How the “Renegade Burn” Reinvented Burning Man — Without Burning a Man.

The government outlawed fire at the 2001 Renegade Burning Man. Instead of burning 100 thousand pounds of wood, Studio Drift created a carbon-neutral figure out of battery powered drones. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson

A free, renegade “People’s Burn” over Labor Day 2021 brought something back that had been missing from the official Burning Man event for a long time.

It had heart.

The magic moment for me was when my friend and I were shivering and cold at night. We wandered to the distant light flickering from a stranger’s bonfire in front of a trailer.

They welcomed us to sit down on their dusty couches and have a drink. Then our host brought out a blanket and said:

“You can keep the blanket.”

Tired and lost, wrapped in the gifted blanket, we wandered into the crowd.

A man driving a mutant vehicle decorated like a bird with multicolored, glowing tail feathers shouted:

“Do you have any idea where you are?

Well I don’t either! Hop on board!”

We jumped on a furry couch mounted to the front of the bird. And we got even more lost together.

In these times of feeling alienated and cut off from the world, distanced, frightened of our fellow human beings… life felt kind again.

There was no Burning Man allowed at the People’s Burn — just a glowing, purple Robot Heart.

For over 30 years, the world-renowned Burning Man Arts Festival in Gerlach, Nevada has always been a harbinger of the future — and a ritual that reverberates around the world.

This year, it was forced to change.

It had to change, by law.

The CEO of Burning Man, Marion Goodell decided it was safer to have a “Virtual Reality” burn during the pandemic, so she cancelled it for the second year in a row.

The “burner” community decided to have their own “free burn” anyway and asked the government for a permit.

Then, to discourage the renegade burn from happening, the US Government made everything about Burning Man temporarily illegal including fire.

If the restrictions were violated, the penalty was severe — up to 12 months in prison.

The Plan B group announced this discouraging news on August 17, just two weeks before most burners would be arriving to build their projects.

The renegades strictly obeyed — but worked around the constraints of the law with distinctly “burnerish” creativity.

And a new, more diverse, inclusive and sustainable Burning Man was born.

Some of us saw the People’s Burn as a significant symbolic act of “obedient civil disobedience.”

Other’s saw it as an example of “an open source” or distributed movement.

Many of the burners inside the event saw it as an uprising.

The “renegade burn” had no actual name but was referred to as “Black Rock Plan B,” “Renegade Man,” “Free Burn,” “Free Man,” “The Unburn,” “The Decentralized Burn,” “The Freedom Burn,” “Bucket Man,” “Alt Burn,” “Cancelled Man,” “No Burn,” “Rogue Burn,” “Rebel Burn,” “Blinky Burn” and “The People’s Burn.”

One of many commemorative sickers for “The People’s Burn.” Or, whatever it was called.
Brain Love Camp at the People’s Burn. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson

For most of the 20,000 or so who attended, the downsized, zero-budget “People’s Burn” was almost as fun, or in some ways, even better than, the $47 million per year professionally-produced mega-production that it replaced.

Even without a Burning Man effigy.

Even without fire.

The People’s Burn didn’t have that million dollar pirate ship art car that cantilevers into the air.

The Abraxas camp only brought the baby golden dragon art car.

We missed “Bliss Dance” — the giant lady arching overhead with the sun setting behind her. (Though Marco Cochrane almost brought a new sculpture, until he heard he could potentially go to prison for doing so.)

The French camp, Hippocampus — you know, that one with the red double decker bus and handsome people passing out biscuits and espresso on silver trays as a cellist plays at sunrise?

No bus this year. They just had sunset hor’doeurves.

No massive sound stages (except Robot Heart). Only a few celebrity DJs (Diplo and Lee Burridge.)

No riot of lasers during the sheer overwhelming madness of “burn night.”

In fact, no burning of anything larger than a campfire.

The Renegade Burn replaced the spectacle with something we all need a lot more right now.

Love.

A playa wedding: A distinctly American, low budget recycled humble aesthetic resurfaced at the 2021 Renegade Burn which was free to all who ventured there.

