How To Save the World

Caveat Magister has written a long piece at SF Weekly entitled “Out of the Wilderness. The future of Burning Man isn’t in the desert. It’s everywhere else”. You’ll have to read through more than 5500 words to find his disclaimer that he’s affiliated with BMOrg, having worked as a volunteer for 6 years. This is not a conflict of interest, he’s not directly on their payroll and merely has log-in credentials to their blog. Caveat told us that he was asked to write the cover story by SF Weekly because they know he is involved with Burning Man. He seems to have taken a fair and balanced approach to this story.

He starts out exploring how Burning Man is not about the Playa any more, it’s about all the great things they’re doing everywhere else in the world to spread Burner culture. Grover Norquist is welcome, Sarah Palin is not. 360 journalists will be there this year, but they turned down CNN.

Unfortunately, he runs into the same problems as everyone else who tries to dig below the surface of this: the Burning Man Project really aren’t doing much. Towards the end of his article, he starts to consider the reality:

confusionwith that growth has come institutionalization, bureaucracy, and hierarchy, making Burning Man a kind of paradox: The world’s biggest symbol of radical self-expression, self-reliance, and decommodification also has a human resources department and a team of intellectual-property lawyers.

This paradox has been pointed out and vigorously criticized at every stage of the organization’s development. Its most recent change, into a nonprofit entity called “The Burning Man Project,” is no exception.

This implies that “BMOrg has always been self-contradictory, so it doesn’t matter”. I disagree. That’s like saying “people have always killed each other, so there’s no point campaigning for peace”.

They can keep espousing Utopian values and preaching adherence to the Tin Principles, but actions speak louder than words. Sooner or later they will actually have to do something. You can’t call yourselves a do-ocracy when you only achieve a couple of things per year out of $30 million supplied to you by Burners.

‘One prominent member of the Burning Man community, who asked not to be named, was witheringly critical of the new organization. The change has served, this person with knowledge of the organization says, only to confuse and frustrate the people looking to it for leadership.

“Nobody knows what the fuck is going on,” the person says. “With the Black Rock Arts Foundation, until recently, or with Burners Without Borders, if you contributed, you knew what you were getting — it’s going to go to this. This is what they do. This is how they make the world better. Nobody has any idea what contributing to The Burning Man Project accomplishes. What do they do with it? How do they help?”

what in gods name“To be honest, I don’t know what The Burning Man Project is,” says Miriam Fathalla, an academic studying new cultural movements who was inspired by Burning Man to start an arts-based economic development effort in Jelong Geelong, Australia. “I read the website, I read the mission statement, but I don’t know what they’re doing — and it’s been three years! I’m not loyal to Burning Man, I’ve been inspired by it. And that distinction really seems to be an issue right now.”

Indeed, outside of people directly involved in some way with The Burning Man Project, not one person contacted for this article said they understood what The Burning Man Project does, or how it’s supposed to advance the culture. Many admit to being demoralized, and fear that this confusion hurts Burning Man’s ability to inspire others.

Thank goodness for that! I was starting to wonder if it was just me.

It seems that the owners of Burning Man admit they don’t know what they’re doing either. Send more money, to help them figure it out.

Told this, Burning Man Project leadership admit they have a problem.

“I’m not exactly surprised,” says Goodell.

“There’s a lot of gray,” says DuBois. “The vision is clear to myself and a handful of other people, but no one has ever done this before, so it’s difficult.

Done what? Started a non-profit? Tried to export something from one location to another?

Here is their vision for The Burning Man Project: In addition to producing the Burning Man event, it will serve as a facilitator for the activities that Burner communities and Burning Man-inspired movements undertake. It will offer everything from expertise and promotion to resources and networking for emerging projects and communities around the world.

But how does that function on a nuts-and-bolts level? They don’t actually know. Where other Burners say “It’s already been three years, how can you not have a plan?” leaders of The Burning Man Project say “It’s only been three years, how can we have a clear plan?”

youre lostSays Dubois: “We’re still learning as we go. There are a lot of best practices that we have to learn. How contracts should be designed, how we can work with other groups in such a way that everyone keeps their autonomy, when to partner with and when to share resources and when to just offer advice. Every time we take a step, we learn more.”

