(Updates at the end, as of June 29th, 2015.)
The federal Bureau of Land Managementis attempting to impose somewhere around a million dollars extra cost for Burning Man’s annual permit (it’s held on federal land, so the BLM permit is required) this year, and they have informed the Burning Man organization that if BM won’t pay, then the bureaucrats at the BLM are going to deny us a permit to use the playa this year.
This is no joke. If Burning Man doesn’t get its permit, the event doesn’t happen. Given that we’re two months away from it and thus there is a 0% chance it could be relocated, the BLM’s demands sound a lot like extortion to me.
The last few years have seen the BLM dramatically increasing the fees it demands from Burning Man, without providing substantially more services or staffing the event with extra people. So where is the money going? Why do they need so much? This is public land, supposedly there for the public to use, and while it’s reasonable for the BMORG to pay for the costs the BLM incurs, how is it possible that their costs have increased so much while their presence on the playa is relatively unchanged?
Some of their demands, which will take between $1m and $1.2m dollars to satisfy for the week, include:
· Flushable toilets and sinks.
· On-demand running hot water.
· Three hot meals a day, with things like burgers, chicken fingers, quesadillas, and more available between meals.
· 24 hour service bar that must include, among other things, Chobani Greek Yogurt, protein bars, brownies, Hot Pockets, personal pizzas, burritos, noodle cups, cookies, jerky, Skittles, licorice, Payday bars, Snickers bars, M&Ms.
· 24 hour standalone freezer for ice cream that must be stocked with: Drumsticks, Choco Tacos, Individual served ice cream – assorted flavors, popsicles, ice cream sandwiches
· A salad bar for both lunches and dinners that contains a minimum of five salad toppings, mixed greens with at least three types of leafy vegetables, three types of salad dressings, and three ‘salad condiments.’
· Meal suggestions include things like prime rib, t-bone steaks, roasted pork tenderloin, and so on.
Basically, what the BLM is asking for is the rock star treatment, so that their staff and these VIPs can live far better than anyone else at Burning Man does. Here, in fact, is the most infamous rider (the contract that stipulates the requirements that a band has when performing at a particular venue) of all time, for the Van Halen tour in 1982 that contained a provision specifying no brown M&Ms. Their rider has far less luxurious food requirements than the BLM’s. Van Halen, a famously indulgent rock band has requirements easier to fulfill than the BLM does. Seems pretty screwed up doesn’t it?
This is a government agency here to serve us by stewarding public land and instead of doing that they appear to be essentially extorting Burning Man for a million bucks for outright luxuries (in the context of Burning Man) that they’ve never needed previously out there. Why the change?
I’m told it’s because Dan Love, the agent in charge of the Winnemucca office of the BLM (where their Burning Man activities are based), has gotten greedy and is basically taking while the taking’s good, because he knows that Burning Man has to have the permit and that it’s far too late to even think about holding it elsewhere this year. That borders on corruption in my eyes. Our government is here to serve us, not the other way around. (Note, btw, that Dan is marked down as one of the people staying in the Blue Pit, below, in the "Love/Stover Trailer". Damn Dan, that looks pretty nice.)
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada has already registered his displeasure with the BLM’s stance in an official letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, to whom the BLM ultimately reports.
Let’s make our voices heard. This is very much an active issue at the moment, so let’s make those higher up the food chain than Dan Love hear that the citizens whose interests they are supposed to be serving via managing public lands are outraged at this blatant money grab from a mid-level bureaucrat.
First, sign the change.org petition asking Sally Jewell to direct the BLM to remove its outlandish requirements.
Second, get in touch with one or both of the following two people:
Neil Kornze, Director of the Bureau of Land Management
BLM Washington Office
1849 C Street NW
Rm. 5665 Washington DC 20240
Sally Jewell, Department of the Interior (Neil Kornze’s boss)
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W. Washington DC 20240
Phone: (202) 208-3100
@secretaryjewell on twitter
Let’s make ourselves heard. Write, email, tweet, call. Public officials are vulnerable to pressure, and the squeaky wheel definitely gets the grease in government.
I believe that using your own words is better than copying and pasting a form letter, but it all helps (as long as it’s polite!), so if you don’t have the time to write something yourself but want to let the two people above know what you think of the BLM’s crazy demands, use the letter below.
Dear Secretary Jewell / Director Kornze,
I’m writing to you in regards to the matter of the Bureau of Land Management’s recent unprecedented request for luxury amenities during the Burning Man event, for a luxury compound called the Blue Pit, totaling an estimated $1-$1.2 million.
Of course, I understand that it’s reasonable for Burning Man to pay for the BLM’s oversight during the event, but what makes little sense to me is why the fees have been rocketing up the last few years despite attendance not being substantially bigger or there being a substantially different level of BLM staffing during the event.
As a reminder, the fees have been roughly as follows:
2012: $1.4 million
2013: $2.9 million
2014: $4 million
2015: $5-$5.2 million
That’s quite the increase, and what is a little galling is that the increase for 2015 is driven by demands for amenities like flushable toilets, 24 hour ice cream availability, Snickers, M&Ms, salad bars, and Chobani Greek yogurt. What they’re claiming they need is worthy of what a major rock band might request, and is far beyond what anyone else at Burning Man has access to, including billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. This is an event that’s about self-reliance – we even bring our own water – and even employees of Burning Man who might spend a month out there live simply by the standards of the BLM’s request.
