Radical Inclusion: Fab 5 Freddy & Rachel McCrafty Talk Tokenism
As part of a series on Radical Inclusion, Andie talks with artists Fab Five Freddy and Rachel McCrafty about diversity in and around the Burning Man world. Rachel is the Executive Director of ACE Makerspace in Oakland and Freddy is a hip-hop pioneer, filmmaker and a board member of Burning Man Project.
They discuss tokenism, bridge-building, and how people with open sensibilities can widen the path for those who have not felt welcomed before. In the same way that a forest fire creates space for biodiversity, we as a community have the opportunity to intentionally reinvent our shared culture, on and off the playa.
She’s an artist and organizer participating in Black Rock City for over a decade, and she is the executive director of the ACE Makerspace in Oakland.
Fab 5 Freddy:
You know him as an artist and a filmmaker, and a hip-hop legend, and a culture pioneer. He is one of Burning Man Project’s newest board members.
Andie: Hi. Welcome back. You are live with Burning Man Live.
This is your host, Andie Grace. Today is Blursday, Fev-Mar-Krel 65th, 2021 two three four five.
We’re really glad you could join us for another in our series of shows about radical inclusion at Burning Man. And to talk about that with me, we have two really great guests.
From the West coast: If you attended the Oakland museum of California’s “Art of Burning Man” exhibit, then you probably saw the Gift-O-Matic, a beautiful piece that dispenses gifts and accepts gifts and shares them with others, that was conceived and built by Rachel Saad. Rachel is also known as Crafty. She’s an artist and organizer, and she is the executive director of the ACE Makerspace in Oakland.
And from the East coast: You know him as an artist and a filmmaker and a hip hop legend and a pioneer. And his name is Fab Five Freddy, but you might not know he is one of Burning Man’s newest board members.
We’re going to sit down and talk about tokenism today. Exactly what it is. What’s the problem with it? What does it have to do with our culture? Well, a lot, actually. Welcome to the show Rachel and Freddy.
Freddy: Hi, guys.
Rachel: How are you?
Andie: I’m all right. Oh, I started to say we were going to have like the thrum of rain in the background, but it stopped.
Rachel: I’ve got the thrum of the trash guys.
Andie: I’m really interested in what you see can be said right now, we’re going through this pandemic. Of course. So this is crazy, but where did you arrive at this school of thought as a Burning Man participant, as a Maker, where did you start thinking about inclusion?
Rachel: I’ve been the Executive Director at ACE for about four years now. They talked me into saying yes to the gig when I came back to them and said, okay, if I’m gonna, I’m going to want to do some pretty big changes. And “ACE” is ACE Makerspace coming up on 11 years as a five Oh one C3, nonprofit serving Oakland. And Maker spaces are tech adjacent. They have a lot of the issues that the tech industry has around sexism and racism and privilege. And when I took this gig being the Executive Director, it was with the idea that while I might not have the power to affect change on a large scale, why can’t I contribute to change locally? When they had asked me to take the position, I was like, Hey, I’m going to be going for the big culture shift, big diversity shift.
I was not interested in leading an organization that was predominantly by and for 85% white men to have an affordable hobby. I was like, “No, you can’t get me to volunteer for that.” I outlined the change, and I’m like, “If you’re not on board with that, I shouldn’t take this gig.” And they were like, “No, yeah, we want to do that.”
So that’s where I got into a more formal journey working on diversity, equity and inclusion in communities, specifically shared spaces. And really that was a culmination of my life, my history, and 18+ years working on Burning Man projects, be it via remote planning to like midnight warehouse doing the thing with hot glue. And culturally building things with people, to me, works because that’s where you get connection; that’s how to be in the world.
We just started being very direct about addressing the issue. If you can’t name the problem, you can’t do anything about it. So we looked at naming the problem and then going for immediate harm reduction.
What can often happen, especially with a privileged segment of society, is: they look at the problem, it’s complicated, and if they can’t do it perfectly, there’s this paralysis that sets in. And luckily I’m doing a lot of this and Maker art culture, which is like “Screw paralysis. Let’s try something and learn something.” Just started working with the really vibrant community here in Oakland.