The Burning Man is a ritual. And this year, the ritual was a metaphor for the people’s frustration with big organizations, big government, and the big forces that seem to be running our planet into the ground.

The People’s Burn was a bottom up, totally free, open to everyone, decentralized deconstruction of Burning Man.

A symbolic reboot that some of us close to the event felt was long overdue.

The People’s Burn showed us that decentralized organizations and open technology can change the world.

A handful of volunteers, created the 2021 “temporary city” event with a small, all-volunteer, unpaid virtual team, and freely available collaborative software.

These leaders and groups (theme camps) shared the same values and “Ten Principles” that guide the burning man ethos — but most didn’t even know each other.

Location-based apps, smart phones with a GPS, Instant Messaging, shared Google Docs, a Google Map and a few PDFs was all it took — literally all of it was free.

Everything was “managed” in an interactive, lively chat in the “Plan B Facebook Group.” (Now over 17,000 members.) No in-person meetings.

Everyone had a voice and an opinion. Decisions were deliberated and consensus was quickly reached.

Nobody was “in charge.’ Four experienced burners moderated the page — Lofax Elifas, a graphic designer who started the group, then 18 time burner Howard David and carpenter/jewlery Joel Briggs — with humility and a sense of humor.

Volunteers stepped up quickly to design maps, stickers, logos, necklaces, a collaborative website, first aid, essential services like bike repair, recycling and radio communications, and edit a program guide — all of this happened from the crowd in a few weeks.

Battery-powered drones and two laptops (Studio Drift) replaced the need for over 100 thousand pounds of wood to be burned.

It was already so smoky that our eyes were burning — with two massive wildfires raging in Lake Tahoe, Reno and Grass Valley.

Could anyone with a conscience add even more smoke and carbon to the atmosphere at a time like this?

The only sticker anyone gave me at the Renegade Burn.

The growth of Burning Man’s temporary Black Rock City is a classic story of gentrification.

And of innovation getting stifled when an organization gets too big.

Burning Man was a world class, A-list mega event now, with a budget of $47 million. The 2019 burn attracted 78,000 people, but tickets were so scarce that they were auctioned off on eBay for up to $5,000. “Plug and play” camps charged an additional $15,000 a week for catered luxury.

An increasingly elitist culture wouldn’t let you inside the dusty gates unless you had connections.

You needed to be a celebrity, world renowned DJ, long-time employee of the organization, artist with an approved project, volunteer (give up your whole life for a year to earn the right to buy your $180 “discount” ticket) or big money arts donor to get a ticket.

Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell and Stephen Raspa on stage at the Black Rock Arts Foundation Artumnal Gathering benefit, which became one of the most sought-after events in San Francisco high society. Photo: Giselle Bisson

(I only managed to buy a ticket in 2019 by leveraging connections with a Black Rock Arts Foundation board member who heard that a member of the Hilton family couldn’t go at the last minute.)

My 2019 ticket to Burning Man cost $1,400. This is the highest priced tier, for “art donors.” The main sale tickets are usually about $400–500, plus an additional parking pass, and you must pay your own travel and living expenses while building your project. While there are some low income tickets for about $180 they are very hard to obtain without connections. All burners are expected to pay for a ticket, and pay for their own project.

Black Rock City was now so gentrified that the artists were shut out of their own temporary city.

By 2016, Burning Man was a must-attend for Instagram shoots and models. Photo: Giselle Bisson

For those of us who were increasingly evicted from the increasingly expensive, trendy and highly curated Burning Man (and the increasingly expensive and competitive “Default World” outside of it) the Free Burn was a symbolic uprising.

We were tired of competing with multi-millionaires in ticket “lotteries” for months and then navigating bureaucracy and paperwork.

So we could pay our own way to haul truckloads of junk to the desert in U-Haul trucks.

That we financed and paid yas unpaid volunteers.

We were also tired of the way our Earth is being destroyed — and we could see that happening in real time, as forest fires raged around us.

Something was seriously out of balance.

“Long live the People’s Burn!” some proclaimed in the “Plan B” Facebook group, debating and planning the details together in playful banter.

