Maud and i were arguing. She wants a centralized kitchen cooking for this event. I was drawing from the Burning Man culture and wanted every camp and participant to be self reliant. This energetic and fiery organizer from Montreal is helping the international effort to build a relatively small celebration in central Virginia. Maud was upset with me because the kitchen in a festival is something deeply important to her; it sets the mood on the type of sharing that is going to occur; and I hadn’t manage to find a time to talk with her about it.
The event is called Quink Fair!
The formulating idea is that we know a lot about festivals, and if we try to take the best parts of several of them, we might be onto something. Which of course invites all manner of comparisons between these quite different events.
Maud hails from Velo Quebec, the giant Quebecois bicycle tour company, where one of her jobs was to scout ahead and prepare these tiny towns for a temporary invasion of as many as 2000 cyclists. Housing, sanitation, food, medical and more all need to be on hand for these exhausted cyclists who will have even longer days.
For Quink Fair! the centralized kitchen versus everyone cooks for themselves question is ultimately a cultural one. When we are comparing Burning Man with the Rainbow Gathering, we see that food is a central and slightly exclusive part of a burner’s experience. Rainbow has a rule that every campfire is a public fire and for many of the camps, the principal activity is cooking for people who will not be paying for this service.
Maud is challenging that we want to be more like Rainbow than Burning Man. Part of the issue is about money. While Burning Man has a decommodification ethic, the treacherous nature of the venue requires serious preparation. The culture demands preparation, which makes the event expensive (Rainbow is free) and pushes participants to expensive and exclusionary meal plans. And Maud is a realist. Sophia House has a high functioning institutional kitchen, and groups of volunteers can sharing the cooking, with donated food, insuring that everyone gets fed. This will reduce the time spent cooking by most of the participants and camps, giving them more time to have a positively tranformational experience.
Which is what a quink actually is.
Turns out Maud is right. Rainbow’s hippie roots of sharing and dynamic group cooperation are more in line with the world we are trying to create than Burning Man’s radical self reliance. And clearly i should call her more.
Perhaps you are thinking about what you should be doing over labor day weekend. You have decided it is too expensive and too much hassle to go to Burning Man. You could visit your relatives, but Thanksgiving is looming and that is really a much better holiday for that activity. You could stay home and watch some sporting spectacular on TV, with teams you don’t especially care about with perhaps too many advertisements between plays.
Or you could come to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference. It is reasonably priced, it has no commercials, you won’t get fine dust in everything you own, and unless they are pretty cool already you probably won’t see any of your relatives.
But rather than talk about what won’t be there, let’s explore some of what will be happening at this year’s conference.
The event is a mix of different types of content and social/cultural aspects. The content comes in three big forms.
There are scheduled workshops, the schedule for which is at the bottom of this post and the detailed descriptions can be read here. [You need to click the arrow by the workshop titles to open up the full descriptions.]
There is Open Space, which allows the participants to design their own workshops and present them. While the scheduled workshops are all on themes directly related to communities, the open space portion of the event can be on any topic about which participants are excited. In the past this has included permaculture, polyamory, anti-oppression work, a critique of Occupy, and how to dumpster dive.
The other formal piece of content the conference provides is the “meet the communities” gathering Saturday morning. Everyone who is in a community (including ones which are just forming) gets 60 seconds to introduce what they are doing. Then all the representatives distribute themselves in the main gathering area and put up little signs or other information on their place and answer questions presented by milling participants. There might be 30 or 40 communities represented. And you might just find the one which is a great choice for you.
There is lots of informal content. Experts and adventurers at meals talking about their experiences. Late night chats around the fire, about how happy we will be not to hear so much about Trump and concerns about Hillary. There will be new friends and romances. Smokers will chat comically or conspiratorially in their little area. New allies will bond over coffee and early morning rituals.
While the information provided would be sufficient reason to come to this event, it is the culture, fun, and personal connections which seal the deal. For many people the conference is about brushing up against the very different way of living at an income sharing, secular community which has deep sharing agreements. The communities conference dance on Saturday night is one of the best dances Twin Oaks has all year. The mud pit and the river beckon. The FIC auction is entertaining and often a bargain hunter’s dream.