When it comes to social equity activism, it started about 2½ years ago, developing direct education in how to People. And now here we are, and it’s embedded in pretty much everything I do.
Freddy: Yeah, the term ‘token’ is really all over the place right now because of crypto and the tokens that are being created.
Andie: That’s true.
Freddy: And so tokenizing various things on the web is going to become a much bigger thing as the understanding of blockchain and crypto technology gets larger and more pervasive. So. Yeah.
Andie: I don’t want just to focus on tokenism here. I want to talk about inclusion at Burning Man and Radical Inclusion, and what brought you both to think about this topic, and how in a year where we’re trying to have Black Rock City, maybe, if we can, and the time that we had off to think about it, what has Burning Man been doing to widen the path? For other people to see themselves there and not just the white folks that have been there for all these years?
So what is being done to widen the path for BIPOC to come to participate in experiences like Burning Man, whether Black Rock City or out in the world. I’m curious to hear both your takes on that and what questions you’d like to explore.
Freddy: Yeah, well, obviously, you know, as a person of color, black man, African-American, all the above; my first burn was in 2010 and I was blown away. I had good friends that had gone, told me remarkable, amazing stories. I’m an early adapter on many things that I’ve delved into. That’s just how I’m wired. And that was something that I wanted to go and get an up close look at, and I was blown away.
That began my journey as a part of the community. And obviously, you know, as a person of color black, however we want to describe it. People know how I get down, but those that really know me well know that I delved into various things and I’ve been on various cultural, um, journeys where oftentimes I was maybe perhaps the only person of color in the mix, but what made it special for me in my beginnings, on the downtown scene in New York, as one of the only people of color, if you will, all the other white folks, they were really cool and they were pretty much outcast by intention or by design.
That’s kind of what drew us all into this kind of a playpen of downtown New York, anything goes, creative culture in the eighties, somewhat early nineties. I find something at the core of Burning Man very akin to what that downtown scene was like; that anything goes kind of attitude.
And I went to various friends of mine, other people of color that I know had a very open sensibility and was like, “Dog, this is what’s popping, like this shit here.” And they were like, “What’s that, Burning Man? Like, what is it?” And then I was like, I have these long-ass explanations. I got my video clips. I’m like, “No, it’s not a bunch of hippies taking drugs and having an orgy. No, it’s way more than that.”
And I had to break it down for cats. And so that’s really what happened. And then cats that know who I am and know my history, like before Hip Hop and know that I was on that downtown scene, running with Blondie and Talking Heads, and got love across the board, they were like, “Really, Fab” but I’m like, “Dog, but it’s a real journey to get there. It’s not no easy where you can roll in and, you know, silly shit that dudes heard.” Dudes was like, “Hmmm.” So that was the beginning of my journey. And some of those people that I told about it, then came, are Burners now. And so that’s somewhat helped to make a little more diverse experience on the playa.
And I’m excited about all that. And because of the fact that oftentimes in certain situations to outsiders that don’t know, this is all love going around when people have seen me as that one of, or few people of color in situations that tokenism question has come up, but I understand that visually, but if you really don’t know the deal, then you gotta get up close to really understand what’s really going on.
And then you’ll find that this is like a community where that, that token idea, that bullshit is not at play. That’s my little spiel on all of that.
Andie: Does that resonate with you, Rachel and your experience?
Rachel: Absolutely. And in some ways that is a wicked foreign experience. I love listening to you talk about your creative experiences in New York.
And I’m sitting here, I’m from Santa Cruz. I’m about as California, stereotypical, like surfboards, the whole deal, that whole scene, but also just that license for creativity. Cause there’s a whole bunch of people in those mountains who are just doing their own thing. And they’re very, very original and very independent.
And, but also just access to total beauty. You can’t beat that. My coming up experience with Burning Man was actually a little bit more fractured. But definitely when you say it’s not what you thought it was: Ding, ding dang. Early two thousands is when Burning Man came my way and it actually of all places I came across it via Craigslist post.
