A guest post from our reader Sandstorm. The email he’s responding to is shared at the end of this post.
Like many members of the Burning Man community I’ve spent the past 2+ months feeling justifiably concerned about the topic of Commodification Camps (aka Turnkey Camps aka Plug And Play Camps) and their place in and impact upon Burning Man and the Burner community. Like many other Burners I’ve voiced my concerns about this subject on websites such as Facebook (FB) and Burning Man’s ePlaya bulletin board, as well as in the comments sections of some of the relevant recent entries on the official Burning Man Blog. I’ve also used my artistic skills to address what I call the Commodification Camp Controversy (CCC). I’ve recently created a handful of light-hearted satirical images that speak to this subject and I’ve posted them in the unofficial Burning Man group on FB. I’ve included one of those images here.
2 days ago I and countless other Burners received a fundraising email from the Burning Man Project (BMP). I was not pleased when I read that email and that’s because until now Burning Man’s official response to the CCC has been at best lacking and at worst inept. After reading that email I carefully drafted and then sent a reply email to the BMP. I then posted the contents of that email in the unofficial Burning Man group on FB and also on ePlaya. I did so because I wanted to share with other Burners how I was trying to constructively address the CCC. I was honestly surprised by the amount of positive response that I received to those posts.
At some point on Thursday evening the owner of burners.me reached out to me on FB via PM and asked me if I’d be willing to post on his site my above mentioned email to the BMP and some of the CCC related images that I’ve recently posted on FB. I asked him to let me think about the matter before I said yes or no to him and I did so for a variety of reasons.
Although I’m a 6 time burner I believe and know that I’m a nobody in the Burner community. I’m sure as hell not a spokesperson for this community. I’m also neither an attention seeker nor am I someone who seeks to or enjoys to stir up discord about sensitive topics. Given those facts and given the amount of debate surrounding both the CCC and burners.me I was initially reluctant to share on this site the reply email that I recently sent to the BMP. That said, I know that I wrote that email with integrity and honesty and thus I’m comfortable with sharing it here.
My reply email to the BMP seems to have resonated with many of the people who’ve read it. By posting that email on this site there’s a chance that my email will reach a wider audience and perhaps inspire other burners to find their own ways of peacefully and creatively confronting the CCC. I refuse to remain silent about that topic and that’s because I love Burning Man so much. The event and the community have changed my life in so many positive ways and even if this post ends up having no impact on Larry Harvey & Co. I at least know that at a time of crisis in the Burner community I spoke up for the values that are meant to be embodied by Burning Man.
It’s important for me to state here that I do not have a broad spectrum dislike for BMORG. I can only imagine how many wonderful people work in that organization. In this situation my dislike is directed solely at a specific group of people within the Burning Man power structure. I am displeased with those who run or help to run the event in ways that clearly run counter to the stated ethos of the event and the actual ethos of the people who physically and/or creatively build and run Black Rock City.
I want to send out my sincere thanks and respect to the countless people who make Burning Man a reality through their labor, passion, time, money and principles. The truth is that YOU are Burning Man, YOU are Black Rock City.
I want to thank the owner of burners.me for the opportunity to write this post. I also need to thank the Burners who took the time to read and respond to this post before I published it on this site. Dusty hugs,
From the unofficial Facebook Burning Man group:
“I thought that I’d share this with the group. (Note: If you’re a member of the tl;dr crew then just move along because these are not the droids you are looking for.)
So, yesterday I received an email from the Burning Man Project asking for a monetary donation. After I got some feedback from some fellow burners I sent the below email to the Burning Man Project.
I hope that this finds you well. I’ve taken some time to thoughtfully respond to your fundraising email regarding my potentially donating to the Burning Man Project. As a point of reference, I’ve known about Burning Man since late 1996 and it’s been a huge part of my life over the past 7 plus years. I’ve been burning since ’07 and I’ve been to Black Rock City 6 times in total. Since I’ve started burning the only 2 burns that I’ve missed were in ’09 and ’14, the former by choice and the latter due to my being unable to make the trip.
During each of my burns I’ve volunteered my time to groups such as The Lamplighters, Arctica, Center Camp Cafe, The Temple Guardians and a variety of theme camps and art projects. During that time I’ve made numerous monetary donations to groups such as Black Rock Arts Foundations and Black Rock Solar as well as to individual art projects and the 2013 Temple build. During my time as a burner I’ve repeatedly sold to other people Burning Man tickets that I did not need or could not use and when I did so I sold those tickets at below face value. On 4 occasions I’ve gifted Burning Man tickets to other people. In 2013 I helped half a dozen people I didn’t know acquire the Burning Man tickets they needed and I did so free of charge. I did that because Burning Man meant so much to me and I wanted to use my time and contacts to help other people make it HOME to Black Rock City.
