Over Labor Day weekend, I helped stage a Houston-area event called the Playa Pity Party, an intimate gathering of folks who would like to have gone to Black Rock City, Nevada, but lacked the time or money. (The Playa, Spanish for "beach," refers to the sand flats of the high desert. Read more at burningman.com.) We spent the weekend outdoors, at an unofficial campground in muggy southeast Houston.
In a small gathering of Playa Pity Party guests, I sat under a pop-up tent and mentioned to people I had just met that I was a candidate for Harris County Judge. These folks who barely knew me were delighted to learn that there was an alternative to Ed Emmett on the ballot. Once they got to know me better, they were even happier. Some will register and vote just so they can vote for me.
One of the reasons I am attracted to the Burner crowd is that they strive to relate to each other on a deeply personal level. It's much more than mind-blowing art, mutant vehicles, and costumes laced with flashing LEDs. For someone like me, introverted and somewhat repressed, such relating can be challenging, sometimes irritating, but eventually profoundly liberating.
Conservative icon Grover Norquist went to Burning Man this year. He wrote an op-ed afterward that seems to indicate that he gets it. He's even OK with the indisputable fact that Radical Self-Expression includes violating the laws of the local, state, and federal governments—in particular, ingesting illegal substances, mostly cannabis and hallucinogens.
My own progressive ideology holds that society progresses primarily, if not exclusively, when people challenge laws that are unjust or make no practical sense. Sometimes challenging these laws means having the courage to violate them, to risk arrest for smoking a joint in public, for demonstrating against the predations of Big Capital, for standing up to institutional racism, for daring to vote while female or dark-skinned.
Our mini-Burn had guests who identify with various political parties, some who are non-partisan, and some politically apathetic. That embodies the spirit of Radical Inclusion, another principle of the Burner movement that Norquist seems to respect. We had people like me, happy with a few beers, jammin' tunes, and scintillating conversation. We had others who took the opportunity to ingest some hallucinogens. We had no serious injuries, and as far as I know no conflicts resulting from guests getting too wasted.
This event was not perfect, but it was a living illustration of peace. Two other Burner principles are Radical Self-Reliance and Communal Effort; these are not contradictory or mutually incompatible! We exhibited both! I heard more than one attendee say, "I wish we could all just live here." It wouldn't be easy, but we could, especially if we could turn part of the campground into a garden. Living in community is challenging—and so very worth it.
This is the transformation of society that Greens advocate:
- We would not force people to live in community and cooperation, but we would make it easier.
- We would dismantle the model that insists on nuclear family units, on forcing everyone to drive just to get to their jobs or Third Spaces.
- We would put people and the sources of their food closer together, promoting urban and suburban farms and community gardens.
- We would work to eliminate that fear of difference that breeds prejudice. We would legalize cannabis and other currently illicit substances; we would also teach young people the risks and benefits of chemical recreation, including moderation.
- We would place priority on the Public Good over Private Profit, Norquist notwithstanding.
And that's just the beginning.