Rachel: Yeah. And there was this Craigslist post and they were looking for somebody to manage their food scene in their camp. So obviously this post is by folks of privilege can afford to cover my ride if I can make sure that they’ve got a grilled cheese.
I worked with that group to do a whole bunch of their planning for them. And I actually worked on projects in the Bay Area long before I was rolling in the dust. I was, “Let me work on this art project. Let me figure out how to manage your crew. I shall be in your warehouse!” And that was my introduction to Burning Man culture. My experience was informed by that split perspective, because at the time I was a single parent.
So it was both that sense of freedom and it’s not like what you think, and acceptance for me as a person. Somebody who is, you know, little racially ambiguous brown lady, not body-typical, got a big ol’ mouth on her. All of those things. I wasn’t censored for them the way I had been in the default world in those communities and, you know, in the dust.
And I was just like, “This is cool.” And it just kind of blew my mind on what was possible for expression and agency and that coming together experience. Because we all just had each other’s back as far as like, “We’re going to make this work.”
It was a fractured experience and it still is to this day, I’m having this love relationship with the expression and the art. Just watching everybody take a moment to step outside their ordinary selves, just taking up the opportunity that’s being laid down. I’m like, “Yes,” but on the flipside of that, I look at the kind of systematic things that are not equitable, like the fact that it’s a bunch of white men artists. I’m looking at a bunch of art informed by a white male perspective and I’m like, “Ahhhh!” I want that perspective, but I want more in my art. I want more. I can’t stick with just this narrow cuisine. I want…
Andie: That’s true. That’s true in the music too. The first time I found a Hip Hop camp on the playa, I was like, “I will be here every night.” It was just so refreshing to see something different. It is kind of homogenous in that way.
Rachel: Yeah. I’m not seeing a lot of collective acknowledgement that it takes a little bit of privilege to get to the playa. As Freddy said: That ain’t easy. The bigger the struggle, the less likely you are to get there.
Andie: For this year, like, when everybody’s under immense pressure, how does it make you feel to think about having an event that even fewer people will be able to access? And are there ways to smooth that path (if we get to do it at all. We may not)?
Freddy: Well, that is a big question. I’m certainly hoping… So I’m a recent board member, Burning Man board member. My first board meeting was in January, pre COVID, of course. Then by the time the next scheduled board meeting there was looking, you know, “Red Alert.” It was like, “Danger!”
So I physically haven’t gotten to meet people because all the meetings have been Zoomed. So the announcement of it shutting down, which was traumatic, but of course it was what was naturally going to happen. Then the ideas that were going to take it off virtual was incredibly exciting because I’m a sometime gamer aware of various tech platforms out there.
And then, lo and behold, eight amazing virtual worlds were there. People in the community had created these experiences, which I dived into. And so in this process, it has made me realize more than ever how important the Burning Man experiment is.
And one of those first board meetings, Zoom, of course, when we were all huddling and everybody was in shock about this pandemic, one of the members said, “Listen guys, we already know how to wear masks, so we could do.” And I was like, “Holy shit, that’s right.” Like we go to this extreme environment, which is kind of really bizarre and then make all this amazing beauty and incredibleness happened.
And I go, “That’s right.” Like we deal with heavy shit, like putting yourself into this extreme of everything, about preparing and immersing yourself in that dust. And letting the fears of getting dusty go was such a vital thing. It just seems so beneficial and so vital.
So I’m really hopeful that we can inch to that point where we can have a semblance of it. I think it will be a lot less… Of course it would be difficult for a lot of people. Of course, some of those core burners.
But I think those that will emerge out of this are the root of the community. And so I’m realizing now how important all those things that we’ve taken for granted, it’s just being in the room, and join in the jokes, applauding for the same band, just rooting each other on, I think is needed.
And when we get back, it’s going to be so much joy in the rooms, in these spaces around, even though we could keep our distance.
You think about Burning Man, like, people are not all on top of each other all the time. People can spread out and go to way the hell out in a deep playa and then come together when needed. Oh, I might want to go to this camp. The fact that we wear masks and goggles and all this shit already, we’re ready to get back on the playa.