The scheduled workshop program is as follows:
Saturday: 1:30 – 3:15 PM
Saturday: 3:45 – 5:30 PM
Sunday: 9:00 – 10:45 AM
The Muslims have Mecca, Funologists have Burning Man. If you are serious about thinking that transformational festivals are important in building a better world, than this event is one of the most important ones to go to at least once in your life. [Though i would argue that the Rainbow Gathering is actually more important, for reasons i will get into in another post.]
So when Caroline was visiting the communes around her birthday in February, she reminded me that the BM tickets were going on sale and i bought one. I was already pretty sure i would not be going. In part because the dates conflict with the Twin Oaks Communities Conference which i am helping to organize. But more importantly, i knew i was not really ready to go back. i got burned by BM in 2009, part of it was i was overly ambitious certainly, i wanted something amazing to happen with the Villages in the Sky project and was working it quite the wrong way. A bigger part of it was the police entrapped some folks at our camp and our chaotically laid plans got trashed. i am still healing from this burn.
i will perhaps go back one day, with the right clan or camp. But for now, i am quite happy to do regional burns like Transformus, which are also much less far and expensive.
But the Burning Man tickets are hard to come by, so Caroline and i both bought them. And now it is time for some amazing person who wants to go to this event to contact me and offer the $395 that i paid for it. [This ticket is now sold, sorry.]
A handful of communards and folks from the Keep went to the mid-Atlantic regional burn, Transformus. Feonix and i applied for a grant to do a Burning Man style internal Post Office and were accepted. Madness did some excellent art work and made the physical office happen.
Lots of people enjoyed carrying mail and receiving mail. We moved easily 200 letters and packages. Feonix got the postal carriers these snazzy quasi official looking hats and we were one of the many hits of the event. We hosted a love letter clinic, told myriad jokes and stories and postal patrons shared with us how the event had changed their lives and helped them become more of who they wanted to be.
As and activist i walk away from Transformus with the perennial (and much debated in this blog) question “Can Festivals save the world?” Transformus was certainly inspirational and i had my own personal revelations (which i will write about in another blog entry).
One of the things i was struck by this time was how events beyond the control of the organizers influence these festivals. On the last two nights of Burning Man events there is the burning of an effigy of a man and temple burn. At the big burn in Nevada these are two quite powerful events.
What happens is there is a performance, with fire spinners and various pyrotechnic displays leading up to the effigy of the man being ignited. And then after the participants watch for a while, they start to move. And ultimately, thousands of people are running around this burning, crumbling structure.
Unfortunately, rumor has it, a few years back, someone in an altered state of consciousness ran into the fire at Transformus, perhaps in an effort to kill themselves. The regional authorities responded predictably and clamped down a number of safety regulations on event. The result is that the fire safety perimeter for the effigy burning is much larger and unlike the big burn in Nevada, it is not longer possible for people to run around the fire.
This might seem like a small point, but to me it had a huge effect. One of the ten guiding principals for Burning Man is Participation. What this means is we are trying move away from the idea that you come to a festival to be entertained and instead are engaged and active. You are not there to be audience, but rather an organizer. As an activist, this is mimicking the change we need to see in the world, pushing people away from their passive screens or viewed performances and towards thinking about how they want to be making things happen.
My dear friend Reyes from the Keep wrote a wonderful detailed blog post about the Post Office and Transformus in general. Included in it are the principals of the Post Office, which are hear for your edification and entertainment.
Post Office Protocols and Rules:
1. For each service, we strongly recommending gifting us an item, story, memory, or joke.
2. Both the writer and the recipient must pay postage fees to send and receive mail.
3. Postal officers are allowed to read mail unless specifically requested not to.
4. Postal officers may be deterred by swimming, kissing, or other time-squandering activities. However, they must do their utmost to deliver all the mail in their care.
5. All postal officers must wear a postal uniform cap at the time of their service — when they have completed delivery, they must return the PO caps with all due speed.
6. Postal officers may keep any gifts they earn for themselves.
7. The postal mistress, Brosie Brazen aka Leo Locks, may change any rule at her leisure.
8. At any point, there is always something to do at the Post Office. All postal officers are volunteers and all people are encouraged to volunteer. Similarly, all are encouraged to write mail. Postal Officers are never the servants of the “customer,” and are to be respected.