The idea that the Burning Man organization has hypocritically crossed a line and alienated the population is one they’ve heard before: When Burning Man added roads, when firearms were banned, when a speed limit was imposed … each time, people screamed that the Man was falling, and each time the culture only grew bigger.

So bigger is better? I think many Burners would argue that the culture is actually under threat from this “expand at all costs” mentality, driving population towards 100,000 while somehow maintaining 40% Virgins. When only 29% of people at the party have been more than twice, how can you claim that the culture is improving? You think these newbies even know anything about the culture?

When you’ve been doing something for 30 years, and the latest aspect of it for at least 3, how can you say “we’re still learning as we go” with a straight face? Seriously, how much more could there be to learn? How much more time do they need? Do they think they’re going to figure it out with even more think tanks and discussion groups?

What about actually spending the money, actually supporting 100+ projects, and reporting honestly about the highs and lows they experience?

Claiming credit for work that Burners do around the world is more likely to spread resentment than respect. Putting the founders on various panel discussions is not an adequate use of our funding contributions for the purposes of spreading Burner culture. If you’re going to promote an organization as a shining example of your non-profit achieving its mission, then how about your non-profit slush fund writes a check to that organization? Shouldn’t that be a given? Who are BMP writing checks to? We know that Burners Without Borders is one, but isn’t that just moving money from one company in the group to another?

critics say this time is different: The Burning Man Project’s goals are less concrete than simply building roads.

Meanwhile, the organization has made several decisions that have been especially controversial. Offering Burning Man-branded scarves as premiums to $150 donors and offering Burning Man tickets to high-level donors strike a sour note among people who have long defended the principle of decommodification.

Critics warn that, if this keeps up, a substantial number of Burners might form their own organizations, inspired by what Burning Man was rather than what it is, and try to change the world on their own.

Burning Man’s leadership has consistently responded: “That would be great! How can we help? Do you need support from our new nonprofit?”

What support is available? Whatever it is, it seems a legal contract is a pre-requisite. Will they give their non-profit donation money to these new ideas that they claim to be so supportive of? Or are they only going to support regional events that sign a contract with BMOrg?

the truth is that they haven’t yet figured out how, outside of San Francisco, ordinary people can fully live their lives as Burners. But they fully believe it’s possible. Their idea, their hope, is that someone out on the frontier of Burning Man will figure out ways to make this culture sustainable and scaleable that they haven’t thought of yet. They believe that the next generation of big ideas in Burning Man culture that are most relevant to people in Arkansas and Lithuania and China are most likely to come from Arkansas, Lithuania, and China, not San Francisco.

They say that what looks like a lack of leadership is, in fact, an attempt to make San Francisco less dominant and more supportive. And if they actually can help — if they have the organizational clout, know-how, and resources to offer support that people in Indianapolis, Japan, and New Zealand need — then they’ll be right.

But they have yet to demonstrate it to much of their community’s satisfaction.

Can BMOrg do anything meaningful to help people in other countries? Well, they sent two people to Israel for ranger training. Which Midburn had to pay for. Has that spread Burner culture in the Middle East? We didn’t get so much as a report on the event at the Burning Man blog.

As usual in the world of BMOrg, there are all kinds of numbers flying around that don’t hold up to a cursory fact check:

burner distribution 2012

where Burners are from, 2012

In total, Burning Man has 248 official representatives, known as “Regional Contacts” (RCs), in 123 different locations. In addition to the kind of efforts listed above, the regional groups put on about 56-60 officially sanctioned Burning Man events (the parties) each year across 13 different countries. As of this year, about 30 percent of “Burning Man” events are held outside the United States.

According to Burning Man’s own web site, there are 20 official regional events in 4 different countries. 7 are outside the United States, 4 of those are in Canada.

But hey, don’t ever let truth get in the way of a good story – right, BMOrg?

Spreading the values of Burning Man to an uninitiated world is not easy. People struggle to understand why they should change their behavior locally, because of a remote desert rave in Nevada.