That’s my little spiel.
Andie: If anybody can figure it out, I would think it would be this group. There are points of concern, but it feels like the smart people are at the table talking about it again. What can we do to widen the path for the participants who have not been there before? Who may not have felt welcomed there before?
Freddy: Well, if I can jump in again and add to that. One of the things that happened in the course of these board meetings was, Marian would bring this up: There’s a lot of things that have been talked about doing over the years. And she was like, “Now we’ve got time to revisit and to look about implementing some of these things.”
So then I get to hear these ideas. There’s different things that have been talked about that are all very advanced thinking. What Burning Man does. So those things have been pushed forward and launching of the kindling site, which is a clearer, more focused attempt to inform people about things. Because as you know, the Burning Man.org site is like a library.
Andie: You’re being generous.
Freddy: Oh my God, this site is deep. This is one of them you can go way down into the rabbit hole. Kindling is an idea to sharpen the focus, bring it right in front of people, and that’s been great. So there’s been attempts made to clarify the Mission. And the fundraising, and things that have been going on to keep everything afloat, a lot of initiatives happening on bringing other people to the table, and informing, and board members going to reach out and form people.
So that’s the snapshot of what’s been happening that I think is going to result in definitely getting the word out. I don’t know what the overall numbers were of the people that visited all the eight virtual worlds, but it was a pretty impressive number. And when I was walking around with my VR headset, one of the worlds, it was called AltspaceVR, where people from the community had already built Burning Man on this VR platform, they just jumped in and sharpened it up and updated everything.
But when I was walking around as my avatar, in the virtual Burn, which was quite satisfying. I met people, several people you’d walk up and just start talking to other avatars. There’s one person out of some country in Europe, and they had never been. And this other woman I met who turns out to be an African-American woman that’s an academic, and she’d never been.
And I’m like, “Well, let me tell you all about it in this experience, in this virtual world…” So I’m sure a lot of people got a peak. And I think these things are going to continue because it’s a great way. Imagine if there’s a really full-on virtual world, like in between the event, the end of the summer, I’m going to put my headset on and just hang out and get some of that good, burner, loving energy.
Andie: It might make it more accessible to a lot of people who couldn’t go otherwise, physically, financially, whatever. And that was kind of an exciting development that happened that was accelerated by the fact that none of us could be there. It created a way for more of us to be there. Let’s say we have an event this year and it’s smaller and there’s this allocation of tickets that has to happen somehow.
And of course, it’s not going to be first come first served because we wouldn’t have Burning Man, as we know it, what would it look like if we broadened, if we thought about it a different way, when it comes to inclusion?
Rachel: Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head. You got to think about a different way.
It’s not just repairing back the same old tree and we’re just stuck with the same old version. We have an opportunity right now, the pandemic and everything having to shrink, is like a forest fire. And after that you have an opportunity in a real forest fire for things like biodiversity. We as a community, have the opportunity for diversity.
I have no interest in going back to the same old Burning Man, the world is not the same, Burning Man should not be the same. We can add some intentionality to what gets built, even if it’s on a much smaller scale in a way that we couldn’t possibly have done before all this went down and that, and it goes straight to that tokenism thing.
Don’t build the same house. Build that more interesting house. Build that more interesting community. Grow it online. Be intentional about who you talk to, and who has influence on that forest. You know, a lot of folks when I’ve been talking online and then in the groups and things, they’re like, “Well, we’re not doing outreach right now.”
It’s maddening to me because that’s where you get to tokenism.
Andie: Affirmative Action for the sake of itself. Yeah.
Rachel: Getting diversity and being inclusive is not a side-project that you get to one day, that you get to check the box off that you’re done. One of the basis of tokenism is this perception that any group of humans is a monolith, right?
No. I hate to break the news…
Andie: “Let’s get the black vote!!!”
Rachel: I do not represent all Latinas. It does not work that way, but there’s this amazing creative opportunity, as Fab was saying. We are so primed to take advantage of this. We’re creative. We can pivot when things don’t go perfectly or go to plan. We have experience. We have values in things like being competent via all these years where we’re like, “Ah, I recognize competency.”
