July is Transformus – Spectators versus Participants

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.  Maddy did some excellent art work and made the physical office happen.

Transformus X Post office - Mysteria near Asheville NC circa 2013

Transformus X Post office – Mysteria near Asheville NC circa 2013

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.