Miriam Fathalla agrees. The hardest part of her economic development work, she says, was the first year, when she was the only person in the local community who had been to Burning Man or a regional event. “The essence of this culture is experiential. It was very challenging to get people who hadn’t had that experience to understand the vision.”

If the essence of the culture is experiential, shouldn’t more emphasis be put on spreading the experience? Just promoting the Principles does not seem to be actually extending the culture, instead it is just extending the rules and the confusion.

Burning Man is trying to become an incubator for its own culture, rather than its center. If Burning Man is to continue to grow, to continue to be relevant, its center of gravity will have to move to its frontier.

“The frontier for Burning Man is to help people get more connected to their communities,” Goodell says. “Not ‘our community,’ but their communities: their neighborhoods and their towns and their organizations. The idea is that people will say ‘I feel inspired, I feel connected, I feel empowered. Now I want to go and do something in my community.’ We know that if people are inspired, they can replicate what happens in the desert out in the world.”

And what, exactly, should they be replicating? Art cars? Effigy burns? Gifting? Nudity? Orgies? Psychedelic culture? Dust storms?

stop and think cartoonBMOrg say “here are Ten Principles, these are the essence of what it means to be a Burner, if you want to spread our values in your community then your event has to comply with these”. But do they really capture what is great and inspiring about Burning Man? What about creativity? Whimsy? Decadence? What about the music? Art? To me all of those are very important elements of the Burning Man experience.

Many Burners don’t care. Some say “if you don’t like it, don’t go”. But the problem is I do like it. I really like this city built by Burners. And I care that the suits have been messing with the culture for three years in the name of altruism, and still don’t know what it is they want to do.

It is possible to think that America is great, but disagree with the President’s policies. Similarly, it is possible to think that Burning Man is great, but disagree with BMOrg.

What do you think, Burners?


Weather Proof Your Burn

The desert is usually hot, dry, sunny, and very dusty. It can get cold at night. Dust storms can remove all visibility, and can affect travel plans and navigation. Strong winds can come at any time. Rain can turn the Playa into mud that cars get stuck in. We hear that trailers have been blowing over, the airport is underwater. If you can’t get a plane and you’re thinking you could take the bus instead, you’re SOL. The Burner Express is no longer selling tickets. If you were planning to fly in and have to change your plans, try

Some tips to weather the storm from my friends at Ohm Kamp. They’re going to be in Yurts but these are useful for tent campers too:

Atari says:

photo by Peter Ruprecht

photo by Peter Ruprecht

So i just came back from making love to the playa and watched 3 yurt foam boards fly 20 ft overhead and get lost in a dust storm. To everyone / anyone who is in a yurt, please make sure u have the following three things :
1. Rope for the roof halo
2. Tie downs (either rope or ratchet straps)
3. Rebar (there are pre-bent ones at Home Depot)
These three things are Essential to keeping ur yurt from blowing away when it’s up and please remember when ur setting up to make sure the foam boards are tied down as wind picks up within seconds and can send it sailing across the playa. Saw one fly 20 ft in the air and disappear into a dust storm today

Sick Dog says:

burning man stormHere are a few things to keep in mind for yourself if there is heavy or continuous rain:
Stay in camp! You should already have everything you need there
Don’t drive your cars, art cars, or bikes. The playa mud sticks and sticks and sticks!
Tune in to BMIR 94.5FM for information as they will provide info on weather
Bring a bucket and garbage bags! This will act as a toilet for you and others if it is impossible to get to the toilets (do a search for Lugable Loo for ideas on how to make one or where to buy one)
Cover/secure/turn off any electrical for your camp that may be affected by the rain water
Check your infrastructure to make sure it is secure if winds or other conditions pick up
And relax! Socialize and continue to enjoy your time on the playa (and think about the cool pictures and stories you will get to share!)
There are other personal tips as well like:
Bring a raincoat
Keep a set of dry clothes in a bag (good for rain or the day you leave BM)
Park your vehicle or trailer on a piece of wood (so in case of heavy rain the tires don’t sink) hopefully any rain during the years event will be small and fun!