“It’s going to be the burn-iest burn, ever!” someone chimed in.

An eerie milky sky cast a post-apocalyptic glow to Black Rock City in 20201. As New York City was underwater, the Gulf Coast was evacuating a hurricane, and two major forest fires raged, burners had to “reinvent fire.”

The “People’s Burn” sprang from the hearts and desires of the community, almost without speaking to each other. It was as if we concurrently, mystically willed it into existence.

As word spread, the Plan B Facebook group swelled from 3,000 to, today, over 17,000 members. Other groups like Renegade Burn and Renegade Man started on Reddit and Telegram.

People started flying in from all over the USA, driving from the East Coast, and even arriving from Europe.

When Robot Heart showed up with their massive stage on a bus, and some ninjas started a livestream on YouTube— it blew up.

The ritual of “The People’s Burn” had to happen, in this inflection point in history, to show the world, and remind us, that We the People can do a pretty good job of taking care of ourselves.

We are generally peaceful, loving and responsible — and we’re tired of being micromanaged.

RADICAL SELF RELIANCE

I first heard about Plan B on Facebook when someone invited me into the group. I wasn’t sure what we were getting into.

Preparing and driving there felt more like a dress rehearsal for the endless evacuation of the Burning Planet festival.

“I hope this isn’t another Altamont,” my friend said, as he raced to get there before sundown.

As we made the pilgrimage from Oakland, I grimaced at the searing heat, dismal brown sky, and angry red sun.

Our air con was broken, so the hot smoke poured into our open windows. Our 4x4 truck cab was uncomfortably packed.

Due to zero infrastructure, we all had to bring more gear than usual, and be prepared for no cellphone access, communications, roads or porta pottties.

We brought a huge first aid kit and extra fuel, food and water — in the event that we might get stuck there in a storm.

Camps needed to be well lit in case a rogue driver was speeding in the night — so even our parked car, tent, shade structure required solar powered lighting.

We also worried that with no fences, security or borders, in an open carry state, crazy wackos could be there, stealing and causing mayhem.

The shocks squeaked and groaned with the gear for this “survival burn” — including “poop buckets” lashed to the roof, and auto parts store oil change containers to handle our urine.

We looked like evacuees. But we were recreational evacuees.

As we drove up Highway 80 and over to Reno, smoke from two massive wildfires burned my eyes and throat. Real evacuees were fleeing the fires around us. New York City was under water, and New Orleans was flooding too.

I almost cried when we went over the pass and I saw Donner Lake — everything looked like it was shriveled and dying.

I remember my first pilgrimage to Burning Man in 1993. The sky was a deep, vivid blue with puffy white clouds. The trees lush green. There were glacial snowcaps on the Sierras.

Burning Man wasn’t dusty then and the playa was hard packed, like cement, laced with cracks, and you could drive across it like pavement.

After two more hours of driving through the sickly yellow air, and dodging speed traps, we turned off the highway into BLM Gate 12 and followed a dust plume.

There was no “Welcome to Burning Man” sign this year.

“Where the hell are we going, Giselle?”

“Just follow the other cars.”

“Do they even know where they are going?”

“Didn’t you download the map, apps and PDFs I sent you?”

“Why isn’t our phone working?”

“Because the nearest cell tower is in Gerlach.”

The Plan B city was 3 miles past the old Black Rock City.

There were no cute signs to guide us with poetry in rhyme.

There was no entrance or ticket line.

Nobody inspected our car, spanked us, rang a gong, or made us make angel wings in the dust.

We crossed the old “Black Rock City” and kept going, into the infinite, hazy horizon of the largest expanse of flat land in North America.

Searching for Plan B City in the infinite nothingnesPhoto: Duncan Rawlinson

The dust was obscuring the distant hills. There were no landmarks.

It was different than the last time. But we were home.

Drone video of the “man burn” produced by Keenan Hock.

Keenan Hock created this beautiful aerial video of the Burn’s “burn without fire” — a symbolic raising and burning of the man with drones.

