by Whatsblem the Pro
In the wake of what seems to be the beginning of a serious police crackdown on Burning Man, rumors of a general strike have been quietly spreading among the workers and volunteers out in the Black Rock desert early to build the festival’s infrastructure. Whatsblem the Pro interviews a cabal of DPW workers who wish to remain anonymous, other than to identify themselves as members of a group known as Reform In Our Time (RIOT):
WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Tell me about your group. Why is it called RIOT?
RIOT SPOKESPERSON: Not because we’re trying to start a riot, if that’s what you’re wondering. RIOT is a quiet organization of people who feel that there are certain issues at Burning Man that need to be addressed. The name is meant to convey our sense of outrage and urgency; when there’s a problem that doesn’t really need to be solved right away, you can work within the system. When you need change immediately, you might have to kick harder than that! You can’t wait for it, you have to make it happen, right now.
WHATSBLEM THE PRO: “In Our Time?”
RIOT SPOKESPERSON: Yes. Some things are just not acceptable, and if we believe in what we’re doing, we shouldn’t just continue to let those things happen. . . we shouldn’t take it, and we shouldn’t walk away from it. We should demand change, and if our demands are not taken seriously, we should enforce change.
WHATSBLEM THE PRO: You want change? What changes are you looking for?
RIOT SPOKESPERSON: Our demands are simple: We want law enforcement excluded.
WHATSBLEM THE PRO: You want to kick the police out of Burning Man?
RIOT SPOKESPERSON: People at Burning Man have each other to rely on, and they have Black Rock Rangers. We don’t need outside law enforcement, and we can call them in if we do.
WHATSBLEM THE PRO: I’m not sure the various agencies involved would be willing to give up the annual infusions of cash they get from Burning Man without a struggle.
RIOT SPOKESPERSON: You’re right, it’s all about money in the end. We could find a different way to pay the powers that be, though. A way that doesn’t involve filling our city with police officers from other cities when there’s no emergency.
WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Would the basic deal with local law enforcement need to change at all, if they stayed just outside Black Rock City and only entered when called in for a specific purpose?
RIOT SPOKESPERSON: That would work. The problem is a huge growth in outside law enforcement officers invading the playa, not the money it costs. We would really appreciate them if they stayed outside and only came in when we really wanted them to.
WHATSBLEM THE PRO: What about radical inclusion?
RIOT SPOKESPERSON: Of cops? (laughs)
If the cops would leave their badges and guns at home and just be burners like everyone else in BRC, we’d welcome them just like we welcome anyone else. We’d even build them a Donut Camp! We’re not against cops necessarily, we just don’t want outsiders doing law enforcement in our city. We have everything we need to take care of it ourselves without any outside help!
WHATSBLEM THE PRO: You said something earlier about also wanting DPW to be paid. You want them to have a union?
RIOT SPOKESPERSON: We want DPW to have a union if DPW wants to have a union. It’s hard to say how much support there might be for that. It isn’t a new idea and it may not be the direction we want to go in. Paying DPW volunteers would be a step in the right direction, though.
WHATSBLEM THE PRO: A lot of people seem to think that volunteerism is sort of part of it all. . . and of course, some DPW people do get paid.
RIOT SPOKESPERSON: They should all be paid. Even if it’s just minimum wage, they should all be paid. DPW workers volunteer to work long hard hours under very harsh conditions, and many of them turn their backs on perfectly good jobs to go to BRC and do that. They have to spend money just to get to Burning Man. That’s enough volunteerism all by itself. Making them work for free on top of what it costs them to drop everything and come to the desert is just unreasonable, especially when paying them a modest wage would still make them the most cost-effective work force on Earth! Making them work for free and then turning an army of cops loose on the playa to harass and bully them? That has to be addressed, as soon as humanly possible!
Really, the main problem we see right now is law enforcement, and everything else takes a backseat to that. We believe the Org has the economic leverage to deal with the current situation, so we want to see our concerns regarding law enforcement taken seriously, and we want something done. If we can’t get that. . .
WHATSBLEM THE PRO: That’s my next question. . . if you can’t get the Org to pay attention, how does RIOT intend to make them?
RIOT SPOKESPERSON: To start, as a show of strength and solidarity, we intend to stage a general strike, to prove that we mean business. On the Friday of the event, at dusk, those of us not doing jobs that are absolutely critical to safety will stop working, lay down our tools, and refuse to continue until the police leave the city. We call on all our sisters and brothers to spread the word and honor the strike. Friday at dusk, without violence, we take our city back!
WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Good luck!