At this point in time I have no desire to contribute a single cent to BMORG or any of it’s affiliated agencies. That is due to the fact the since the end of this year’s burn BMORG has hid from the Burner community as many of it’s members have eloquently and repeatedly voiced their concerns about the commodification of Burning Man via BMORG’s enabling of commodification camps such as Caravansicle, which was apparently run and funded in part by Jim Tananbaum, who currently serves on the Burning Man Board of Directors (BOD). There is ample and credible evidence on the Internet that indicates that various members of BMORG, the Burning Man founders and the Burning Man BOD have been engaged in behavior that runs contrary to Burning Man’s 10 Principles and to BMORG’s mission statement. Huge swaths of the Burner community are deeply concerned by the fact that there seem to be forces within the Burning Man power structure that are willing to commodify the event in the name of personal and organizational profit. In light of this controversy BMORG has maintained a level of radio silence that makes many Burners believe that BMORG is simply buying time to get its story straight about the Commodification Camp Controversy, buying time to let BMORG’s lawyers talk with the lawyers for various Commodification Camps and Burning Man BOD members. From this side of this situation BMORG seems both corrupt and inept beyond all belief. This situation makes the 2012 Ticket Lottery Fiasco seem like a small clerical error on the part of BMORG.
Before the Commodifcation Camp Controversy rose up I was identifying next year as one which I’d spend my summer working on the Temple project. I was planning on realizing a personal on-playa dream of mine, which is a mobile, deep playa pop-up bar. I was also planning on volunteering with the Resto team. While all those ideas are still meaningful to me Burning Man itself is no longer as meaningful to me as it was just 2 1/2 months ago when I watched large chunks of the burn via the official live video feed of the event. My lessened passion for the event is mostly due to my sense that elements within BMORG itself are willing to corrupt the event in the pursuit of profit and power and that BMORG is willing to ignore the concerns of the very community that builds Black Rock City and provides its creative content.
I took the time to write this email because I want you to know that the actions and inactions of various people within BMORG, the Burning Man founders and the Burning Man BOD have made me feel that the Burning Man Project is undeserving of my money. I sincerely wish that wasn’t the case. To be honest, it’s galling to receive a fund raising request from Burning Man at a time when BMORG is continuing to ignore the concerns of the Burner community. Like many other burners, I’m not buying BMORG’s company line that they are listening to the Burner community and (that BMORG) will get back to them as soon as possible. Whether or not my perception of that situation is accurate I have been given no indications that BMORG values the event and the community as much as the community values the event.
The Commodificaton Camp Controversy is not about poor burners versus rich burners; it’s about the fact that certain members of the Burning Man power structure have misused their positions in such a way that they have introduced class warfare into both the event and countless Burners psychological relationships with (both) the event and those who are meant to protect it. Shame on them for doing so. The event and community deserve better than that. Dusty hugs,
David / Sandstorm”
Here’s the email that was sent out by BMOrg:
From: Burning Man Project <email@example.com>
Date: Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 8:00 AM
Subject: Now You Can Gift Burning Man to the World
Pingback: BMOrg Asks For A Gift AGAIN | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man
Pingback: All We Want For Chri$tma$ Is Your Money | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man
Sandstorm, I believe you are right: Larry LLC will not change. They are textbook narcissists, who can never change from their abuse of others. And the best advice to the abused is: walk away. I have done that, and am now active in the other burns. But the abuse of Larry LLC has at least given me the lesson of what to be wary of, but far more important, to appreciate those that join into stone soup efforts that benefit all.
I love that you invoked the Stone Soup fable. It’s highly relevant to this situation.
I’m happy for you that you have found new ways to carry on your Burner spirit. I’m not sure whether or not I’ll make one last visit HOME. It would be nice to say hello to some people and goodbye to BRC. Beyond that my relationship with and perspective on BM now mirrors the one that you have with the event. That is a shame for you and me and the many other Burners who feel the way that you and I do about Larry & Co. This situation didn’t have to happen. Yes, over the past 10 years Larry & Co. may have had choice to make about the direction of how the event is run. The thing is that they clearly made the WRONG decision. Dusty hugs.
Sandstorm, Thank you. This was an awesome post – well-articulated, to the point, and reflects how I feel about this. I’m a 9-year burner now, since 2006, and Burning Man has changed my life, too, to the point where I’m moving to a remote island to live my artistic dream. As an aside, Black Rock Solar still gets my donation.
That is awesome that you are making that journey to that island. I’d love to hear more about your plans. I’m also an artist and I’m about to leave my hometown and start a new phase of my life. I’ll be taking to the road for awhile. Although BM is more than likely going to leave my life BRC and the dust will always be part of me wherever I go.
And yes, Black Rock Solar is awesome! They are one of the many good things to have come out of BM.
