welcome the stranger

Hello, my name is Kati and I am a Burner.

“I am a Burner” means, in short, I attend multi-day camping events that are social experiments in the style of Burning Man, but it means so much more to my life. For me attending my first burn was a defining moment. For the first time in my life, I had a community.

These events are designed and organized by a community of volunteers that spend hundreds of hours analyzing how to share the reality we create, how to recruit more volunteers to keep the events running, and how to strategize the event logistics to make each unique event safer, more efficient, and more mind/heart-blowing beautiful. There often comes a point to which analysis paralysis sets in, but we drink some water (seriously, pee clear people!) and keep on building. Many event volunteers put many hours into several events every year. The goal is that everyone who attends participates and volunteers; this in return creates stronger events and community. No one gets paid (edit: Burning Man does require paid staff, but that is an entirely different conversation than this piece is addressing). We build vibrant full-year community and that is more than money can ever buy.

I have only been burning since May 2013 (Flipside: Bandersnatch) and was immediately welcomed into helping organize the kid-friendly theme camp, Kidsville. Over the next two years, I have attended six additional burns and participated as a medical volunteer, major art-project co-lead & volunteer wrangler, fuel depot lieutenant, safety manager, recycling, a lead organizer, and some other odds-n-ends at burns and between burns for community projects. To say I jump into things with both feet might be putting it lightly, but when I found my people — everything I helped with, everything I made go, every person who hugged me and cried with me when too tired to go on and then kept going — everything about this wonderful social experiment just made sense to me. It creates purpose and change.

As another burn has just passed, a unique beach preservation event in which there were no formal tickets, but donations for infrastructure (aka porta-potties and shore trash dumpster) were accepted and anyone could join the event upon passing by, analysis has begun. The biggest question is: Do such events work when the core group understands the paradigm, but another equal number of “strangers” in attendance have never heard of these events or only know them from media (dis)information)?

As burns gain in popularity, curiosity grows, and now more “strangers” do buy a ticket to check out the show. I participate in burns to help make things go, but I go knowing I’ll meet new people. I know some of these people will have been attending / building events since I was worried about my impending puberty, while others will have happened into a ticket the week prior and have no understanding of what Burning Culture is (often assuming, actual quote, “All I know is there are no rules!”). This leads to lots of conversations about consent / intentions / misdirection.

Those who “slide through” are potential agents of chaos to our social experiment. (And, yes, the events are organized chaos within themselves.) Those agents (aka Strangers) keep us on our toes and create growth opportunities and teaching discussions. Many Burners are concerned Strangers will make poor choices or create danger within our created safe space (which, by that definition, means there are Burners who remain Strangers, but I digress).

The unknown begets fear. Fear begets fear. The idea of an open, un-ticketed burn on a public beach puts our little experiment out into the world which makes it vulnerable, but also empowering. It makes me think of something an off-shoot of The Merry Pranksters might of done on a beach  near San Francisco three decades ago.

To create true social change you must take risks, open new ideas to the world, you must not hide innovation or it will be perceived as wrong. The logic being, “If not wrong, filled with illicit behavior, and illegal activity why would they hide this great new paradigm behind tickets and closed gates?”

So, to all those who are no longer Strangers – because every Burner was, not so long ago or thirty years back – and to those who are still Strangers or only new to Burner Culture, I have some questions I would ask you to think about and comment on if you are so moved (comments will be anonymously compiled and made available to all regional organizers, etc.):

To all who are new to this grand, social experiment:

To all who have found Home:

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