Let us go for that. We’re primed for that, and mature as a community. In order to be able to recognize the good shit and the good energy, and value it. When I think about what a Burning Man could be, grow me the magical forest, the same way you grow a magical city. And be intentional about it. I’m not interested in the same old, same old.
Freddy: Just the connection you made between what happens after a forest fire, which California gets a lot of, and the idea of the burn and then kindling, I just, it all ties together in a great way.
Andie: It’s true. It’s true. From the 10,000 foot view that a board member sees, Freddy, what do you think can be done to invite participation that broadens our perspectives?
Freddy: Well, that’s been one of the topics that have been dealt with. These conversations happen. I’ve been became a board member, so it’s been a year now, then when the George Floyd tragedy happened in this summer, it was so impressive that before every other organization that had somewhat of a heart made a Black Lives Matter gesture, or put it out there that they get and support what the protests and what these loud voices are about. And then Burning Man did this huge Black Lives Matter thing on the playa.
They spelled out “Black Lives Matter” huge, and that just meant so much. And it just, as a reflection of, I think what is at the core of your organization has been a lot of talking about: How do we become more diverse and work to be more effective in outreach? And things are being talked about and done to make a more equitable distribution of tickets.
Of course, when it gets back to some kind of normalcy. I don’t have all the specifics, but those have been major topics. How can we improve our way to get people who can’t afford those numbers to come in? And those things are being worked out and will be rolled out and explained to everybody.
And that was incredible to be. I mean, I’m just still blown away that I was asked to take part. I’m such a fan. But to sit there and to hear the ideas and the braintrust exchange, essentially working to make all of this better, and to improve on – not just what has become a national issue, but even prior to that – like how can we make this better?
It’s just been amazing to be able to sit in those meetings and to throw my 2 cents in occasionally. It’s really humbling and inspiring really. So there’s been some of the great energy coming off of those meetings when the news has been so bad – especially when New York was getting hit really bad first and there were refrigerated tractor trailers outside of most hospitals. It was like, you know, oh, it was unbelievable.
Andie: My friends there. Yeah. I’m with you.
Freddy: Like it was heavy duty stuff to just have a normal life then getting used to wearing a mask. And those calls would I be so pumped up after people chime in and the ideas and everything going on has been so overwhelmingly inspirational.
And I think the burn is, everything is going to be a lot better for it. Once we are back out there doing our thing together.
Andie: I love it.
Rachel: You’ve asked some really good questions. I’m kind of coming at this problem from two perspectives. One is my own personal experience as a Latin woman presenting racially ambiguous – so I’ve got some of my light-skin privilege going on there – and doing community leadership. So there’s my own experience of sometimes being tokenized and sometimes surprisingly not because when to expect it.
And also I’m coming at it from their perspective of being in a leadership team predominantly with other white people in orgs or in groups who are trying to diversify and how not to make the mistakes when doing our best to make things attractive to other folks.
And one of the key lessons that’s come up is: Ask people that you want to attract what works for them. Be truly curious. Curiosity has profoundly paid off for me at The Burn, so I can get an evangelical about it.
Andie: It’s the purpose of my life. I’m curious about stuff!
Rachel: Show curiosity about what works for the people you are trying to attract both as potentially leaders and participants.
In my personal experience when I ask those questions, I’m discovering that we actually already have part of what they’re asking for, and the lift for the other stuff isn’t that big. If it’s embedded in how you collect information and steer the next Burn, you can’t go wrong. That’s the representation.
Don’t presume that just because your three black friends say something, that that’s covered all the black or all the Asian or all the whatever, you know?
Andie: Damn it. I thought it was going to be so easy!!!
Rachel: There’s going to be no one move that fixes it.
Freddy: Right. And I would just like to jump on the back of that and say: It was this interesting, because, you know, it’s interesting with words and language, we know what these words mean, but sometimes you get this illuminated understanding when you look at the annotated definition, which I’m going to read.
Tokenism: the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce.