The first voiceover is that of actor and artist Steven Raspa, an early founder of Burning Man, describing, powerfully, the spirtual pilgrimage of the early days to the Black Rock Playa:

“There is a city that exists for eight days a year, where artists, free thinkers, philosophers, people of all religions… flock with great effort to give more of themselves and practice sharing art…

They come from other cities, all over the world, yet they call this fleeting city…

HOME.”

The second voice, representing the new era, is a young poet identified as “Zoltan” who says:

“This is a message for humanity. It’s time we awaken into the new era.

It’s time to redefine love, to remember freedom.

Receive the vibration of these words as a guide for collective revolution.

We are the builders of the new era.

We are free.”

The aerial light show symbolized the dissolution of the old ways. It was produced by Studio Drift of Amsterdam, live-streamed simultaneously on Twitch and YouTube, and came as a spontaneous and unscheduled surprise.

Many in the Renegade Burn community remark that in this time of increasing regulation and constraint, the peaceful, symbolic ritual of the People’s Burn may be a very encouraging sign for the future of the United States and the entire world.

The government didn’t say: “No pianos.” If there way a way to bend the rules, the renegades found it. Self portrait by Deniz.

The downsized “People’s Burn” wasn’t Burning Man. It wasn’t even Burning Man Lite.

The US Government Department of the Interior (Bureau of Land Management or BLM) laid down “temporary restrictions” that outlawed almost everything that makes the “official” Labor Day Burning Man in Nevada an incredible International A-list destination bucket list art mecca.

This included big art, structures, lasers, fire dancers, propane poofers and explosions, fireworks, flaming torches and any fire larger than a campfire.

The BLM also decided to outlaw all services (like water trucks, ice delivery, gray water pumping and porta potty pumping) — just for the renegades.

Essentially, all the essentials that would enable thousands of people to safely gather for Burning Man in the hostile and remote Black Rock Desert were suddenly … illegal.

The Renegade Burners worked within these constraints and built a temporary city and had a burn anyway — without roads, road signs, fences, heavy equipment, gates, communications, security, airport, essential services, porta potties and largely, without, well…the burning of much of anything at all.

Yet not just in spite of the lack of comforts and infrastructure, but maybe because of the extreme hardships, the People’s Burn restored the once upon a time radical Burning Man to its free, open source and alternative roots.

The government guidelines were meant to protect the playa and the fragile desert ecosystem, and by following these laws, the renegade burners dramatically reduced the ecological footprint.

Dogs are usually not allowed at Burning Man, but were permitted by the Government, even though practically everything else was illegal. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson

The constraints the US government imposed — ironically — are what finally forced the burn to evolve in an ecologically sustainable direction.

By working around these government constraints, The People created their idea of a modern creative utopia — equitable, diverse, inclusive, heart-centered and kinder to the planet.

“After the first couple days of our-non-build week,” camp leader Tess Sweet said of the ease of building without jumping through bureaucratic hoops for months,” I had a realization that Burning Man was broken. Free Man fixed it by losing the airport and the plug and plays.”

I think of it as a Tale of Two Cities. Maybe it’s long overdue for Burning Man to have it’s own renegade sister city. Such as Slamdance with Sundance, or the Bil conference that started across the street from TED.

We aren’t against Burning Man. We love and adore Burning Man.

But we felt increasingly shut out and replaced by the billionaires, Instagram celebrities and Hollywood A-listers who had taken the burn away from the community that started it in the first place.

Burning Man had turned into “The Burning Money Festival.”

Some called it: “Burning Sellout.”

Just like Santa Fe, Taos, SoHo, Nevada City and a thousand other bohemian meccas before it, Black Rock City was gentrified.

So the people started a new city, three miles away: Plan B.

CIRCUMVENTING THE RULES WITH CREATIVITY

Some saw the People’s Burn as an act of “obedient civil disobedience.”

Overall, the burners explicity obeyed the law but used crowdsourced creativity and free, distributed apps or cheap devices to organize quickly within these constraints.

No art installations in the ground? Ok, we’ll have art cars and build art on trailers.

