” Mr. John Curley has communicated, evidently the insects have run their course. At least that is the official story. The billion wood-boring beetles that descended on the Man’s legs at Man Base have evidently been exterminated. Burning Man will not be brought to you by Citronella and DEET  this year. Behind us are the horrific fear-saturated nights of swarming green beetles, clouds of fluttering moths, biting flying ants, stinging noseeums and locusts so thick we had to don Hazmat suits and run in sheer terror from container to container to avoid being eaten alive.  No more do colonies of bats descend from the sky so thick that they obscure the moon and the hordes of kangaroo rats, ravens, crows, scorpions, snakes and coyotes have also moved on. There was a moth as big as a baby chicken in my camper the other night that had fangs and I finally chased it away with a machete. I haven’t seen it since.

We aren’t sure if it was the water trucks spraying vegan and gluten-free Malathion that did the trick. Or it may have been the initial deployment of our BRC Drone Bug Zappers that took out the first wave of stink bugs on Wednesday. They rose from the Depot,  all flying in formation into the incoming swarms trillions thick,  zapping blue and littering the playa with millions of twitching sizzling bug corpses. Some attribute our victory to Ranger Rico and his Roughnecks who were equipped with armor exoskeletons and flamethrowers that allowed them to capture the Brain Bug. We may never know, but somehow we prevailed. We witnessed, persevered and we survived.

craneWith the bugs gone, Black Rock City infrastructure is going up fast.  Center Camp Cafe is framed and rigging is in place. The Man Base is coming together nicely. Everywhere you hear the happy hum of machinery and the DPW is, as always, working their asses off in the hot sun to put together the canvas for this year’s Carnival of Mirrors.

Speaking of Carnivals, this is not going to be a good year for clown fearing folks. They wander around town even now, shapes in the darkness, ducking behind containers, appearing then disappearing at meetings. They’ve applied their make-up that is becoming caked with alkaline playa dust and is slowly fading each day. Prepare for Sad Clown Town. And beware Plug and Players, the clowns have your number. Locate, Tag, Track and Acculturate. Participate or clowns will eat you. My advice is to befriend a clown as soon as possible upon arrival. They are a hive mind and they can sense your intentions and fear.

Bugpocalypse was just a warm up to our possibly most menacing problem. The clowns are waiting with painted smiles to welcome you to Black Rock City.

But enough about bugs and clowns. The ART this year is going to blow your desert addled brains. There are currently 320+ registered art pieces and with all the pestilence subsided, some of the big art protects are taking shape.

Mazu DragonsMoving out onto the playa from Center Camp you first encounter “Mazu Goddess of the Empty Sea” by The Department of Public Art and the Dream Community. Their main Temple pavilion is being finished. There is a huge lotus that will crown it, and impressive shining fire breathing dragons are all lined in a row awaiting placement. Today at their build site shingles were being added to the roof and the Temple structure was being readied for the Lotus to be placed.

Not too near Mazu stands a frame for the Trebuchet that is returning to the playa after a six year absence. I’m told they will be attempting to break the previous world record for distance hurling a flaming piano, a record I believe, that is held by them.

Mike Garlington and crew
Mike Garlington and crew

The playa is wide open at present, sparsely occupied by only a few projects. They are collections of freshly delivered loads of wood, odd sculptures in crates and containers full of tools and art. There are work lights and organized chaos. The installations are in various states of construction, and all are accompanied by small camps of trucks and kitchens, tents and trailers in various states of disrepair to house exhausted artists.

Near the 3 o’clock promenade you will encounter Michael Garlington’s “Totem of Confessions” that’s already impressive as hell even though it is only about half way constructed. Inside they have already begun affixing all manner of plaster facades. “Beauty and chaos of black and white photography in assemblage with salvaged and re-purposed mixed media”. Mike’s art is darkly bewitching and entirely his own unique expression. To see what he’s done this early and walk away a little overwhelmed by his vision guarantees that the finished vision is going to be amazing.

The “Life Cube Project” by Scott “Skeeter” Cohen is also near 3 o’clock and Esplanade and they are finishing up the Esplanade facing wall. It will be a structure of rooms and stairs where Black Rock City participants can inscribe their dreams on the walls .

Further out, past the Man Base, Marco Cochrane’s “R-Evolution” stands in three pieces. I was fortunate enough to visit it last night and I can only say, people will be talking about this sculpture at the event this year. It has to be seen to be believed.