It’s the end of Black Rock as we know it. (and I don’t feel fine about it)
There is no joy to be found in watching the grisly death of something you love. 🙁
Well written and thank you for speaking up and doing it properly. I do sincerely hope that even if our worst fears are realized (and are most likely true) that mends can be made and the ship righted. <3
Sadly, I think that it is time for a new and morally sound event or events to carry on the Burner spirit. At this point I do not see any way that Larry & Co. can regain the trust of the countless burners who are deeply disgusted with the many lesser manners in which BM is being run.
Although I may never get back to BRC the dust will always be part of me. 🙂
BM needs to learn from great celebrity PR blunders & successes of the past. you always GET AHEAD OF IT. I am going to be less likely to believe what I hear every day that goes by. Way too much time planning, when the answer is just the simple truth.
Before the details of SHERPAGATE hit the Internet I thought that Larry & Co. had learned their lessons from the TICKET LOTTERY FIASCO of ’12. I was clearly mistaken in that regard.
BM’s current PR disaster highlights the fact that in recent years Larry & Co. were fostering business relationships with both COMMODIFICATION CAMPS and with obscenely affluent capitalists who ended up on the BM Board of Directors. In my private discussions with people connected to inner power circle at BM I’ve yet to hear one positive anecdote about Larry & Co. What I keep hearing about is freeloaders, lackeys, venture capitalists and abusive work environments. I’ve not asked people for that info; they have willingly and spontaneously shared it with me. They’ve also told me that they fear that if they speak up publicly about what goes on behind the scenes at BMORG that Larry & Co. will blacklist them or one of their friends or loved ones who work with or for BMORG. It’s sad to think that something we love so much is being run by people who are highly corrupt and sometimes abusive.
Thank You Sandstorm
Thank you. 🙂
Kudos on an awesome letter, Sandstorm. You did not need for the long explanation at the start of your letter, all of us have done of what we were of the ability to do to assist towards the throwing of the awesome crowd sourced party. In addendum, you do not need to be reticent in regards of burners.me, the posts are backed by numerous references, it is a BMOrg backed campaign to state ‘burners.me is full of lies and half truths’, but they are not of the ability to prove a single example. Near to 50,000 people have viewed my post upon The Great BMOrg Cash Out of 2010-2017, $35 to $47 Million – An Updated Estimate, sourced upon their statements, their numbers, and their corporate records, and, in despite of many queries to do so, no person has proved any statement, or any number, to be incorrect. Much obliged, again, Woody, for your spreadsheet backing up their salary numbers.
For others, whom might desire to reply to the email penned by Steven Young, query him in regards of you would desire to contribute, but you, and your mates are uncertain of obtaining tickets for the next burn. State of you would desire to donate a couple of thousand dollars to support the awesome cause, is there a manner of which we might be assured of tickets in doing so? Other than buying a table at the Bentley Reserve event this Saturday night, that would assure you, and your mates, of the ability to buy tickets, it is a usual fund raising manner.
Also, kudos on all you have done for the burns, Sandstorm. In addendum, the title of the prior post was ‘The Great BMOrg Cash-Out of 2010-2017, $35-47 Million: an Updated Estimate‘.
After penning the comment, above, I realized of this is another rationale of why the BMOrg desires Commodification camps, the BMOrg might obtain millions of dollars of cash by gifting/scalping tickets for big donations in this manner.
I’ve updated your comments so the title matches the links, thanks.
Much obliged, burnersxxx, but it wasn’t necessary to do so. I solely did not desire, by accident, to leave a half truth in my comment.
The explanation at the start of my letter was simply my way of framing my disgust with Larry & Co. via my positive relationship with Burning Man and Black Rock City. Although I’m sure that Steve Young and his superiors will ignore the email that I sent to Steve I’m at peace with the knowledge that I wrote and sent to them an email that was more than just a simple F*CK YOU. 😉
As for burners.me, I’m cool with the site and burnersxxx. My reticence about posting here was related only to the potential hostile blow back that I might get from burners who can’t separate their intellect from their dislike of this site.
I look forward to reading your “Cash Out” post.
Really glad that you were able to step up to the plate and speak both your disappointments as well as your truths without the usual shrill acrimony that can often broadside attempts at a focused, sober conversation.
Yeah, the silence from the BORG is deafening and the bitter taste of rank hypocrisy taints the very core of what the event once stood for. As someone who once vociferously defended the event and its LLC members that foul taste in my mouth is doubly bitter. I’m not sure what the answer is although I suspect it I’m honest with myself I need to concede the fact that the event is over for me after more than 15 excursions to Black Rock City. I’m not sure than any amount of PR spin is going to convince me to ever return again – especially knowing for a fact that so much of what has been written lately is anchored in truth rather than innuendo, rumor or conjecture.