Also check out our tips for bringing a camera from Curious Josh.

photo by Atari

photo by Atari – that is one Giant of a Man

Crank Out Some Dope Beats

“Beats. Phat beats. Dope beats. Dirty beats. Clean beats. Killer beats. Mad beats. Everyone loves beats. Then there’s the drop. Folks just love the drop…I suppose some may love the drop more than the beat. But you always have to wait for the drop – don’t you?” 

Not any more. Anita’s Drop Ship presents a self-powered dubstep system. Wind the crank, and spin up the tension for the drop.

Aux.TV reports:

anitas drop shipLike water, breathable air, and fossil fuels, dubstep is a  precious and limited resource. Or at least it used to be! In response to one of the greatest challenges facing humanity, a team of developers and music lovers have made a machine that can generate an endless stream of dubstep. Its inspiration came when one of the founders’ friends, Anita,wandered Burning Man 2013 for days looking for a fat beat drop but never managed to find one. They thought, why not end the suffering?

Anita’s Dropship, as their machine is called, uses an algorithmic composition that generates music and beats in realtime, never repeating the same passage twice. But here’s where it gets really exciting. It has a crank that listeners turn to build up the intensity of the music, until a red button on the front lights up, and then, BAM!, the Dropship produces a nasty, earth-shaking beat drop.

Look out for this puppy on the Playa, they raised nearly $3000 for their $1000 Kickstarter campaign.

They tested it on animals:

It’s great to see simple, wholesome, fun Burning Man projects – it’s not only about building 100-ft+ towers with 100+ teams and $100,000+ budgets. Sometimes you don’t have to pretend you’re saving the world, you can just have a laugh, dial a hand crank, and lose your shit with the drop.


The motivation for Anita’s Dropship came at Burning Man 2013 when Anita spent an entire night running between sound camps and art cars. She loved the dubstep sound (it’s so popular these days!), but never once heard the fabled “Drop”. This was very surprising to her brother and boyfriend (that’s two different people, mind you), as the dubstep genre is known for gratuitous and overbearing drops. At once motivated to rectify their beloved’s disappointment, her brother and boyfriend (still two different people) pledged to make the drop available to Anita whenever she wanted. Anita’s Dropship was born.

The Dropship is Born! - by Whoops
The Dropship is Born! – by Whoops

The Dropship is a device which plays never-ending always-changing dubstep. Two cranks on either side of the crate are used to build the drop, but only when the big red nuclear launch button is pressed will epic dubs will be dropped. You’ll never hear the same thing twice!

Anita, who has a Dubship named after her

Anita, who has a Dubship named after her

For better or worse, everything in our world has become customisable. Gone are the days of cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all, mass produced trinkets and baubles. These days, everyone wants their own unique snowflake. And why not with music too? Why should everyone be satisfied with listening to the latest pop-tart MP3 mobile stream, when we can all have our own unique remixes? Music on demand isn’t about getting what you want when you want, it’s about getting it how you want!

Anita’s Dropship does exactly that. When you’re tired of waving your hands in the air, no need to wait for the coked-out DJ to finally press play on the next track. Hit the button yourself and enjoy the immediate satisfaction of a big fat drop.

Rauri has put together a sound system that will absolutely blow away your tutu. Four full stacks all running off of a super quiet two kilowatt generator. We tried it out at home, but the neighbors complained. So we took it to Toxic Beach in San Francisco for a full bass workout.

To quote some passers-by, “We came for the view, but stayed for the beats.”

How can we ship drops without transportation!? What good is a caravansary if we can’t travel on the road to get there!? We’ve been fortunate enough this year to receive a donation of an old golf cart which has seen many burns over the years. It’s a fixer upper, and we need help restoring it to health and a new purpose!

Team Dropship delivers!
Team Dropship delivers!

The musical component of the Dropship is written by Mr. Christmas in London. The entire algorithmic composition runs on a mobile phone, which lies at the heart of the Dropship. All of the music is generated in realtime, with most sounds also synthesized using state-of-the-art generative and procedural music techniques. We guarantee that you’ll never hear the same thing twice and it will never get boring. Here is a work-in-progress example of the ambient portion of the track for your listening pleasure.