Temple of The “Temple of Promise” by Dreamers Guild appears to be coming along nicely. The tail of the structure’s arches are built and heavy equipment is currently lifting the larger arches and a crew of temple builders are putting them into place. The encampment is a frenzy of activity as most Burning Man Temples are, with various activities happening all at once.

Beyond the Temple and towards 10 o’clock two projects are being built; Ardent Heavy Industries’ “Straightedge”, a 2.7 mile long edge that will be LED lit to show the curvature of the earth, and “Dreamland“, a FLUX Foundation piece “inspired by the wonder of childhood carnival rides” that will feature light and flames. Kate Raudenbush is working with FLUX to create the most sophisticated system FLUX has ever built.

photo Sidney Erthal
photo Sidney Erthal

As you move back toward Center Camp the beginnings of “Own Way” by Sasha Mornov and Sema Payain who built “Cradle of Mir” in 2014 is growing from the playa layer by layer. Inside the Man Base, Dana Albany, Haideen Anderson, Flash Hopkins and Tom Kennedy’s “Laffing Sal” stands all alone smiling somewhat disturbingly sweetly at the maze that will eventually be filled with all manner of Carnival of Mirrors insanity.

But now, occasional dust devils scamper. Lonely crows fly over and land to pick up the last insect carcasses from Bugpocalypse. Activity is at the installations or at the ARTery, the Depot and Commissary, or spread about as work crews erect more shade and infrastructure.

The ARTery is braced for the influx of another 310+ installations to begin arriving today from all parts, including The Generator in Reno where some fifteen artists from all over the world are putting finishing touches on their projects before a stream of trucks tow them out here.

With the City laid out, thousands of creative makers and artists, participants and pilgrims will land like so many moths drawn to a flame. Swarms of us will land to share our visions and gifts. We live in exciting times and Burning Man is a vehicle for what is good and expressive in us. So use this time to paint this canvas.  Bring your art, bring your gifts and let us all make this Carnival of Mirrors a year to remember.

And don’t worry about the bugs. Clowns are far scarier.

Amazing Burning Man audio journey through 2014!!!

This is amazing.

For the second year in a row BMIR station manager J Kanizzle and Jex of Subatomica have been taking field recordings of every live sound at Burning Man – from wind and bikes to construction, conversation, and live music – and putting them together into an “audible journey” through the past year’s Black Rock City.

Then they give it give it away as a free download.

Check.  It.  Out.  It’s riveting.

(And yeah, that is my voice, now that you mention it.  These bastards catch EVERYTHING.)

THANK YOU JOSH AND JEX!

 

Bugs? What bugs?

 

The skies were full of smoke today
The skies were full of smoke today

We’re a little out of words, because Black Rock City lost a good friend yesterday, and hearts are heavy. The pictures will have to do the heavy lifting.

But we’ll say this: The bugs are gone.

Ok, not every last stinking one of them, but pretty much. The swarms have dried up and blown away. People are working unmolested. Nature has run its course.

Yes, it was true, unknown bugs of mysterious origin showed up by the thousands or millions in Black Rock City over the past week, but the heat and the dryness have taken their toll. Larger insects came along, too, and there were plenty of smaller bugs for them to eat. Yesterday morning, we saw a small flock of birds down by the Depot, no doubt drawn to the area by the plentiful insect diet.

Please, though: The birds were not massing in Hitchcock-ian numbers. They did not line the trash fence, nor did they swoop and dive on us as we entered the commissary.

This is Stinger. You might remember the picture of her back covered with bites. She's better now. She's also the lead rigger for the shade structure at the Center Cafe, and a ship captain. She's more than bugs, brother
This is Stinger. You might remember the picture of her back covered with bites. She’s better now. She’s also the lead rigger for the shade structure at the Center Cafe, and a ship captain. She’s more than bugs, brother

They were simply here to play their part in the natural order of things. The smaller get eaten by the larger. The heat ended the infestation as quickly as it appeared, and the inches-high mounds were blown away by the desert wind.

Finito.

There were none at the Depot, none at the Center Café, none at the Man Base, none at the Temple, none at any of the places we visited a couple of days ago.

It’s all over. You can resume your packing. Sure, throw in some bug spray, because you never know, it could happen again.

There was a seagull out at the Temple site today. Two, in fact, but one flew away as we approached
There was a seagull out at the Temple site today. Two, in fact, but one flew away as we approached

(And it could rain. It could flood. It could be freezing cold or blisteringly hot. We could get dust storms. Winds could reach 100 mph. We could be stranded for days. And listen: We are not making any of this up. We are not hyperbolizing. Be prepared. Always be prepared when you come here. It’s called radical self reliance.)