Now, essentially for anybody I know that I met at The Burn, we would all agree that that’s a total bullshit. I’m gonna keep it 100, as we say in these New York streets. That’s some bullshit. So it’s great that we deal with it, express it, lay it out. And if anybody listening, or within earshot, is like or that has maybe done that without realizing that that’s whack.
Well now, you know, that’s not working, it’s not what’s happening. Once again, as that black person that’s been in situations where I might’ve been that only person of color, it may seem that way, but you need to get a real good understanding of what’s really going on before you make that snap judgment.
And that’s what we should all walk away with and share with other people. Because I guess now in this rush to kind of quote unquote “Do the right thing” with representing people of color or being equitable, it’s not a token thing. You got to get real with it. Talk to those people. Get yourself a better understanding because we don’t all live in the same communities.
But because of technology, it has become a lot more of that global village, you know, where it’s not that hard to figure out what’s really going on. You know what I’m saying? Like, I remember, as far as Hip Hop culture (and music, of course), which was a New York thing that I grew up with, it was surprising that this could translate outside of New York to other cities and other countries.
I’m still kind of blown away by that in a way, because this is like, neighborhood talk, if you will, a lot of this stuff, and then I’m going, “Yo, guys in Texas and Atlanta and Cali get this too?” And then when they started contributing, you know, it was like, “Oh, now I know what that means,” and…
You see this shirt on wearing right here, so you know.
Freddy: That’s one of the Bay’s finest. (I just happened to throw this on.) Um, actually, Pharcyde – my bad – Pharcyde is from LA. I’m sorry. I slip up too. I was thinking of them, that’s very similar to The Souls of Mischief, which had that similar kind of sensibility, from the Bay.
So that’s my little ramble about that.
I think: call it out. If you, in any way, think it could be tokenism, doing an investigation, but if the people perpetrating it are really whack and just doing it for window dressing, call it out, is all I can say.
Andie: I heard somebody the other day compare it to greenwashing, like a lot of what companies do right now to try to prove that they’re concerned about the environment is to make some nod and make some part recyclable and say, “We’re green now. We’re natural.” All these words that don’t mean anything.
And yet the fight that it implies is so important that it’s all the more insulting, that they would bother to even make a gesture as opposed to doing the work. And that feels real for this particular fight too.
Freddy: Yeah. Yeah. Which is in a sense, another form of tokenism, if you will.
I just want to share a fun – not funny – but an interesting story that I think kind of fits.
So this is about a film. This film came out of the seventies. This is in what’s known as the Blacksploitation film era. I was a kid and you have like all these cool movies come out: Shaft, Superfly, “You got a new hero now that’s not the typical white guy.” There was a film called “The Spook Who Sat by the Door.
This film is…
Andie: I missed that one.
Freddy: It’s not that well-known. When you dig into it, you’ll see that it was this incredible movie. As soon as it came out, it was pulled out of theaters immediately. So the movie was about this black guy that gets hired to be what essentially is the first black man that works at the CIA.
And they hired him clearly as a token because they need to get a black guy like in the office. So this guy becomes a CIA, goes through training. And then they just, his white officers just are like “Whatever, let’s just sit them right there.” But it was all window dressing, right?
You see him go through this entire training process and all the things that they teach CIA guys, and they show how to destabilize governments and do all this stuff that agents do.
When he comes out of the agent training school as a stellar student, they sit him by the door. After doing a little time at the CIA, he leaves that job not long after and goes into the community. And he takes this local street gang who think he’s just a corporate sellout. He takes these guys and then he trains them how to be a revolutionary force!
“The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” based on a popular book. And then the movie was made, and so this guy trains this Chicago street gang all the tactics that he learned to upset, overthrow governments. And now these guys do that, and it scared the hell out of people with just watching the movie, and it came out of his book.
But that’s an example of what sometimes happens with that person that you see as a token, he could be the spook who sat by the door.
Rachel: I have to read that.
Freddy: let me know love. I better listen. It was pulled. And then we go on YouTube, of course, there’s stories about the writer and the thing. And then about within the last 10 to 15 years, they re-released it. You can find it. Great film.
Andie: So if we have Burning Man this year, are you guys going to go?