Cheers to your effort.
Thank you for your kind words.
I feel the same as you do about this situation and about the likelihood of my ever returning to BRC. It’s only been over the past 24 hours that it’s begun to hit me that I truly may not make it back to BRC. As much as I’m drawn to the idea of going to BM next year and pranking Larry & Co. I do not want my relationship with BM to be based around my negative feelings about the lesser behavior of Larry & Co. The last time that I was in BRC was in ’13 and back then I gave the dust EVERYTHING I had. I could barely stand on the night that The Man burned. If that’s how my time in BRC ended, then so be it. I was blessed to be able to have 6 big burns, 5 of which were GREAT!
This is an excellent post, and really glad to see well written and mature expressions of the systematic issues at the Burning Man organization. Every day they wait, the community continues to grow angrier.
They might be able to fill the Facebook group with anger and negative posts from sock puppet accounts in order to try to keep a lid on the communities feelings, but its spread outside of their control now.
Burners demand reform!
At this point I truly believe that there is no fixing this mess. Last night a well-connected, veteran burner told me about half-a-dozen playa artists or artist collectives who have bailed on BM. Maybe I’m wrong but it’s hard for me to believe that in the coming weeks and months we will not see a similar trend amongst the theme camps. You can’t destroy so many people’s trust in you and think that they’ll all come back to you after you’ve treated them like rubes.
My heart breaks in regards of this also, seeing numerous awesome people so pissed. Larry and Marian had the ability to do something about this, and they had the ability treat the artists, DPW, and numerous others in a fair manner, but their actions clearly state of they have cared more about themselves, than they have cared about the Burner community.
Numerous thousands of long time Burners are being told ‘if you don’t like it, don’t come, get lost’, and leaving the playa. My belief is it is the time we tell Larry and Marian the same.
(I penned a paragraph into here of what I believe is a very basic issue of what Larry, as President, and Marian, as Chief Executive Officer, are doing is not within California 501(c)3 law, that I have not stated prior. I removed it, in due of the Project board members must know of this very basic issue, it is their business to do so.)
The Burning Man Project board is meeting for the end of 2014, making many tough decisions for 2015. They are required to follow the law, whatever the law might be. My belief is the Project board must vote other people into the positions of CEO and President. Perchance, then, decisions might be made for the benefit of the awesome Burner community. Please, Project board, respect the Burner community.
In the past I’ve read the entirety of some of the lengthier posts that burners.me has published about the various legal moves and leadership changes that Larry & Co. have made in recent years. Now that I’ve reached my present POV about how Larry & Co. are running the event I’m left scratching my head at the fact that there seems to be nothing but venture capitalists, movers and shakers and YES MEN and YES WOMEN in the TRUE power positions withing BM. Everyone I know who is connected to THE BORG is below Larry & Co. and those people have painted for me a very ugly picture of the working environment inside BM. I can only assume that Larry & Co. CHOSE to not have dissenting views within any of the leadership positions in BM. Is there actually anyone within BM who can fix this? It seems as though it’s the Jim Tananbaum types who are running the show nowadays. Am I wrong in thinking that?
Sandstorm, the manner of which most corporations are operated is the Board of Directors votes to hire, and replace, the CEO and the President of the corporation, and the CEO and the President operate the corporation, reporting to the Board each month, or each three months. The CEO, and the President, labour for the Board.
But, for the Burning Man Project, view the Project bylaws, linked from the Burning Man website, or within the Internet archives, purposed towards a good laugh. The brilliant lawyers for Larry and Marian placed them on the Senior Executive Committee, which might over rule the CEO and the President, the ‘founders’ are not permitted to be removed from the Project board, and pages of the bylaws are purposed towards hiding their conflicts of interests from donors, buried within the committees of the Project board. It is a good laugh. But, the Board is of the ability to replace them as CEO, and as President, might they desire to do so, of which they should, for the good of the event, and thus, the good of the corporation.
Who loaded up the BOD with Jim Tananbaum and Co.?
The Project bylaws state of the six ‘founders of the Burning Man Project’, and, perchance, four other board members, are the nominating committee, then the full board votes upon the nominated person. They are the ones whom loaded up the board with Jim Tananbaum and company.
Larry and Marian stated numerous times, within Spark- A Burning Man Story, of ‘they are gifting Burning Man back to the Burning Man Community’. But, they pulled a Bait and Switch, by remaining in near to full control, and placing their mates upon the Project board, in place of members of the Burning Man Community. The ‘doesn’t appear to be relinquishing our control’ link, within the newspaper article, links towards another article, penned by Scribe, which states more information upon this.
Saw this on eplaya. It’s a great response to the most tone-deaf email in all of history.
And yes, the timing and tenor of that email was atrocious.