One of the few art installations, The Teapot, by Kyonica Von Houten, was perched on a trailer to circumvent government regulations that stipulated no structures could be built in the fragile desert playa. Tea was served inside. Photo: Kyonica Von Houten

No passengers except in the cockpit on art cars? Ok, we’ll just make the cockpits larger so everyone can fit. (Or get rid of the cockpit altogether.)

Without a “DMV” stipulating what constitutes an “art car,” lower budget vehicles were able to participate, which brought some charming, smaller art cars back to the festival.

Stages are banned? Ok, we’ll bring mobile stages on vehicles or trailers.

Stages were outlawed, but without the Burning Man Org’s DMV inspecting the vehicles, almost any car could become an “art car” or stage at the People’s Burn as long as it was registered. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson www.duncan.co
Robot Heart, brought the largest sound stage in 2021, which is already built on a bus.

No art installed in the land? Ok, we’ll put it on wheels, or up in the air.

There wasn’t much art, as installations mounted in the soil were banned by the Government, but some artists brought installations on trailers, like the G-String by Chris Callor. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson www.duncan.co

Nothing allowed but tents, kitchens and shade structures? We’ll make magnificent, epic shade structures.

The temple, wryly named “The Temple of Constraints,” was technically a “shade structure” to meet the government constraints.

The laser-cut lace-like wood structure was built by the Hella Shamans (formerly Shipwreck Temple) and the shade structure was sewn by the Rainbow Lightning crew, with design by Kelsey Faery.

The teams designed and built everything at the last minute — in only 22 days.

The sunset colored, handpainted Temple of Constraints was technically a “shade structure.”
A temple of reclaimed wood and driftwood was dismantled and burned with permission.

No fires except campfires 6 inches off the ground? Ok, we’ll get creative with bonfires.

In the ultimate bending of the rules — the traditional Burning Man temple was created underneath a shade structure, with a ceremony of 12 individual bonfires, each on platforms six inches off the ground, which were burned with permission from the BLM.

It succeeded in meeting the contraints and also being a profoundly moving and intimate space.

12 temple burn “bonfires” met the government constraints and were burned with permission. Drone photo: John Camino

No Burning of a Man allowed? No fireworks? We debated this one. One member of the group suggested individual “man” statues burned in individual fires.

But the ultimate answer to this challenge took everyone’s breath away: Just make a Man out of drones!

Studio Drift of Amsterdam preparing for the “Burn” night drone show that symbolically replaced the burning of the man, and 100 thousand pounds of wood, and who knows how much C02. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson

No ice for sale? Ok, we’ll just give it away for free! (Someone generous showed up with two trucks of free ice.)

The “Brodega” brought a “bodega” of free goods to share, including Pickle Sauce Marshmallows in a box truck, skirting the government restrictions that made structures and installations illegal. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson www.duncan.co

No lasers? No stages? Burners got creative with projections.

A “stage” on the playa was created with light projections. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson

No center camp cafe? We’ll bring cafes, distributed around the playa and give away free coffee and tea and food.

With less focus on art, burners provided free services, such as this camp that grew and gave away free sprouts from a refrigerated truck.

No airport? Great, the billionaires, tourists, Instagram models and jet setters will stay away.

There were no real helicopters at the People’s Burn 2021, just this “Helicopter Bus” art car. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson.

No services? Doctors and EMTS quickly volunteered and signed up on a shared Google Doc and created locations for First Aid, Lost and Found, Security and other essential services. Each service had a GPS location, a What3Words location, and a camp that offered to host it.

First Aid self-organized at the last minute in the last two weeks — all it took was a Google Doc. One doctor even brought an X-ray machine. Photo: Giselle Bisson
Shared Google Docs streamlined the process of recruiting volunteers to manage essential services. Each camp had GPS and What3Words coordinates as an address. There were no streets in the new city.

No porta potties? The BLM outlawed all septic pumping services and public porta potties. So, for four months the Plan B Facebook Group was obsessed with brainstorming about how we would manage our own…excrement.

One guy suggested fasting and getting a colonic. Another suggested Depends (adult diapers.)

But in the end we all agreed that a $5 bucket and a 99 cent pool noodle was the most elegant solution — with either a liner bag, sawdust or kitty litter.