St Art Ups Posing as Playa Art [Update]

Burner Anarchist Jim has brought this to our attention:

An interesting tidbit that might be worth a blog post… the Honorarium art piece Dreambox, is a front for a startup called Dreamus. They’ve got a profile on Angelist saying ‘they’re launching at Burning Man 2014″

There are many startup folks at burning man, some of which do subtle promotion. If you want to call your camp at 7:15 and H ‘My Startup’ Camp, alright, lame, but whatever. However, slapping your brand on an honorarium art piece (which was funded by BM and part of the price you paid for your ticket) and then using participant’s emails and videos to seed your startup website is incredibly offensive, IMO, and completely against the ethos of the event.

I’m all for supporting burners. If I meet someone in SF at a coffee shop, I’ve got an instant connection, and, sure, I’m more willing to support their art project or startup or whatever. But someone that’s blatantly promoting their for-profit company on playa? That’s someone that doesn’t get the event or anything about it.

Of course, there’s enough other people out there now that don’t get the event, that promoting a company probably won’t be seen as a big deal. So maybe a blog post about it will just give them additional promotion. Who knows… but there’s the story.

Sure enough, Dreamus are trying to raise money on Angel List, on the back of their Burning Man honorarium art grant. Their business model is to take 5% of all donations.

Is it time yet for us to stop saying “the only commerce at Burning Man is ice and coffee”? is a social platform for you to share your life-long dreams, goals, ideas and intentions with others. On Dreamus people follow each others dreams so that they receive notifications as new goals are created and old goals are completed. The platform allows you to comment on each others dreams, donate to each others dreams, share each others dreams and soon enough, join each others dreams. We are monetizing it by taking 5% of all donations.

We have built a Solar Powered Video booth called The Dreambox and brought it to Burning Man twice, capturing HD video of thousands of people stating their life-long dream to the camera. This summer we are showing these dreams to the world for the first time ever, on

This summer Dreambox 3.0 will also be back to Burning man, but this time it will be LIVE, with an internet connection, and a video feed of people’s dreams. We expect to go viral, but we know its silly to even say that.

Here’s what Burning Man said about the Art Honorarium grant for this project:

The Dreambox is a video booth that allows you to input your email and record a statement of your life’s dreams, goals and intentions into a HD camera. Your video will then be linked to your own private account on a brand new web platform specifically designed to allow other people to follow and support your dreams. It also includes an outdoor theater, where your dreams can be watched by other burners during the week.

They also promoted the project on their Ignite Channel affiliate.

Digging a bit deeper, we find that this project has been going since 2012 – and is brought to us by the creator of the famous “Oh The Places You’ll Go” Dr Seuss-themed Burning Man video.

From the Huffington Post, 2012:

Six months ago, filmmaker Teddy Saunders posted the inventive short film, Oh! The Places You’ll Go At Burning Man, and received nearly two three million hits on YouTube… Oh! The Places You’ll Go at Burning Man scored a well-deserved Best Short Film Award at this year’s New Media Film Festival in Los Angeles

…The DreamBox is a solar-powered video booth that the public can walk into and speak about their greatest dream, or aspiration in life. Using the power of film and social media, Saunders believes those dreams can and will come true.

Custom designed from the ground up featuring an interactive touch screen interface allowing the dreamer to see himself or herself, rehearse their dream, and type in their contact info needed for others to be able to reach out to them. The DreamBox contains an intricate lighting system with LED soft boxes and back lighting, making the dreamer look flawless on camera. Behind the dreamer is a green screen, which will be swapped out with cinematographic time lapse video that thematically supports them.

Saunders says, “Basically, it’s designed so the dreamers look as epic as possible when speaking their dreams.”

During the day the DreamBox is covered with shiny rainbow-colored mylar. At night, it will glow with high-powered LED lights, allowing it to be seen from a half a mile away.

