Thoughts on children at burns

The cat’s fully out of the bag. The community will soon have a vote on the decision to allow persons of all ages to attend The Burning Man sanctioned multi-regional event, Interfuse, or continue as an 18+ event.

And there’s no getting around it, due to the phrasing of Missouri Laws, and Midwest Burners event rules set in regard to those laws, this is also a decision on whether Interfuse will be a fully nude event.

Lastly, and possibly most importantly, this is also a question on whether Interfuse remains an official part of the Burning Man community.

There’s a big decision to be made here, and I know it comes as a direct threat to what many of you believe Interfuse to be. It is an issue everywhere. It’s a big issue. With the popularity and commercialization of Burning Man, especially in the last half decade, it’s kind of become a major point of discussion.

The questions roll quickly from there: Are we a party or are we something more? Are we just hippies dancing in the dust? If we are something more, how do we make that mean something outside of our little circle? Are we really about change? Where does that change start? Who carries that on?

An excerpt from the letter from Burning Man Regional Organizer $teven Ra$pa to our community:

Children are an important part of our community and have been present at every Burning Man. Larry is fond of saying “Kids were at the first Burning Man and they will be at the last.” By that he means it is not up for compromise and everyone in leadership at Burning Man feels the same. We are inclusive and kids are vital to Black Rock City’s thriving social dynamic and our community’s future. This doesn’t mean it has always been easy for us to be all-ages. On the contrary, throughout our history we have been fought and regularly fight for the right to include children at Burning Man. At times we have gone head to head with conservative staff of law enforcement that wrongly think that seeing a large pink penis sculpture is pornographic. Or that nudity is inappropriate around children. Or that a toddler should not be naked because that too is pornographic and something to be ashamed of. Or that two people of the same sex should never be seen by children holding hands. There have been law enforcement who have said Burning Man is no place for children. And they are wrong. Very wrong!

We have seen children grow within our community into amazing people: loving, accepting of others, self-assured, well adjusted, smart, creative and concerned with the well being of the world. They dare to dream big because they have seen crazy ass dreams come to life regularly at our official events. Many have become exemplary citizens in our community and I expect they will be future leaders in the larger world. In fact, over my 20 years as an active part of this community I have seen babies grow into 9 year old talented fire performers; self-assured teenagers who work on art build teams and our temples…then bring valuable perspective to friends back at school; and I have even seen children over time become 20 year-old amazing adults—creative and amazing citizens of the world! These are the people that will bring what we love about our gatherings into daily life in healthy and positive ways. This will happen a little more each time, year after year, with each child that becomes more wonderful. It has already happened and in time it will tip the scales a few people at a time, then many at a time toward the better way of being and treating one another we have experienced and want more of in the “Default World.”

These are not commands, but a request to continue the ideas of the place we call home. They don’t expect this to be simple or easy, but a request from the roots of our community to fully embrace its ideals.

You are cherished members of our community; truly spirited, powerful and imaginative. We hope you will rise to meet this challenge with us in the world.

Does it mean bending what some of us are used to at a burn? Sure. Have we spent a whole lot of time planning how we’re going to do this? Certainly.

For those of you who have attended similarly-sized all ages burns, you realize there’s enough space for a Kidsville (we already have volunteers step up to lead this). There is also room for camps to continue to host adult activities, for there to be kids-free districts. Hell, at Burning Man, some camps don’t even allow minors (20 and under) at all. This will continue to be your decision as a camp. And what you do behind closed doors is your business.

I’ve heard several stories of people changing their mind about the issue. All of them are about people becoming pro-youth and pro-children at burns. Mine’s the same.

I’d been to 18+ and all-ages burns prior to attending my first Burning Man, and at that point, I was still very much in favor of keeping them both. On my second or third day of my first trip to Burning Man, we found this dome near 4:30 sector which the bottom half was filled with foam pieces. I climb to the top to drop in, and this 10-13 year old stops me, and it like, “No, you have to do a flip.”

He was exactly right. In one small comment, the kid illustrated the point – you need to play. You need to challenge yourself to do that extra thing. You need to one up the guy who only did a half-flip before you. Why? Because why not.