A pee bottle and funnel would get lugged around in your bicycle basket or backpack if you had the urge while wandering around the city.

RADICAL SELF RELIANCE: Public porta potties were outlawed as a pandemic safety measure, so this art car hauled around its own porta potty for the camp. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson www.duncan.co

NO STREETS OR SIGNAGE? An smartphone app called What3Words assigns three words to any location, and divides the area into three meter locations. The locations were self-listed in a Google Doc directory with hyperlinks.

Renegade burners navigated to the new city from the old city with What3Words app download in advance on their smartphones — instead of a paper map.
An interactive open Google map customized by a Plan B group member and shared in a collaborative website enabled everyone to place their camp in a matter of minutes, bypassing many layers of bureaucracy and management. This innovative map design by Wade Harrell is now nominated for an American Planning Association award.
Camps self placed according to GPS coordinates on the Google Map to form the new renegade temporary city in the Black Rock Desert, Plan B. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson

REPLACING SPECTACLE WITH HEART

The rebellion against the government and the bureaucracy that had swallowed up this event wasn’t an overthrow in the sense of revolutionary anarchy.

This uprising against the old regime was all about cooperation, caring and love.

If there was one running meme or theme from the Renegade Burn, it was love. Light art photo by Magnanimous Pictures.

Many of the camps had a love theme or a heart theme. Radical Acceptance, Participation, Inclusion and Immediacy, the Gift Economy and truly a sense of “Love Thy Neighbor” were core values.

The spectacle of prior years was illegal — so it was replaced with intimacy and heart.

Many found that this was more soulful and satisfying than fireworks and massive sound stages of the usual Burning Man.

The lesson? When we bring everything back to human scale, the people become the art.

Giving feels better than taking.

Participation is always more fun than being a spectator.

I think there are so many lessons in this for us as a culture, on Earth, about ways to make life more sustainable and less resource intensive and still have fun.

Documentary filmmaker Sergio somehow got away with his “fire heart” — by calling this a “propane campfire.” Video still by @surgepowermoney on YouTube

REDEFINE FIRE

Friday night drone show by Studio Drift of Amsterdam. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson www.duncan.co

Burning of anything larger than a campfire was outlawed by the BLM, and fireworks were also banned, so the burners cleverly circumvented the rules and preserved the “fire ritual” by using drones to “burn” a “man” figure.

The unscheduled and utterly surprising drone “burn” began as an amorphous bird swarm that formed the shape of a heart.

The swarm of drones then transformed into a man figure that rose 50 feet above the crowd, raised his “arms” and then “igniting” with golden fire colors and then disintegrating into “cinders” and falling to Earth.

The C02-spewing burn of an ever-larger effigy was transformed into a safer, quieter, clean, battery powered display.

And weapons of war were transformed into a peaceful ritual. The primal spectacle of past “burns” was replaced with a playful humility and heart.

Midway through, the swarm transformed into the shape of a man, in a nod towards the film Metropolis and the need for human interaction.

“The man raising its arms in joy ready to embrace its fellow humans is a symbol of reaching out to embrace one and another,” said designers Ralph Nauta and Lucas Van Oostrum in an article in Dezeen magazine. “It’s all about spreading the love we need so much,” they continued.

“It is a swarm algorithm symbolising the struggle of the individual towards the group,” they said. “A fitting piece in Covid time.”

Drones aligned for the surprising “man burn” — redefining “fire” with battery powered light.

BURN FOR THE REST OF US

Beautiful burner. Photo by Duncan Rawlinson www.duncan.co

The Burning Man Project started to address the issue of Radical Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity with the R.I.D.E. Stewardship Group, a cross-departmental team, back in 2015.

But making the event free and open to all is what finally made the burn diverse in 2021.

A burn for everyone. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson, www.duncan.co

Because getting into Burning Man isn’t just about buying a ticket — you need to have connections inside a camp to get in anymore.

The People’s Burn was a very different community than my 2016, 2017 and 2019 visits to the regular Burning Man. It was younger and more diverse, and seemed to not care about impressing anyone.

