The Beatings Will Continue ’til Morale Improves

Burner Nettles has posted quite a horrifying tale of (presumably) her experiences on the Playa this year, over at the official Burning Man blog.

Like it or not, this is the most prominent experience of the 2012 event for me.

The Dust was magnificent and just what I always hoped for! I wasn’t even bothered by the unbelievably long will call lines that I was helping my friend to navigate in her virgin year. I had secured childcare with the grandmas for an extended stay so that I could rock clean up crew with my dear friend and had arranged for the rest of our camp to leave us behind during Exodus with a bare bones camp.

Last year was my virgin year and found myself able to break out of the timid state of nearly catatonic awe I experienced that was only punctuated by seemingly catastrophic strife and euphoric joy. This year, I attended with only friends and no lover purposefully to gain a more independent view of the community and with the intent to participate more fully. I made a few very intense connections and had oddly synchronistic conversations and experiences and ventured to the wonder of deep playa often. I realize I’m being vague. It is due to the extremely intense experience that unfortunately colored my entire week and emotionally derailed my intended and planned commitments for post event clean up.

I arrived early to the Man burn to secure a front row spot for a fire dance troupe that I know from Oregon. I watched and beamed with love for my comrades and then viewed and felt one of the most amazing explosions I may ever see. Feeling deeply pulled and nudged by the waves of heat bursting out I intertwined deeply with the cyclical nature of the fire. The man fell and the rangers could not hold the crowd. I ran for the center to be in the fire. There, at the edge of the embers I found part of my tribe and joined them, to in essence, be one with the fire. Barebacked to the immenseness of that heat I had a deeply profound internal experience.

When it came time to separate myself and go off on my own, I decided I needed to remind my lover or my affection for him before I wanted to go back to camp and meditate on my experience. I headed to the satellite phone near 2 o’clock and esplanade. The phone conversation quickly became stressful as I am told that my dog has been hit by either a large truck or a tractor and the phone of course cuts out as there is a 3 minute time limit.

As I’m waiting for my turn on the phone again, I’m approached by a group of five large (highly intoxicated) men and a woman that I did not see initially. The largest man tries to talk to me and steps on my foot as I’m trying to back away. I try to convey that I am not having the best time right now and that i’d like some personal space. The man doesn’t move and moves his face uncomfortably close to mine, still trying to talk to me while i’m still trying to back up and he advances more. Finally, exacerbated by the gross infringement on my space, I tell him to fuck off and leave me alone.

After what seems like forever, it’s my turn in the booth, and I dodge away from the larg man hovering over me and into the booth. All of the sudden a very large and seemingly drunk female appears in the doorway and grabs me, throws me to the ground by my hair. Jumps on my back and begins to brutally assault me while her male companions crowd in, laughing, in what I can only assume is to protect what she’s doing from view. I hear the faint sounds of passersby exclaiming at the sight but, not doing anything. The phone hanging with my lover helplessly screaming “what’s happening?” on the other end.

Finally a woman yells, and the males drag the female off somewhere. People stand around me as I’m huddled in a ball confused and not knowing what to do. After a while of trying to reconcile in my mind whats going on, I asked someone to call my ranger friend who was on duty. I was taken to rampart and treated for my injuries by well meaning staff who reported the incident to the local authorities. Luckily my ranger friend was able to help me fill out the paper work because the girl broke my glasses and I’m pretty much blind without them. So much for driving my self home or spotting moop that’s smaller than a foot in diameter.

The rangers where unbelievably accommodating and helpful but it was difficult to process what had just happened and I found myself experiencing bizarre emotions and feeling extremely paranoind and then confused about what all of this meant. My ranger friend found a place to store my bike and gave us a ride back to camp. She cared for me and checked on me. I only left camp to use the lavatory after that until we left early monday morning.

My friend that I had planned to stay behind with decided he would leave early with me…I couldn’t drive my own vehicle anymore anyway. I just wanted to be as far away from black rock desert as I could. Well, more accurately I didn’t want to ever potentially run into the person that had assaulted me again. I packed up camp and sat in my tent during the temple burn drinking gifted liqueur and cuddling with a friend that elected to stay with me.

So now, today, I’m left with this sense of …what now? I had this wonderfully freeing experience that is almost completely overshadowed and replaced in my memory by three minutes of my life and the hours following. What does the mean about Burning Man? What does this mean about Burning Man for me? Should I return? What do I tell people about me experience? Most importantly what do I tell myself about my experience?

Yeah maybe I shouldn’t have told the guy to “fuck off,” but how long do you tolerate someone in your space forcing you to stay in close proximity to them before you become more assertive? What does this say about burning man culture? What about the people who stood around not helping me, just watching? One person had the balls and compassion to initiate the end of me being beating and my face being repeatedly slammed into the ground. I don’t know what to do with this knowledge. From another perspective, compared to many others my experience was mild….what was it something like 3-4 sexual assaults A DAY reported this year..that’s the reported ones. two missing minors. From what I’ve gathered from long time rangers, this is a dramatic increase just this year.

I’d be interested in hearing the stories of others that had an unexpected negative experience and how they are dealing with that. I hope I will return and create a redeeming experience for myself. I hope the influx of amazing installations will continue and that that energy will foster the unmitigated exemplification of the principles. Though perhaps “Radical inclusion” is something that needs to be redefined, hopefully it will take care of itself as the energy redirects back into the fiery flow of creativity and community.

Does this really go on at Burning Man? Group bashings? In the line to the satellite phone, of all places? Wasn’t there someone there to help? Where was this mysterious sat phone? 2 0’clock and Esplanade’s not exactly tucked away in Deep Playa, this is pretty much the main thoroughfare. I spent a lot of time between Disorient and Root Society this year, and never saw the sat-phone line. Was this on the Playa, or in a camp?

And what about her claim that there were 3-4 reported sexual assaults a day? Has anyone else heard this, or got any facts?

I’ve reposted Nettles’ story here in its entirety, please comment with your own stories and opinions. If this is really going on, we want to know about it, we don’t want the BMOrg to brush it off with some milquetoast statement. Has anyone else experienced something like this at Burning Man before…ever? In 10 Burns since 1998, I’ve never so much as seen a punch thrown or an angry scuffle. Maybe a couple of pissed off neighbors with noise complaints, but they’ve come to the wrong party, they’d probably be pissed off whatever party they were at. There was never any hint that it might come to blows though. Group bashings? Who the hell is this group? A gang? Violence and Burning Man do not go together.