As Senator Harry Reid recently said, “While I agree that the BLM should take its permitting duties seriously and work with Burning Man to both guarantee the safety of its participants and the protection of the environment, providing outlandishly unnecessary facilities for the BLM and its guests should be beyond the scope of the permitting requirements.”
I wholeheartedly agree.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to reading that the BLM’s demands for Burning Man 2015’s permit are scaled back to something more reasonable.
<your city and state>
Update as of July 29th, 2015:
The BLM's deputy director released this today:
"I am concerned about the reported costs associated with supporting the Burning Man festival. I have directed that BLM staff take a fresh look at the initial proposals for food and facilities at the event. Our priority is to provide for participant and employee health and safety, sanitation, and environmental compliance at this unique event that is attended by up to 80,000 people in a remote part of the Nevada Desert. I have full confidence in BLM staff and their ability to develop a plan that is cost efficient and ensures public health and safety."
That's good news, but it's hardly victory - they could review the requests and then continue to stick to their guns. We need to keep the pressure on! Keep writing, emailing, and signing the change.org petition.
It's got some excellent advice in its narration as well, which is actually from a commencement speech from Jim Carrey.
"To find real peace, you have to let the armor go.
Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world.
Don't let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form.
Risk being seen in all of your glory."
Videos like this remind me that I love Burning Man, and that the drama and venom people spew online about it has very little to do with what it's like to be there, and what the event is all about.
I'll tell you a story. It's a true one.**
Once, there was a young boy named Robert. He loved dinosaurs and would stomp around the yard all day pretending to be a T-rex. *stomp roar roar stomp stomp* People knew him and were afraid, because, after all, he was a T-rex!
Then one day, his father said to him, "Son, you're 17 years old now. It's time to stop being a dinosaur and go make something of yourself."
"Ok," thought Robert to himself, "I'll go to college, get a job, make some money, and then go back to being a dinosaur."
You know what happened though? Somewhere along the way, Robert started fitting in. Whether it was college, or career or family, suddenly he was just another guy, invisible. He certainly wasn't a dinosaur, stomping around and terrifying the passers-by.
And worse, he eventually realized that he forgot how to be a dinosaur. That part of him was lost, or at least pushed so far down inside that the best he could do was mewl a bit, not let loose the kind of terrifying roar it takes to call yourself a proper Tyrannosaurus Rex.
What's the moral of the story? Don't lose your inner dinosaur, right? Or put another way,
"Risk being seen in all your glory."
Myself, I'm more of a dragon guy than a dinosaur guy, and after a particularly hard and stressful period at work a number of years ago, culminating in having to sell (for pennies on the dollar) the company I was running and had co-founded, I felt like I had lost my dragon. I wasn't me any more. All I had done for the previous few years was work.
Up until starting that company, I had taken a fair amount of pride in being, publicly and privately, whoever the hell I wanted to be. But I raised a bunch of money and the pressures of work and investors really wore me down. Had things been going well, it likely would have been a different story but a couple years of feeling impending doom will get to you, especially when it's your job to remain cheerfully optimistic to inspire the troops.
Burning Man helped me get my dragon back, and helped me remember to stop giving so many fucks about what people think of me, because on the playa the possibility space of how you can express yourself without harsh judgment by those around you is so much greater than in most of the rest of the world.
That remains one of my favorite things about Burning Man too. I'm an outgoing introvert generally but at Burning Man I turn into a raging extrovert, and it's fantastic. It's made me a more social person in general, even if I'm not the same extrovert in the default world as I am on the playa. There, I let my metaphorical dragon take wing and risk being seen in all my scaly glory!
I hope you do too, because it's the best way to Burn.
The following people approve of this message:
** Not a true story. Adapted from the movie Stepbrothers, actually. The bits about me are true though.
Travis wrote, "We have nothing to hide. Yes, we are guilty."
Travis also requested that I include this email - dancetronauts (at) gmail (dot) com . He asks that if you were offended, email them. He wrote, "Please talk to us and give us the opportunity to let us apologize if we ruined your Burn in anyway."
That's a pretty unequivocal admission of guilt and contrition, and while they've apparently come across as being defensive to some people, to me they just seem like they know they did it, are sorry, and are hoping the community won't make them pariahs for their mistakes. They seem pretty committed to making sure those mistakes don't happen again. People make mistakes, and the BMORG shone a large spotlight on theirs, which was appropriate in my opinion.
He also acknowledges that an early entry pass was offered, briefly, as a reward in a crowdfunding campaign, and explained that it had been set up by someone close to but not part of Dancetronauts to help out. As soon as they saw that that person had included an early entry pass, they pulled it. So technically guilty on that front, but it seems more like an honest mistake to me.
Here's the full email chain, which to be clear, wasn't sent to me (and anyone who asked I believe), in order to prove their innocence. As far as I'm concerned, as a fellow Burner, time to move on. I look forward to seeing them on the playa in 2016.
Be warned, the below is pretty long!
I'm Dr. Yes, Professor of Affirmatology. Just say yes, folks!