We were in the present moment becuase we didn’t have any Internet access — almost nobody was looking at their phone.

Burner Sustainable Fashion 2021 Photo: Duncan Rawlinson.

The artists and cultural creatives, the gypsies and renegades, for the first time in many years, could actually afford to go.

The same crowd that started Burning Man in the first place.

TAKING CARE OF OUR CITY

Man MOOPing. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson www.duncan.co

The fragile desert “playa” was (mostly) kept clean during the week by participants who “mooped” (burner lingo for trash or “Matter Out Of Place”) after themselves, carried mint tins to dispose of their cigarette butts, and collected and took their own human waste and gray water back home to dispose of.

With the exception of one porta potty that was abandoned.

The Plan B Facebook group “lynched” and shamed the camp that left the porta potty behind publicly on social media after an anonymous donor offered a $2,000 reward to anyone who turned in the culprits.

The Facebook group quickly fundraised in PayPal to pay for the cleanup with, what else — a commemorative necklace.

A scandal called: “PP150 Poopergate.”

Poopergate — the crowd lynched and shamed the perpetrators with silly memes — and then rapidly crowdfunded the cleanup of an abandoned porta potty with PayPal donations.
The Black Rock Desert was protected and returned to pristine condition by volunteers who stayed to clean up.

I did not personally witness violence, creepiness, darkness, mayhem, or chaos. There was one report of an arrest of an unruly man by local law enforcement. Some vehicles drove too fast and kicked up dust.

There were issues with a psytrance camp that played music too loud. (The community peacefully confronted them and asked them to turn down the volume. The camp later publicly apologized in the Plan B group.)

And quite a few dogs were lost, but found.

If you’re wondering if the Renegade Burn was a COVID “superspreader” — apparently not. Many camps required all members to show proof of vaccination. Many participants self-tested immediately after the event and openly reported their results — positive or negative — in group chats.

Lost and found was also managed by volunteers who are still returning items via the Facebook and Reddit Group.

My iPhone was lost while dancing and mailed to me a week later — which seemed like a miracle to me.

There are no reports of major theft — despite no fences, boundaries, security or gates.

And many of us discovered that the “poop buckets” and “pee funnels” were cleaner and more convenient than shared porta potties.

Everyone coexisted peacefully without tickets, vehicle searches, inspections, placement flags, road signs, juries, curators, printed maps and program guides — or any overarching highly paid organization managing the process.

Everything about the Renegade Burn was spontaneous, unplanned and a surprise.

The core values of Participation, Acceptance, Immediacy, Inclusion and Leave No Trace were revitalized.

In the end, “the people” succeeded in bringing Burning Man back to its roots and core principles, while maintaining social distance during a pandemic and dramatically reducing the ecological footprint.

A tombstone for the old Burning Man was placed in the temple to ceremonially burn in a symbolic ritual in the “Temple of Constraints.”

CAN THE PEOPLE LEAD THEMSELVES?

Burning Man has always been about creating a temporary city based on radical self reliance.

But this was the first time in decades that the city was built to such a scale without an overarching centralized “government” managing it.

Could it scale larger? As Plan B burner Inani Schroedinger comments: “Top down hierarchies don’t scale. Horizontal decentralized networks actually scale VERY WELL and have been doing so for half a billion years.

The success of the decentralized, self-organized UnBurn taught us to ask this question:

Do we need so much big government, large organizations, high taxation and all the layers of bureaucracy anymore?

With modern, open and decentralized technology — GPS, smartphone apps, livestreams, drones, shared documents, Facebook and Telegram groups — we have new ways to spontaneously and rapidly self organize as “flash mobs.”

It just doesn’t take as long, require as much staff, office buildings, and heavy equipment anymore. Paper is almost extinct.

If everyone is self reliant, self sufficient, if everyone shares the responsibility and the success— it’s amazing how well we can take care of ourselves and how little we need.

Empowering all with the freedom to self organize and without the constraints of a jury also brought back fresh “outsider art” creativity and new music.

(Isn’t that what Burning Man was renowned for?)

Giant crystal ball. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson

What can we learn from this new temporary city with leaderless leadership and fireless fire?