It was pretty interesting, though, to NOT be a part of the media yesterday, but also to be a part of it, as the story. Just from the things we saw or heard about, our little report on bugs in the desert got picked up by CNN, SFGate, Gawker, Mashable, Rawstory, NBC News, Vanity Fair, Channel 4 in San Francisco, just to name the ones we

It was fascinating to see how the different outlets presented the same basic information, mostly based on the same slim details provided here. We were soooooo happy not to be a part of the 24-hour news cycle, where the identical facts are hashed and rehashed and then regurgitated again. We feel sorry for the lost souls who have to write and rewrite the sketchiest outlines of a story into headlines they hope will grab an eyeball or two. (Attn: lost souls: we say that lovingly; we’ve done the same or worse ourselves, many times.)

Loren out at the Temple had a good idea for all the critters: A petting zoo
Loren out at the Temple had a good idea for all the critters: A petting zoo

Most of the outlets used quotes just plain lifted from the blog. This was supplemented with Twitter posts and pictures. There was little, if any, additional reporting. Most of the outlets also used the photos we posted here, without asking permission (those that did ask were denied, according to Communications Director Megan Miller). By the way, the photos are copyrighted, with rights jointly held by me and the Burning Man organization.

We’d be assembling a legal team if we didn’t already know that the normal and customary fees for what would likely be called “freelance submissions” range all the way from nothing to about fifty or a hundred bucks. You don’t get the big money doing journalism.

So what the hell. It’s fine. It was a good story and lots of fun, even if it did throw a scare into people. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.

But it was also predictable. After all, it’s Burning Man. You know, naked hippies high out of their minds, running around looking for the next person to have sex with. Then you add pestilence, and by damn god you’ve got a Biblical tale. God hath wraught fire and brimstone down upon Sodom and Gomorrah. It was a hard one to pass up. And very few outlets did.

(My favorite piece appeared on NBC.com. It used the same set of quotes and attributed them to “Burning Man organizer John Curley.” Burning Man organizer! Hey, I should get a raise!)

The Spires work goes on and on
The Spires work goes on and on

Anyway, the storm has passed. Little has changed. Life goes on.

And we don’t need any stinkin’ fire wraught upon our heads. We have our own fire, and plenty of it.

Loren out at the Temple had a good idea. “We’re gonna have a petting zoo,” she said. “Granted, it’ll be mostly insects.” But they could also include ravens, scorpions, black widow spiders, rabbits, seagulls and at least one owl, because we’ve seen all of them out here or in town in the past few weeks.

Nature. We love it.

And watch for the headlines appearing soon.

When the sun starts getting low in the sky, one of the best things to do is visit the Gate folks manning Point One. The other evening it was Clarity, Kiote, Tray and Kitty
When the sun starts getting low in the sky, one of the best things to do is visit the Gate folks manning Point One. The other evening it was Clarity, Kiote, Tray and Kitty
Choose a path and follow it
Choose a path and follow it

 

RIP Jay Houston Marx

Jay speaking at the anti-nuclear vigil’s 25th anniversary in 2006
Jay speaking at the anti-nuclear vigil’s 25th anniversary in 2006

I’m hardly the only person to whom Jay Marx offered a memorable introduction to Washington, DC. Jay passed through this world entirely too briefly, but he touched a great many of us and presented a powerful example of how to apply the principles of conscious counterculture beyond building community to help refashion a new default world.

Jay and I first crossed paths in 2002. I’d finished an internship interview with a law firm office on K Street, and stumbled into a peace march that he had helped organize six months before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. We went on to organize, perform, and party together in countless settings over the next 13 years before he passed away at Transformus in North Carolina this July. (more…)

We Lost Spoono Today

RIP SpoonoBurning Man announced today the loss of beloved Department of Public Works staff member Scott “Spoono” Stephenson. Spoono passed away overnight on the playa, in the city he loved most.

Stephenson was in his late 50s and died of apparent natural causes, according to Pershing County officials. Stephenson had been in Gerlach and on the playa since April supporting construction of Black Rock City. His passing will have an enormous impact on the Burning Man community. (more…)

Bugs on the Playa: Don’t Believe the Buzz

(Image maybe made by j0k3rCPG, maybe by elizabeth, but this is the internet, so who the hell knows?)

