After very little deliberation and a lot of listing of reasons, Death Guild Thunderdome has made the rather easy decision to not attend Burning Man at BRC in 2021. At this writing, we do not know whether Burning Man plans to hold the event in Black Rock City in 2021. We wanted to make this crew statement prior to, and not as a reaction to, any decision/announcement from Burning Man Project.
Is it easy for us to not see each other?
Is it easy for us to lose a huge sense of purpose, and opportunities for creation, collaboration, production, performance, management, building, getting shitfaced and being a burden on our campmates, and whatever else it is that makes Burning Man at BRC compelling for us?
We love each other. We want to see each other. Without Burning Man at BRC, in the before-times, we vacationed together. We have, over the last year, had Zoom cocktail hours together. Had distanced visits. Mailed each other SO MANY things. So of course we want to go to Burning Man at BRC (yes, I’m going to keep saying this because Burning Man is not just the event).
But, because we love each other, the decision to not attend was easy.
Because we have a lot of scientists and smart people in camp, there was not any hesitation.
We care - a lot - about each other, other people, and our impact on the world. Because we have a lot of very thoughtful people in camp, despite the immediate desire to Do That Thing We Do and to see each other, it is not a complicated choice to say, “No, we will not do the thing.”
We miss you. We miss shenanigans, love, dust, conflict resolution, being your dark beating heart of the playa. But, because we miss you, and want to see you again, we will not be participating. The nature of our show means that we will need herd immunity before we can safely and ethically run it again. But it’s not just that.
We broke our reasoning into four main areas:
- Safety (it’s the most important but… third)
Risking lives and participating in a non-essential event that is already lacking in diversity during a time when people of color are being disproportionately impacted by a global health crisis is unacceptable to us. We recognize that Burning Man Project is taking steps to address its historical diversity issues, but that doesn’t solve the world’s issues relative to employment privilege and health insurance privilege, particularly during a pandemic. As a result Burning Man at BRC 2021, if it happens, risks being the whitest, richest event ever, with a bonus risk of being potentially deadly, and we can’t, in good conscience, participate. We see disparity issues within our own camp and will not create a situation within camp where participation is limited to those who have had the privilege of being minimally impacted by the pandemic. Then there is location privilege - travel restrictions will not be lifted in time for people outside the U.S. to plan. Finally, there is health privilege. Because we will not have reached herd immunity by August, people who are, for health reasons, unable to be vaccinated, will not be able to attend. So the event as a result becomes more ableist.
Also, we do not want to be the next Sturgis.
Doing an event in 2021 will further the downward spiral of issues Cultural Direction Setting was trying to address, and cause those issues to be further compounded in subsequent years. Burning Man at BRC is a massive, high-profile event. Other event organizers will be encouraged to throw their own events without doing the research that Burning Man Project has done and will continue to do.
We are concerned about the impact of commuting through indigenous land. As a result, we will be donating to a few organizations benefiting local tribes, and encourage readers to do the same. Information on how to do this is here (thank you to the DGTD crew for putting this document together).
Health and Safety (not really third)
We do not believe, even with the best information, organization, and intention, that it is possible to safely attend Burning Man in 2021. This is the most important one. When we polled the crew about the possibility of attending Burning Man at BRC 2021, the biggest “what would it take to get me to attend” response was “everyone is vaccinated and there is proof,” followed closely by “herd immunity”. We cannot safely run Thunderdome until there is herd immunity. There is/are people breathing heavily on each other, tightly packed bodies, and fluid exchange (nope, still not OrgyDome (much respect, we love your work)). There is so much that is currently unknown. We aren’t sure (there have been small studies) whether people who have had the vaccine can still transmit. We don’t know how long the vaccine lasts. Even then, the Burning Man community has anti-science members who may not take the vaccine though they are physically able to do so. We don’t believe it’s reasonable to ask volunteers to check for vaccine status. Per the 2019 BRC Census, 47% of the US-based Black Rock City population is based in California, with 83% of the overall Black Rock City population (who completed the census) from the U.S. So that’s about 39% overall from CA. The California vaccine rollout has been abysmally slow and mismanaged (second from the worst in the country as of this writing), and most of our membership is located in California. Even if most people are vaccinated, we will certainly not have reached herd immunity by then. We will not ask our crew, who already put their bodies on the line being kicked, bled on, spat on, have drinks poured on, have items dropped on from 20’, touch harnesses that touch many, many sets of underwear, etc., etc., etc. to put themselves at even greater physical risk.
Death. We know it’s in our name. We’re not interested in causing it. Our lawyers just aren’t that good and we’re broke.
(Want to help us make it through the year? Storage through August 2022 is $7254 and right now we have about $900 in our account. Venmo is deathguildthunderdome, PayPal is email@example.com, our Patreon is here, and we aren’t afraid to ask for help. Ok, we are, a little.)
There are too many unknowns to reasonably plan for an event in 2021. While logistics fell far below safety, ethics, and impact in terms of our concerns, you can take the event away from the project manager, but you can’t take the project manager away from (thinking about) the event. Even if most people are vaccinated by early August 2021, we won’t have time to plan and will not have anything built before then, as we will not be able to safely gather for builds. How will vaccinations be determined? Will already-taxed volunteer gate staff also be tasked with policing vaccine status? Any proof of vaccine will definitely be faked and lied about. Because of current travel restrictions, people from other countries will not be able to plan. We have multiple members in different countries who would need to start planning immediately. What we see are a lot of moving targets. If this were a piece of software, we wouldn’t commit to a ship date prior to 2023, TBH. But that’s because shareholders. We think we can do this in 2022, but not before.
We had our first 2021 meeting last week.
We’re taking the opportunity to talk about our show. To ideate about new offerings in the form of performance, our show, our fights, our set, our characters, narrative, vehicles, props, and rituals. We haven’t had anyone bring up a pants cannon in a meeting for years. Until 2021. We haven’t talked about changing up our esplanade frontage in a long time. We haven’t had the luxury to ideate this freely and without constraint since we started. And we are RUNNING with it. DGTD fire troupe v.3.0? MAYBE. A two-story bar? We’ll see. More ritual around the dome ceremonies? Most definitely. We are not idle. We don’t know how to be. And we will not let this unique moment of stillness turn into inaction.
We do want the organization to survive. We have invested deeply in Burning Man and its culture for decades. It is why we feel strongly about not attending in 2021, so that we can, when the time is right, not be missing anyone when it’s time to come back together. If the cost of survival of the event is, at best, the inability of the most marginalized among us to participate and, at worst, death, the price is too high. The world is watching, and Death is listening.
See you in 2022 (even if we have to start from scratch),
Death Guild Thunderdome 2021 - We Can Ruin It Next Year