When the project appears online as a web series, anyone will be able to watch the “dreamers” share their life goals. As each dreamer speaks, their Email address will be embedded into the video allowing viewers to contact them to help make his or her dreams materialize into reality.

Their first installation captured almost 300 dreams. No word on how many of those it helped to come true. There are only 17 listed on their web site – how do they decide “What Dreams May Come”?

From Reddit:

It was out there. Teddy didn’t catch as many dreams as he wanted to, some sort of technical problems (somebody said it was dusty or something).

They managed to record 284 dreams, although the goal was 3-5k recordings.

As I watch the dreams now I see how powerful a single voice can be. We are all united, each with remarkable ideas to make the world a better place. All you have to do is share your dreams and together we can change our destiny.

Cheers and thank you again for making this dream possible.



[Update 8/18/14 7:51pm]

I’ve watched a couple of their videos and thought about what they’re doing. I kinda like the idea. Use Burning Man and the Internet to make peoples’ dreams come true. I would contribute to one of the projects (the Give Wildlife Rights dream). The cute girls will probably get a disproportionate share of funding, that would be interesting to follow. Different things resonate in different ways in different networks. Providing a consistent format for absorbing and replaying the data makes it easy to see a variety of dreams and choose which ones you support. Burning Man is probably the world’s greatest collection of dreamers, but they could do this at Comic Con or Glastonbury or Oracle World. The Dreambox could be the next kickstarter and change the world, or it could be a clumsy attempt from the tech industry to link themselves to Burning Man – like Intel SiMan.

While I agree with many of Anarchist Jim’s comments, my personal opinion is that this party has grown up to become one big money fest now, it’s time to stop denying that and just embrace it. BMOrg should do everything they can to help startups, including using the money we provide them with to give small amounts of funding to a small number of them. Hell, they should use more of the money to fund more startups with larger donations! For $30 million a year, the Burner community ought to be able to spin off a few startups. Maybe then raving really could change the world.


[Update 8/17/14 8:58 PM]

They’re a to-do list for your entire life, according to Dreamus themselves. If it was a charity asking for a donation, it would be slightly cuter than a startup looking for investors on angel list and monetizing other peoples money in the meantime:

Project Dreambox was first created on Kickstater as Teddy Saunders and Paola Baldion raised $29,277 to build a solar powered video booth that allows people to record 30-second statements of their life-long dreams, goals and intentions into an HD camera.

They called it The Dreambox. They then brought this Dreambox to Burning Man, where they collected dreams from people all over the world. Now, with the addition of lead programmer, Nicholas Juntilla, they have built a place for these dreams to take shape online…

Dreamus is a place to collaborate on dreams with others.

We’ve all heard the term, thoughts become things. The Secret is about the Law of Attraction. The idea of manifesting your own destiny by painting a picture of the specific goals necessary to be building your dream project, working your dream job, and living your dream life.

We feel that identifying your dreams is the most important thing you could do in life because it creates a motivational drive and direction in your day-to-day actions.

By puting your life’s intentions online and allowing others to follow, you make a promise to yourself and your peers. We believe that this promise can improve your destiny.

We like to think of Dreamus as the to-do list for your life and we hope that it will enable us to live better lives, together.

Saving the world with Burning Man, Dreamus, and The Secret. One dream at a time, hopefully the 5% cut on each dream – whether fulfilled or not – is enough to pay for all the data storage required to record everyone’s dreams (condensed into a few minutes).

300 dreams, that’s got to be at least $10 for a memory stick.

I bet this data, when linked to dreamers Facebook profiles and Yahoo or Gmail accounts, phone numbers – is a dream indeed, for electronic marketers swimming in the lucrative sea of Big Data. It would appear their business model gives them a 100% cut of revenue from that, quite independently from any dream manifestation.


Prepare for the Playa Police [Update]

Burner Mark has shared this advice on what to do if you have an encounter with the police on the Playa. Seems pretty helpful.

We also published this guide last year, and shared these Gate Safety tips last week. 40% of Burners have never been to the event before; only 30% have been more than twice.


How to deal with cops at Burning Man

Do not consent to a search.