If you’ve been keeping up on the latest rumors flying around the internet, people are in a bit of a frenzy about an alleged bug infestation of plague-level proportions on the Black Rock Desert this year. We understand the eagerness to swarm around this click-worthy story, as the media most certainly has. We’re here to dispel the rumors (bless you, internet), provide some facts, and hopefully calm some nerves.

So are there bugs in Black Rock City? Yes. Due to unseasonably wet weather, the grass on the hills is unusually verdant, and that’s resulted in more bugs showing up in the desert than usual. There are green beetles called stink bugs (so-called because they emit a coriander-like odor when disturbed), mosquitos, and gnat-like seed bugs called Nysius. One entomologist reports that they might be causing skin irritations not because they’re biting, but because they’ve likely been eating mustard seed, which has been proliferating in the region recently, and the mustard oil irritates the skin when the bugs are smashed.

But despite the rampant rumors, these bugs are more of a mild nuisance than a full-blown infestation that should cause any major concern with Burning Man participants.

We’re hoping that continuing hot weather and a huge swarm of Burners descending upon their Black Rock Desert home sends them packing before long, but we can’t say for sure that’ll happen. So here’s how you can prepare (y’know, Radical Self-reliance and stuff) …

We’re told that these types of bugs are particularly attracted to bright lights (sorry, artists burning the midnight oil) and dark clothing (sorry, Death Guild), so if you’re concerned about getting bugged, wear light-colored clothing that provides good coverage. For the mosquitos, some mosquito repellent will do the trick. That’s the word from the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

On another bug-related note, there have been recent reports of West Nile Virus showing up in mosquitoes in Northern Nevada this summer — one in South Meadows (south of Reno), and one at Rye Patch Reservoir (near Lovelock) — and abatement procedures are underway. None have been found within proximity of Gerlach or the Black Rock Desert this year. Here are the most recent reports from Pershing County and Washoe County health departments. While of course there’s the remote possibility of exposure (to provide some perspective, here’s a map of all the current West Nile Virus activity in the US), we believe that this is extraordinarily unlikely to affect Burning Man participants.

In the end, we’ll remind you that Radical Self-reliance is a thing. We tell you every year to be prepared for damn near anything, and this time? We’ve got a new, interesting challenge. Welcome to it. We’ll see you on playa.

Harm Reduction: Take a Smart Approach to Drugs and Alcohol

The Zendo (Photo by Philippe Glade)

The Zendo (Photo by Philippe Glade)

Burning Man takes place on federal land. All local, state and federal laws apply in Black Rock City, and they are enforced by law enforcement officers at the event. Drugs, whether legal or illegal, can be dangerous on their own, and, like any city, Black Rock City is not immune to the dangers of intentional assault involving drugs and alcohol. Given these realities, Burning Man and its organizational partners in health and safety, including law enforcement, believe in the importance of harm reduction when it comes to drugs and alcohol on the playa.

Avoiding the Dangers

The highest priority of harm reduction is to mitigate the dangers of assault or accidental overdose. Even doses of drugs that are not physically dangerous, including legal prescriptions, can be psychologically harmful or overwhelming if taken unknowingly. Here are some important points to remember:

  • Bring your own water wherever you go.
  • If you don’t know what’s in something, it’s best not to drink or eat it.
  • There have been very few incidents of intentional dosing with intent to assault — sometimes referred to as “date rape” — at the event. But, it is important for all participants to be aware of this risk and exercise appropriate caution.
  • If you do feel yourself becoming ill, tell a friend what you’ve taken so they can share that information with medical personnel.
  • If you feel like you have been dosed without your knowledge, immediately call for help or call for a Black Rock Ranger.
  • If you see someone who appears to be overly intoxicated, ask them if they need help. If they do, or if you don’t think they’re in a state to answer safely, get help. Black Rock Rangers can be easily identified (they wear khaki) and are prevalent in all parts of BRC — they are always willing to help. You can also ask anyone wearing a radio.
  • If you or someone you’re with is feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. There are lots of services in Black Rock City to support you. The Sanctuary team of the Black Rock Rangers and the Emergency Services Department (ESD) mental health team are trained to help people going through challenging emotional or psychological processes. There are also participant-run camps providing trained volunteer support, such as the Zendo Project located at 2:45 & A and 9:15 & D (download this sweet flyer and spread the word). These groups offer safe spaces around Black Rock City for people going through such experiences. Seek them out.
  • Call law enforcement for assistance or to report a crime. Wave down a law enforcement vehicle, or go to the substation on the Esplanade at 6:30.

Remember, Black Rock City is our community, and we need to look out for each other.