Burning Man’s 11th Global Leadership Conference begins in Oakland on Thursday, with over 630 Regional Contacts and community leaders converging from around the globe to swap skills, shoot the shit, and share the successes and challenges of their events, projects and communities.
Knowledge exchange is the name of the game at this annual conference. But at this year’s gig, participants will also dig a little deeper into their cultural DNA and explore the juicy realm of politics, picket lines and the role Burners play in times of social upheaval.
The 2017 conference theme, Sparking a New Citizenry, was chosen with current political climes in mind. It is designed to inspire questions and discussions about our responsibilities as citizens in temporary art-cities, and how and when we apply them to our homes, neighborhoods, cities, countries and planet.
“We are in times of great change politically, but it’s also nothing new that Burners of all persuasions have applied the skills they have learned at Burning Man to taking action. So the theme will unpack that a little bit: how it works and how it doesn’t,” says Stuart Mangrum, Burning Man’s Education Director and GLC content curator.
The theme will also test a long-held — and at times touchy — tension between Burning Man’s resistance to becoming politicized and what some see as a clarion call to put our principles into action and rise to the challenges of these uncertain times. Such tension and resistance have varied across the Burner world, but have been particularly tricky for the organization.
“The tension is that politics is inherently divisive. One of our core principles is Radical Inclusion, so how do we reconcile that desire to change the world you live in with the necessity of taking sides sometimes, and alienating people who might be allies?” says Stuart.
But Stuart believes the time has come to tackle the conversation. A cross-section of speakers from the Burnerverse and outside organizations will approach the citizenship theme from across the engagement spectrum: from the most basic kinds of neighborhood civic involvement through to overt political activism on national or global levels.
Some of these plenaries and workshops will include:
- Roman Harferd, Co-Founder of Catharsis on the Mall, will give a presentation on the Washington event, which is equal parts vigil, community gathering, resistance, storytelling and skill share, effigy burn, and dance-until-dawn-under-the-stars.
- Christopher Breedlove, Burners Without Borders Program Manager and a participant in some Burner-driven support activities at Standing Rock, will join Roman and Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey as they address the question of a Burning Man style of activism in the workshop “Participation or Politics: How Burner Citizens Handle Communal Effort in a Partisan World.”
- Ronan Harrington, U.K. political strategist and founder of experimental gathering Alter Ego, will share his experiences from inside the corridors of power and explore how deep experience can unite people around a new political vision.
- Roberto Bedoya, cultural affairs manager for the City of Oakland, has a long history of creative place-making and civic engagement. He will talk to GLC participants about “stewardship of imagination” and the importance of creating civic well-being beyond the playa.
- Harley Dubois, Burning Man co-founder and Chief Transition Officer, will lead a panel discussion on “Making in the Service of Art, Innovation, and Social Good.” This will explore the nexus between the maker and Burner communities, and how to activate this space to better serve the underserved.
We will follow more of these conversations as they unfold during the conference, so stay tuned for further blog posts. Wanna hear some of those conversations yourself? We’ll hook you up with podcasts and videos of some sessions, which will be available online.