Black Rock Rangers

Black Rock Rangers

Never consent to a search. Say the phrase “I do not consent to a search.” Even if you have nothing for them to find, ALWAYS say “I do not consent to a search.” Never consent to a search of your person, a search of your car, your truck, your trailer, your RV, your camp, or of your tent. You especially never consent to the search of anyone else’s property. The cops are trained to make you flustered and to “take command” of the situation. Or they can be “polite”: “Mind if we take a look around?” Yes, you mind. “I do not consent to a search.”

They can ask the other people in your group, or in your car, not just the driver or leader. “Mind if we take a look?” You should all sing the same song: “I do not consent to a search.”

Even if they threaten you with arrest, or threaten you with bringing a sniffing dog, continue to say “I do not consent to a search”. Even while they are searching you or your stuff, “I do not consent to a search”.

Being Questioned.

Cops can ask you questions. They may say things like “We’re just talking”, or “What do you think of …?”, or “Can you help us out?” You do not have to answer their questions, and probably shouldn’t.

They can ask you were your camp is, and who you are camping with. You don’t have to answer them.

Never answer questions about recreational drugs. Remember, you don’t ever do drugs, you never carry drugs, you never supply drugs, you have no idea where to get drugs, you don’t want any drugs, and you don’t know anyone who does. That includes pot, which is still illegal in Nevada and is still illegal on Federal land, even for medical use.

Don’t lead them to your camp.

Federal Rangers

Federal Rangers

They may try to get you to lead them to your camp. They can be very commanding and matter of fact about it, they may say “We’re going to your camp.” They will make it sound as if you have no choice. You do have a choice, and you are going to chose to not to lead them to your camp. Never lead them to your camp. If they really really insist on you leading them somewhere, then lead them to the Black Rock Ranger outpost at Center Camp. Or for a real barrel of laughs, to the ACLU camp.

Keep your tent closed.

Always zip your tent closed when you are not in it. If possible, use screens or sheets to block transparent window screens, so there is no line of sight into your tent. You may want to use a luggage lock, and use it to lock the zipper of your tent when you are not in it. If your tent is zipped shut, they need a warrant to open it, or they need your consent. They probably won’t have a warrant, and you are not going to give them your consent, remember? “I do not consent to a search.”

Your name and ID.

cops bust

Pershing County cops are also there in force

If they ever stop you, you do have to tell them your correct name as it is printed on your ID. If you have your ID on you, you do have to show it to them if they ask. If you don’t have it on you, you do not have to go get it for them, and you never should. If you are a non resident alien visiting on a visa waiver program, you do not have to carry your passport with you.

Being Detained, or “Am I free to go?”.

The magic phrase is: “Am I free to go?” Keep saying it. As soon as they say “yes”, walk away immediately, swiftly, and without another word. Do not run, just walk.

If they write you a ticket, you must take it. Put it in your pocket, and then you say “Am I free to go?”

If they say you are not free to go, you say “Am I being arrested?”. If they say no you are not being arrested, you say “Am I free to go?”. Keep it up as many times as necessary.

Being Arrested.

blm temple 2013 copsIf they ever say “you are under arrest”, or ever do anything to make you think you have been arrested, such as restraining you in anyway, you immediately say the following magic phrase (memorize it!): “I do not consent to any search. I hereby invoke my right to remain silent. I want to speak to my attorney.” And then you SHUT THE FUCK UP. Do not say anything at all about your arrest or why you may have been arrested, until you are talking to your attorney. Not to the cops, not to onlookers, not to anyone else who was arrested, not to anyone who is being held with you. Not even with your campmates, with your friends, or even with your family. Assume the police car, transport van, and holding cells are bugged. Assume the cops will lie about what you tell them. Assume everyone else in jail will testify against you. You invoked your right to remain silent. Now use it.

Alcohol and ID.

for some reason cops love hanging out at Distrikt

for some reason cops love hanging out at Distrikt

The camps with public bars that are giving away booze may ask to see your ID to verify you are over 21. You don’t have to show them, but they don’t have to give you free booze either, and they probably won’t, fearing a bust.