How can we apply these lessons to business and governance to streamline our strategic planning, save money, and ultimately save the planet from destruction?

What can the Burning Man organization, itself, learn from this experience to make the official burn more accessible, sustainable, equitable and diverse?

Will we see a “tale of two cities” in the future — one exclusive “burn” for the big donors and big art — and a free burn for the innovative new talent to rise up from?

The CEO of Burning Man, Goodell was there, documenting the renegade burn with her film crew.

In a follow up in the official Burning Man newsletter, “Plan B Gets an A,” the founders of the official event admitted it was pretty good, but said “there was no wow.”

(Well, yes, the wow — big art, fire, flame-throwers, fire dancers, lasers, fireworks — was outlawed by the government, remember?)

But clearly the “org” is watching, listening and learning from this experience.

Remember, it’s a ritual. It’s not just about Burning Man. And the message in the burnless burn was:

“Redefine Fire.”

Exit or exist? It’s time to change. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson

As Andrew Calo wrote in the Plan B Group of the radical decentralization that created this burn:

“If the Internet and crypto have taught us anything, it is that decentralization is the future. Burning Man is now a flash mob of 50,000 people.”

Another chimed in and said it was “open source” — but that’s what Burning Man was, back in the very beginning.

As long time burner Patrick James Hennessey adds:

“So proud of the true burners who showed up and created all inclusive magic on the playa despite the politics and obstacles you had to overcome. It is an inspiration to the larger world.

“It’s time for the people to red tag our lives and our gatherings and go around the control freaks and fly our own true and authentic freak flags. Long live people burning bright and self organizing in the spirit of giving their gifts freely.”

Writes long time burner and village leader Mark Shekoyan:

“Anarchism means no rulers or “Archons. This description of the “Renegade Burn” shows an example of what anarchy really looks like in practice, not theory.

Burning Man used to be what Hakim Bey called a TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone) then it became an over regulated, mediated commodity experience run like an alternative theme park by Bureaucrats.

The spirit of the TAZ, and eventually the PAZ (Permanent Autonomous Zones) depends foremost on people trusting their own hearts and intuition, rejecting fear, and uniting with fellow courageous and creative souls in like-minded vibe tribes to build what they truly desire.”

As one long time Bay Area “burner,” Alchemyst Mystique says:

“What you guys did on the playa was that blast to whomever and whatever wants to control humanity. And what you exhibited, playfully, and with genius, was how we can change the world.”

There is much to learn from the Renegade Burn and I hope we all can incorporate more of this decentralized organization, inclusion and loving care for our neighbors in our “default world” values.

We the people stood up for our rights. We reclaimed our public land. We stood up for our right to gather and celebrate.

We reclaimed (at least temporarily and symbolically) the event that we co-created that somehow had turned into a mulimillion dollar corporation and a billionaire playground.

We made it free again.

We did it all so elegantly, so kindly, so politely, so playfully, and within the rules and laws, that our obedience was in itself an act of civil disobedience.

The People’s Burn was a symbolic ritual of our liberation from the constraints of overregulation.

It exceeded my expectations in every possible way and gives me hope for our future as humans on Earth.

Giselle “Gigi” Bisson is (arguably) the first journalist to cover the then-underground Burning Man festival in 1993. She is also a Silicon Valley business mentor.

She was a co-founder and in 2009 elected “mayor” of one of the largest Burning Man Esplanade theme villages which in 2013 was awarded its highest honor, “The Golden Rebar.”

She is writing a book, “Burning Management,” about how decentralized leadership makes large scale collaborative art possible — and how those lessons are changing business and government.

You can follow her on Twitter at @gisellebisson or @visibilityshift.

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Storyteller for social change. Recovering Vegan. Health/Nutrition Coach. Marketing Director, “The Schoch Protocol: How I Healed from Disabling Long Covid.”

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Giselle "Gigi" Bisson

Giselle "Gigi" Bisson

Storyteller for social change. Recovering Vegan. Health/Nutrition Coach. Marketing Director, “The Schoch Protocol: How I Healed from Disabling Long Covid.”

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