At the current rate of traffic to this site, it will break the 1/4 million hits threshold by April Fools. But as satisfying as this is, it is less important to me than what happened the day before yesterday. Which was being politely, but formally debated on another blog about whether festivals can change the world. I am excited about this debate because Rosie is actually part of the Burning Man organization and while she is not speaking for BM inc. in her post, she is certainly an insider, with perspective and experience which many participants can’t have. And i am thrilled about the debate, because i want her to be right and this exchange of perspectives will hopefully help our shared wish for these events to be high in positive impact and world transforming. And of course controversy spikes web traffic, and i love traffic.
Let me try to summarize her points here (but please read her article linked above):
- BM builds community, inspires resilience and resourcefulness.
- BM connects people to feeling empathetically connected to humanity
- BM encourages contribution to crafting a better world
- BM is an antidote to isolation
- BM has sparked many civic and artistic endeavors
Boringly, we don’t disagree on any of these points. As i have written in this blog, i think Burning Man is a tremendously significant event for these and other reasons. Rosie is right to challenge me on the trite phrase “Save the World”. In the ways mentioned above these transformational festivals (like BM) are increasing our chances for survival, empowering and transforming individuals and taking on some political issues. And to be fair, BM actually does this better than any festival i have been to. It is more transformative, it has more active external political initiatives and importantly is memetic in that it replicates regional burns of the same structure (so that everyone does not need to go to Nevada for this experience). So in this sense Rosie is right. Specifically she sez:
And looking at doing the hard and hostile work, let’s again, point to the work of Burners Without Borders: Here is a group of people that formed and built relationships with each other at Burning Man. The individuals that generated this group, likely without knowing it, were in effect training themselves with useful skills by building survival systems in the harsh desert where Burning Man is held. ”Following the 2005 Burning Man event, several participants headed south into the Hurricane Katrina disaster area to help people rebuild their devastated communities” (source). You’re going to have a very tough time convincing me that a festival wasn’t in part responsible for the existence of this humanitarian aid group that is out there in the world doing “the hard work which needs to be done…”
Where i think BM and the other transformational festivals fall short is the notion that these events and the things which they inspire are enough work for us to get where we need to go. I feel that there is a certain type of “lazy activism” in which participants can go to these events and party and perhaps partake in these civic and political parallel projects and think that they have done their share of world fixing. The hype of the Bloom video seems to encourage this “we can do it all if we can make it to these festivals” feeling. Or more simply put, Bloom makes saving the world sound easily accessible. This feels naive to me, i am not sure of Rosie would agree.
We dont really have a disagreement on diversity. Rosie says:
Yes, the majority of music & art festival attendees at this point in time are white…. I had a desire for the event to be more diverse because I believe diversity creates strength and interesting variation in an ecosystem. However, as someone once told me, “You can’t force diversity. You CAN steward it, but it has to be generated by the interest of minority groups/individuals themselves, and then supported by the ecosystem of the event.”
If BM can attract a more ethnically diverse base of participation, that is fantastic. And i also believe that you can’t force diversity. And i am a bit skeptical that this expensive, remote, dominantly white event can morph into something far more inclusive – and i would be happy for Rosie to point out how i was wrong in this, including BM inc.’s plans to deal with this.
And the most dangerous part of the Bloom project (which Rosie does not mention) is the idea that these festivals can play a role in re-indigenization. My intimates who work on cultural appropriation issues are completely unconvinced that this can be pulled off. My view is that i really want to understand how this might work, but i start from a somewhat skeptical place.
They are a useful source of inspiration, of bringing people more alive than they were before the event. This aliveness, this enthusiasm and passion for life is something they can take back to “their regular lives.” I contend that festivals can be an inspiring part of the continuum of one’s life. There is no “regular life” or “default world.” All of your experiences are part of your life and your world.
i totally get her point, and we will have to respectfully disagree. Until participants have significantly transformed their lives (which many have already done, but i don’t think most have) there is a “default world” which they are returning to, which is frequently spirit crushing and strongly discourages the type of radical self expression that BM is so good at promoting onsite.