If you are giving away booze, including beer or wine, and the person you are about to give it to looks like they could possibly be under 21, you should verify their ID. The state liquor cops will be there, trying to bust you with stings.

Even if your camp is not running a public bar, random people will walk into your camp and ask for booze. These may also be stings, so beware. This has happened in my camp, and the NABC plant was painfully obvious. Even if he’s not a cop, it’s rude and against the burner ethos to beg for a gift.

Who Watches the Watchmen?

cops gunsWhile a cop is dealing with you, you need to be memorizing the color and design of his uniform, and if you can, his name and his badge number. They are *supposed* to be wearing visible name tags. As soon as you get away from the cop, go soonest to Center Camp, or to a Black Rock Ranger, or to the ACLU camp, and then immediately fill out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form and turn it in.

If you clearly see a cop detaining anyone, arresting anyone, or searching anyone or anything, again do the same thing: Memorize what you can, and then go fill out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form.

You may also elect get out your camera and start recording. The judiciary at all levels has clearly stated that you have the right to record the police as long as you don’t obstruct them. Cops hate it, but too bad. If the cops tell you to turn off your camera, don’t. They cannot lawfully order you to stop recording, they may not order you to delete photos or video, and they may not themselves delete a photo or video. If you ever see a cop order you or a fellow burner to stop taking pictures or to delete a photo, make sure that goes on the Law Enforcement Feedback Form.

While you are recording them, never get in their way, and stay back 35 feet / 10 meters. That’s tazer range.

“Undercover” cops.

can you spot the cop?

can you spot the cop?

The cops claim there are very few “undercover cops” at Burning Man. This is a very carefully nuanced untruth. There are cops at the event who are not “undercover”, but instead are “plain clothes”, which means they are not wearing uniforms and badges, but are instead dressed up in costume to look like burners. People have been busted by a cop who was wearing only sparkles and a miniskirt.

If someone is carrying a gun, they are a cop. If someone has a dog, and is not obviously a Gerlach local, a Native American from the local tribal areas, or a member of DPW, they are a cop. Especially if the dog is wearing a vest. (I’ve personally seen that.) If someone is driving along Esplanade after the the Gate has opened, they are a cop. (Report them via a Law Enforcement Feedback Form if you see them doing that.) If someone is sitting in an idling unlit truck out in the dark of deep playa, they are a cop. If someone is offering to sell or trade you drugs, they are a cop. If you met them this year, you do not know them. They are cops. If you met these two girls three days ago out the in deep playa, and they are really cute, and they went out dancing with you last night, and they just suggested that if you can supply some E, you all can “party together” in your tent, they are cops. No, really, yes, she is a cop, and her coworkers are standing by to ruin your whole year.

What if I need “Police Services”?

What if you are lost? Or a camp mate is lost? Or your child is lost? Or you have found a lost child? Or you have found a lost fellow burner who is injured or is unable to take care of themselves? What if you are assaulted? What if something has been stolen? What if there is a medical emergency?

Go to a BLACK ROCK RANGER, not a cop. The Rangers will help deal with the situation, and if the cops are actually needed, the Rangers will summon them and will deal with them.

Know what the Black Rock Ranger uniform is, and how it’s different from the cops’ uniforms. Rangers wear khaki shirts and khaki hats with the Burning Man logo on their chests, on their backs, and on their vehicles.

Good luck out there!

[Update 8/21/14 2:39pm] Allison from the ACLU has contacted us to let us know that they will not have a formal presence at Burning Man this year.

the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada (ACLUNV) would like to inform you that we will not be in attendance this year at Burning Man 2014.  Unfortunately, the Burning Man organization had made the distinction that they will handle legal matters on their own accord.

In spite of this decision, we would like to inform you that the ACLUNV still cares deeply about protecting the rights of Burners on the Playa. And while we will not have a physical presence at the event this year, we are still interested in hearing from individual’s if they feel their civil liberties had been violated.  To report an incident involving a violation of one’s civil liberties, one may file a Burning Man law enforcement specific complaint on our website at

So, trust in BMOrg to protect your legal rights – or learn them yourself and stay out of trouble.