(This week, it is my privilege to bring you a conversation with one of the hardest working women at the intersection between nightlife & safety, and a dear friend, Stefanie Jones, Director of Audience Development at the Drug Policy Alliance. Her #SaferPartying initiative & MusicFan programs are crucial to for harm reduction, drug policy activism and global dance population at large. Interview by Terry Gotham)
1. How was Burning Man 2015? Did you go to any other transformational festivals that actually didn’t suck when it came to harm reduction & forward thinking drug policy?
Burning Man 2015 was a definite revelation. As I like to tell people, I’ve been invited to it by various friends and people I know practically every year since 2002 but for a lot of reasons never went. It was nice because all that time let me develop a theory around what it would be like for me to go and what the best approach was, and without feeling totally wrong about what I thought, during the preparation process and the actual experience of course it’s all out the window. Even if you know, it’s not the same as when you actually do a thing, right?
Burning Man is making some strides when it comes to integrating harm reduction. In 2015 they went further than they ever had before by giving the Zendo Project two locations on the playa – two safe spaces for people who are feeling overwhelmed for whatever reason, to stop by or be brought to and be cared for by trained volunteers and therapists. Burning Man Org also listed Zendo ahead of time in the JackRabbit Speaks newsletter and in their entry materials. I volunteered with Zendo and it was incredibly rewarding, as it always is. It’s a start but there’s certainly more they could do. They have a huge challenge because the event is on federal land and there are MANY enforcement and health agencies in the mix the organizers have to keep happy. A lot of people are surprised Burning Man isn’t leading when it comes to drug policy and harm reduction, but quite honestly, given the nature and location of the event, it would be hard for them to lead.
The gold standard is actually the Boom Festival in Portugal. They have an unfair advantage maybe, because all drugs are decriminalized in that country and it really clears the way for comprehensive harm reduction to take place. Nonetheless they do it all: onsite drug education and drug checking (testing drugs for adulterants), as well as a Zendo-equivalent compassionate care service called Kosmicare. All harm reduction groups are fully supported by and integrated into the event.
In the US the clear leader is Lightning in a Bottle. We have a little harm reduction coalition working with them, and the work is summarized here.
Also, it’s not a transformational festival, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Backwoods Festival in Oklahoma. Last year they invited DanceSafe onsite and not only let them do drug checking, but integrated an early alert system if dangerous or misrepresented substances were found. In Oklahoma!! Giant respect for this scrappy event.