At least three friends who I think of as burners (people who attend Alchemy or Euphoria or other Burning Man events) have expressed a similar dissatisfaction with the way that burns are less and less community and more and more conspicuous consumption. We want burners to put resources toward building sustainable year-round community rather than dumping so much money and effort into a few days a year. It's highly reminiscent of Christmas-and-Easter Christians who make a big damn deal twice a year but don't bring the principles they supposedly care about into their daily lives.
[some of the issues with burns: class, cliquishness]
Even the poor burners I know usually end up spending at least $150 on tickets and food and water and supplies, and it is easily two or three times that for the more well-off burners. (that's just regional burns: don't get me started on Burning Man) Each year most burners seem to upgrade something they bring, with the result that long-time burners have invested hundreds of dollars over time and there is a significant difference in 'burner class' even among people who have similar income levels. This effect heightens the seniority effect, so that one has to invest for multiple years with increasingly luxurious accessories to be treated as if one belongs.
When I first started going to Georgia burns they were only five years old. Five years later, the landscape has changed radically. Instead of a bunch of little tents with a few shared spaces, lots of camps have infrastructure they bring. This has the effect of making camps very insular; instead of going from place to place enjoying various shared spaces, most spaces are fairly self-contained. Most of the resources seem to me to be going to making one's home camp more and more elaborate. I don't think there is anything wrong with that in theory, but in practice, it reduces community. If all giving was meant to happen in a shared space, how different would that look? how much more would people leave their own little bubble?
And at this point you look 'uncool' if all you have is a tiny tent. In the absence of vibrant shared spaces (not private 'shared' spaces that actually function as the living rooms of the camp that 'shares' them) being poor means being alone. I think all shared spaces should be separate from sleep spaces -- this would not only reduce the effects of class, but it would allow people to have quiet space away from partying when they slept.
If I was going to a Georgia burn for the first time this year, I would have felt like my class, my lack of money, made me unable to participate. I was able to borrow a tent, but if not, what then? Do people contribute to any kind of a shared sleeping space? Tents are expensive, especially ones that have enough space to breathe. People are constantly upgrading -- what happens to the old tents? Couldn't they be kept communally and lent on a by-need basis to people who don't have them? There are just so many ways that class cuts in.
There are some other large issues with burns but right now I'm just discussing the community aspects. I'm not ready to try to make the local burns better; I'm ready to take the principles outside of burns.
How much more nourishing would it be to have community in a continual way rather than periods of famine broken up by glut? How much more true to the principles of civic responsibility, participation, and communal effort to be building community at home, taking responsibility for taking care of each other, and doing actual work to build something lasting? How much more true to the principles of gifting, decommodification, and immediacy to invest in each other, here and now, rather than buying needs and luxuries for a three-day party once or twice a year?
We need accountable, accessible, growth-and-healing focused community. I am ready to build this. We need to find a gathering space that everyone can get to relatively easily, then bring together everyone who wants to build real community and have a brainstorming session. We need to decide what we want it to look like and what minimum things we need to keep momentum, and what people can contribute. We need to set shared goals and values, as well as safe space boundaries and how to handle violations of those.
I'm writing my set of wants and ideas now, but will post that separately because this is already long.