Rachel: For me and a lot of folks, it’s all going to be about money. Can I pull it off? It’s just because of the uncertainty, 50% of my income disappeared with COVID, because I did interactive public art. None of the cities are doing projects anymore. There’s no more museum projects. There’s no more street festivals. Those contracts to create those experiences are gone after a year that was rough.
Andie: I’m not signing us up for anything here, but it feels like Burning Man might be in a very unique place to help artists in that position right now. Mr board member.
Freddy: Those are things that are going to come up. Once again, we’re working. We’re going. In fact later this evening, guess what? Board meeting. So I’ll be on Zoom and that’s one of the things that I’ll be waiting to hear about. But the way Marian laid it out – she’s the CEO – and one of the other board members is also on the board of Coachella, and they too are all poised and hoping and waiting, hopefully with some stringent, because we’re getting testing, ramping up.
And other ways now with a more sensible leadership, we’re hoping there’s a path that can be effectively laid out on a smart tip of how these kinds of events can happen. Clearly they’ll be scaled back some. Not to compare a Burning Man to a Coachella. We’re in a different space, plus because we’re a little later in the calendar.
So the idea is: work closely with the state. And all the smart folks now that have stepped up to follow the science with, feeling like if we do this the right way, hopefully we can have something that works. So I’m optimistic, nothing guaranteed yet because everybody’s looking at how crazy it is here, and what’s happening there, and getting the vaccine out and about.
And that’s where we are.
Rachel: When I think about the positive impacts of that, what pops into my head so dramatically around doing it in a safe way – and this also affects my ability to come to the dust – is: Do I have trust in my vaccine? (Assuming that I was vaccinated by then. Because if I’m not, it’s just like, “Nah.”)
The other thing is, by having the safety protocols involved that are around Community, there’s a general vibe to having that shared understanding and agreement that I think can add to the texture of our collective experience on any scale, in a way that kind of combats the individualism that gets so toxic in America.
And that is an exciting proposition from a social engineering perspective.
Andie: I love that. Okay. We have just a couple more minutes. If we go back to Black Rock City, what is the thing you’re most looking forward to doing? Rachel?
Rachel: Sunrise tour! Straight up. And it’s totally about me. I just said not don’t be an individual, and I’m like, “Sunrise tour!”
Andie: I think you’re entitled to that after the experience we’ve all lived through together here.
Rachel: Yeah. I want to bring a project. One of the many things to grieve over, and on the lighter end of things to grieve over in 2020 was that I had just built a piece that exhibited really successfully in Oakland that would have been perfect. And that’s after 20 years of building stuff that was like, “I hope this is going to work!” I was like, “Ooh, I can bring something I know is going to work.” Damn it. Let it go.
Andie: What about you, Freddy?
Freddy: I’m right here realizing that Rachel’s an artist, I assume. So I was actually just Googling. I see all kinds of pictures of you. I’m trying to see the work. Oh my God. Oh shit.
I’m just really excited to be around these people that make this incredible journey out into the dust. It’s like I was realizing this actually mentioned this on a board meeting, a couple of sessions ago, that I remember being at The Burn 2017, which was right after Trump had won. As a New Yorker we anticipated how bad it could be having.
Andie: You knew this guy.
Freddy: And the rest of the country, sadly, that, you know, has fallen behind. I think really got introduced via him on that reality TV show where he would fire people. Nothing I’d ever watch. But I remember being at Burning Man 2017, that Burn, and just really not wanting to leave.
Like, when that week was up I’m like, “Why can’t this continue?” Because these, everything here is what you’d want it to be like, you know, people just hugging and saying “Hello.”
After the 10th or 15th stranger just sincerely says “Hi” to me it so blows me away because in New York that just doesn’t happen, as it doesn’t happen in so many other places.
So really something I knew I wanted more of at that point, and really crave now, having missed a year, just looking forward to being in that space, looking at that vast open sky, and just saying “Hi” to anybody out there, and just throwing that dust in the air.
Andie: You’re making me want to be there too. The moonrise. The sunrise.