As Britta said, “Children are the most enlightened people you’ll find at burns.” It’s true. We go to burns to escape to the drudge of our day to day lives, the responsibilities, bills, money, rent, mortgages, commutes, traffic… Children don’t have any of that. They’re already wired into a burn-state of mind. Who better to remind us how to get back into it?

One need only flip on the latest reality show, or re-watch the intro to Idiocracy (Available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwZ0ZUy7P3E) to remember how important it is to make sure we have some burners maturing to replace our worn out minds and bodies with the next generation of reasonable minds. Most of us anyway. 😉

As Burning Man reaches 30 years old, and grows significantly in popularity, the idea of preserving and growing its legacy has become a major topic of discussion. The constraints of the desert, and the remote location of the Burning Man regional, limit the number of people that can attend the event. The annual Gerlach regional will never grow beyond it’s 70,000 capacity, but the idea has already far outgrown what happens in the desert.

This coming year, as many or more people will attend sanctioned regionals as the actual Burning Man event. This means it’s not just a thing, it’s an idea. A meme. It’s grown beyond a party in the desert and is now something we’re all a part of. You don’t have to attend Burning Man to be a burner. You already are one. By participating in regional events, subscribing to the 10 principles.

The 10 principles for Burling Man were developed in 2004, the same year some guy named Zay sat down with a bunch of members of the Dance Safe community and said, “Hey, we’re going to do this thing.” Shortly after, Midwest Burners came into existence. They’ve existed intertwined since.

If we’re more than a party, if we really do believe in this burner thing, then these guidelines, the ones developed out of the first 20 years of burning, are what we must keep to. They work as a whole, not cherry picked into what works best for you.

Radical Inclusion mandates anyone have access to our culture. It places a check on Radical Self-Expression, but so does Civic Responsibility. “Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants.”

This has always been the case.

Children may also fall into communal effort. While it is and always has been the responsibility of the parents and guardians to oversee children, you may come into contact with them. They may need directions, or ask you for a drink, or help. This is no different than any other burn. You may encounter an incident where you need to steer them away from a place they should not be, or help ensure their safety. Have you not helped guide a campmate back to their tent? Or corrected an adult’s (hopefully a virgin’s) behavior at a burn? Certainly.

Interfuse leadership has overwhelmingly bought into this idea – of burns being something greater than a weekend of intoxication and shirt cocking. You may find that those people who commit the most time and effort to the place you love and feel so strongly about do too.

You may also find that leadership may lose interest if they find out they’re throwing an event for people who just want to party and get fucked up, and you may find people who just want to party and get fucked up are unlikely to step into these positions.

I’d also rather move forward with our peers, our founders, and all the support and knowledge that comes with that, backing us. Part of the reason leadership is so supportive of this is because we know how much we lean on them, and utilize them, to create this space.

It all comes back around.

If you share with the world what you love and you do it with integrity with kids present and manage to still keep it all fun and engaging—as I know you can because you have super smart people among you and have dealt with much tougher challenges—we all win! There are no losers and we change the game for the better! We must embody what we want the world to be and we have to be brave about it and, if necessary, fight for it. I have also seen members of our community figure out in other conservative parts of the country how everyone can co-exist in a way that is responsible, respectful, and still fun and wildly imaginative. It is what will help InterFuse to thrive and it pays off in the long run!

The greatest of these things is leaving that next generation of burners that much better off. Raising children in the environment we feel the most safe. The most free. The most creative. The most alive.

“How could you have a real community without kids in it?” – Larry Harvey

I want to live in world where children are raised like that. And no one else is going to create that world besides us.

Interfuse is one of the flagship burns, representing Burning Man culture in the Midwest, the largest burn between Colorado, Michigan and Texas. The primary burn for a six to 10-state region, regularly attended by members from half the country and beyond. That status and the event itself would be greatly affected be severing ties with the Burning Man community.

To me, the question is simple. Are we continuing Interfuse a burn? Or not?

Jeremy Gaston
Vice President of Midwest Burners
Kansas Regional Contact for Burning Man

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