Where we are highly aligned is when it comes to her posts conclusion.
Festivals serve as a tool in helping individuals connect both to a part of themselves that may have been lost since childhood, and also connect to a tribe that they resonate with. Technology combined with your passionate desire and your aligned action will keep you connected to your tribe, and if you want to be a bigger contribution to the world, you can.
Absolutely, my thoughts precisely.
Abigail forwarded me this trailer for a web series on transformational festivals called Bloom.
It left her feeling uneasy and self critical. She wants to support festival culture, but is concerned by what she perceives as self congratulatory and over hyped claims of saving the world. And she is right.
I think festivals are hugely important, I have seen them change lots of peoples lives mostly in positive ways. They can be significant models for all manner of new societies we want to create. And you can’t just dance oppression away, you can’t party away economic injustice and you can’t vacation your way to sustainability, especially in the middle of the desert.
Don’t get me wrong. I am excited about Bloom. If the trailer is any indication, these are very thoughtful funologists. They are looking at the need for rituals in current culture, they are challenging the commercialization of daily life, they get that festivals can heal participants and catalyze personal transformations. They understand that these festivals are a chance to model new behaviors and cultural norms. I applaud this approach and their investigation into the power of these events, especially festivals that are cash free internally.
But there are hazards in promising too much while not significantly shifting things and even reinforcing problematic ideologies in the dominant culture, while deluding ourselves that our good time is much more than what it really is. There is a dangerous new age mix in which mostly white and mostly affluent people can think that festival culture is the key to a better world. The message that comes through to people who are watching it casually is “hey we can solve our problems by going to festivals and dancing and making art.” Which is not true, and feels like a dodge of the hard work which needs to be done in more hostile environments.
These events can be escapist experiences disconnected from peoples regular lives. Where people don’t quit their straight jobs or break out of their stuck relationships and instead save up for the year to spend a week in the wilderness having the experiences they wish they could somehow have all year. The Bloom points out the power of co-creation at these events and that important lasting relationships are built. But largely individuals go home alone – we have not yet successfully exported festival cooperation to the daily lives of most participants. Important work undone.-
Also especially around gender roles, beauty standards and sexual violence. The Bloom pitches the idea of “gender alchemy” with some wonderful words about respect, healing and understanding. Some of these transformational festivals are doing amazing things in these areas, and it is still the exception rather than the norm. I don’t want to throw out this important tool, and i think overall with regard to sexism and reinforcing the corrupt values around objectification, these festivals are mostly setting us backwards.
Where it gets really dangerous is the novel notion of re-indigenization. A word i had not even heard before i saw this trailer. The theory is fantastic: “How transformational festivals honor and support a deep connection with the earth. And the way this is catalyzing a cultural re-encounter between neo-tribal festival communities and representatives of indigenous communities in right relationship.” But, we have to wonder, who chooses these indigenous representatives? What about problems of cultural appropriation and on-going genocide of these indigenous people? I have been struggling with these issues for the past year, and i am confident i am working on them harder than most festival goers and have made pathetic progress myself. So the short answer is “No. Tranformative festivals can’t save the world.” At least not the ones of which i am aware. The Bloom is dangerously over-promising. Yet it still makes sense to have these festivals, to work on these issues, to recognize that we do need models and experiments and to change the lives of participants and the dominant culture. They are important tools, but no substitute for less pleasant, more self-critical and self-sacrificing work which needs to be done in less comfortable environments.
A tattered edge of a tutu drifts across the playa
the exodus is over and a lonely volunteer pulls glitter from the dust
the vast space empty of noise makers and heighten expectations
only memories linger here
i knew you would answer
when my disoriented plane
put me half a thousand miles from my connection
you were always there
except when you weren’t
“of course, come, you can have half my bed”
your generosity resonates in thru your sleepy voice
we chat when i arrive at absurd o’clock
you are busy as always
a festival medic you say, it fits you
you turned down a gift ticket to Burning Man
also classic you
we’re out of touch
different coasts, different clans
you were for me a shooting star
bright, short, hot
the torn tutu drifts just slightly out of reach