Freddy: Being out in deep playa, listening to Robot-Heart or Mayan Warrior, and just feeling that energy just going, amazing. It’s everywhere I look, it’s just great painting out here.
Andie: I think I sleep too much at Burning Man. I’m missing out on all that because I’m working during the day, but I hope that we get to meet at a sunrise out there soon. If that’s this year, that would be awesome.
Rachel: That big sky. And then the light just changes everything.
Andie: I was just reading… Tony Coyote Perez has just released a book, “Built to Burn,” about being DPW and being out there early. And the time that they’re out there on the playa, there was a storm coming and they weren’t sure if they should leave. They were out there early to start building the city, dragging in the Esplanade. And then some storm started blocking out Gerlach and that’s when you know that you’re in trouble. You can’t see Gerlach, you’re in trouble.
And the storm started coming at them and they were like, “Let’s just stay. We’re having a good time. There’s whiskey.” And then somehow right before it trapped them there for the night, it split into these two storms that went along both of the mountain ridges. And then the moon came out. You know that moon.
On the desert when it’s like, you’re on the surface of the moon, but the moon comes. I miss it so much, and I look forward to being there again whenever that is.
Freddy: Yeah, no, I can just say that, once again, in the talks and the things that have been dealt with in this year of downtime, we’ve had some amazing ideas of being put together and something to grow it even bigger. But I don’t mean like at Black Rock, but to spread this whole mission way out, like with all the other Burns that happen, there’s initiatives to really get this out a lot further and a lot wider because in this unique time that the entire world is in and we’ll be in, when we put this pandemic behind us, we’re perfect to help lead this.
I met a couple of different mayors from different cities. I remember being at the opening of the show in DC, I met this woman, an official in the Mayor’s office that was, you know, she was this African-American woman, and “Hey Fab, what are you?” Yeah. “You a burner?” Yeah. “Well, I’m going this summer” that, when that exhibit happened, and I’m like “Why?”
And she explained, and I heard other Mayors and city officials realize the amazing effort and braintrust that goes into building this incredible city is something that they can learn from when they have a disaster. When something happens, when storms and these big calamities, they can learn from this infrastructure, which just forms every summer to make that stuff happen – the work that so many people on the team do.
And that right there is an indication of what the capabilities are and the experiences to help other people that all had to deal with the calamity, unlike any others, that’s pretty inspiring and encouraging.
Rachel: Absolutely. One of the ideas that we haven’t touched on is what it would look like to redefine Radical Inclusion, both for the existing community and for the outward-facing understanding of that, because so much of it, like when potential burners and non-burners hear Radical Inclusion, they’re like, “Yeah, you’re just accepting of those naked hippies.” And sometimes the definition that I’ve heard in discussion boards, town halls, on the internet and in conversations with other burners, it isn’t even that much more broad: “Be your weird self.” That’s what inclusion is.
And a denial of how much broader it really needs to be and more foundational it needs to be, and what would it look like to redefine it? And not just like what the org says it is, it’s what is our shared understanding of that? Where could we take that? We’ve all signed on because we keep coming back to the plan.
Andie: We’re stuck with each other. Let’s figure it out.
Rachel: Grow it to be what we want it to be, what we need it to be, what satisfies and feeds our souls and our adventures and our smiles, and our growth, and our epiphanies.
Andie: It’s wonderful to see the deliberate effort on the part of the organization that I work with to attend to that, and to choose a path that is about doing the work. I feel really, really proud of everybody around me thinking about these things and really, really glad that we’re having this conversation right now.
So thank you for taking the time today.
Freddy: Great to be here. Thanks for… Great to be a part of this.
Andie: This was so much fun.
Freddy: It was a good one. I enjoyed this a lot.
Rachel: Thank you so much.
Freddy: Take care. Likewise. See you soon.
Andie: That is our show for today, folks. Thank you so much for joining us.
Andie: Burning Man Live is a production of the Burning Man Project, a 501c3 nonprofit devoted to being a catalyst for creative culture in the world.
I’m your host Andie Grace. Thank you to everyone who helped put the show together. And of course, thanks, Larry.