Everyday, Burners Without Borders transforms communities through innovative disaster relief programs and community initiatives that make a lasting impact. 



Report Back: BWB Spring Summit 2021

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When people hear the name ‘Burners Without Borders’ (BWB) they often think about our origins in disaster relief. At heart, what we’ve always been working on, and speaking to, is community resilience.

Today we find ourselves at the nexus of land stewardship, indigenous rights, regenerative culture, and sustainability. We feel this most strongly as a community when we gather at Fly Ranch. BWB is deeply fortunate to have access to Fly Ranch as a platform to not only talk about these things, but to iterate practical solutions.

BWB’s work began humbly at Fly Ranch in April of 2018. Twelve BWB volunteers made up the first Fly Work Weekend, with infrastructure consisting of a few benches, a folding table, and a burn barrel. We have since hosted over a dozen Work Weekends at Fly, and in June of 2021 held our third in-person BWB Summit there This was the most difficult pre-production we’ve ever had to navigate, due to the frightening and shifting landscape of public health and safety. Despite, or maybe because of that struggle, this moment feels the most rewarding.

The 2021 Burners Without Borders Spring Summit was about being together. For our first in-person event since 2019 we created a weekend of healing, reentry, and connection to the self, each other and the earth. We kept the gathering small due to limited infrastructure, permitting restrictions, and the impact on the land itself. Hosting small events helps us understand what we need to know to responsibly and sustainably host larger gatherings.

We had a few priorities in planning this event, and new challenges. We created new health and safety protocols appropriate for where we are in terms of COVID. We experimented with an equity framework for our participants, in order to foster a more inclusive and diverse event. We implemented and itierated on sustainability practices, including using only solar-generated electricity, utilizing the Bokashi composting method, and trying to remain particularly mindful of how each choice we make impacts the event site. 

At all of our Summits we have three guiding concepts that help us structure the programming we provide: Serve, Learn, Celebrate. Looking at Fly Ranch as distinct from Black Rock City, we see it as a long-term platform on land we steward, rather than an ephemeral city on land we try to Leave No Trace upon.

The ‘Serve’ concept lets us view the event through a long-term lens, i.e. our projects today support the future of the ranch. Some of our ‘Serve’ projects include: Prototyping a Bokashi composting system with Ladies & Gentleman from the Burning Man Sustainability Team; Working with the Renewables for Artists Team (RAT) from the Green Theme Camp Community to optimize the BWB solar power generator system that remains at Fly year round; and finally, installing new infrastructure including a shade structure from the burners at Shade Shifters and a donated kitchen container from the Square One theme camp.

The ‘Learn’ concept for the Spring Summit is inherently about participatory knowledge sharing. We used a human-centered approach to programming to acknowledge the fatigue, burnout, and overwhelm folks have been experiencing. The programming was likewise designed as well as  to create opportunities for participants to opt in and out of talks and conversations as needed. 

Our goal is to plant seeds of inquiry, not to find answers. Together, we are finding ways to move forward in this moment of climatic, social and economic change. Some of our sessions included conversations titled Community Stewardship, The Long Disaster, Emergent Strategy, and Racial and Social Disparities. We hope that these conversations continue with our participants out in the world

The ‘Celebrate’ concept is based on the BWB adage: ‘If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable’. It also recognizes yin and yang, in that while we celebrate coming and growing together again, we grieve for what has been lost. We designed the weekend with plenty of downtime and activated spaces for connecting, talking, walking, and stargazing. We cooked together in our communal volunteer kitchen, chased down MOOP (Matter Out Of Place), sang, and danced. 

In an unplanned but perfect moment, The Friends of Black Rock volunteer guided Nature Walk passed the daytime ecstatic dance at Baba Yaga’s House. To be dancing there as a community, along with unsuspecting families learning about Fly Ranch, felt like a perfect moment. The kids were delighted ,and some of them joined right in. It was a mixing of purposes and cultures, and the synchronicity of that moment speaks to a future at Fly holding multiple activities and allowing groups to merge and learn together.

The Summit included a closing Grief Ceremony.  We joined in a moment of acknowledging and speaking to the grief we, as individuals and communities, hold. As some shared their experiences with loss and pain, we were reminded that you never know what another person is enduring. As we talk about sustainability, and caring for the land, we also talk about empathy and feeling for each other. We took a moment to acknowledge the passing of a long time member of Black Rock City’s Department of Public Works, Easy Goin’ Garth, whose death on the Black Rock Desert Playa over the weekend was a stark and difficult reminder of just how important every community member is.

In closing, the participants shared that they felt deep value in coming together in this intentional way. While many shared their initial social anxiety and discomfort with the prospect of gathering, we were able to navigate the process of physically coming back into proximity with each other together. There was a poignancy to the Summit, a sense of preciousness and appreciation for something that we had been missing and fearing at the same time. The stakes feel higher, and the work feels more important and immediate than ever. 

One participant observed, “Any project worth investing in right now is probably going to be a very, very long one.” Another was so inspired by the people working to make the world better, that she quit her corporate PR job the day after the Summit, and started working in the nonprofit sector for the first time. We will see what else emerges, in the short, medium, and long terms.

This is an important moment. We are meditating on Burning Man’s global cultural influence, and what that responsibility means. As we process the continuing pandemic, climate change, and disparities in equity and access, we also see fertile soil in which to plant new seeds. There is much work ahead of us all, we have trust and relationships to foster, and cultural-shifts we’re only just beginning to understand. One thing, however, is clear, BWBers are here to serve, learn, and celebrate for the long haul. 

With deepest thanks to Fly Ranch, all of those who participated, and everyone who advised and assisted along the way,

Burners Without Borders

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