You Are The Community

You Are The Community 1Photo from Burning Man, Rites of Passage, 2011, my “Virgin” Burn.

I love a community who have always made me welcome to the best they had.
I love a community who give without the expectation of anything in return.
I love a community who build inside of a shared dream and know they’ll never be able to keep what they build.
I love a community who express a diversity I never knew existed within the human race.
I love a community who express beauty without restraint and show their true passions with their actions
I love a community who worship humanity in all its forms.
I love a community who do their best to abide by principles in their temporary society that continues to evolve daily.
I love a community who challenge themselves to grow and seldom complain about the consequences of growth.
I love a community who live for a week without money, and somehow create the most bizarre economy on the planet.
I love a community who challenge one another to the highest ideal.
I love a community whose imagination knows no bounds and is expressed through light, sound, color, and fire.
I love a community who find time to embrace newcomers and share what they’ve learned.
I love a community who accept you for who you are.
I love a community who make no attempt to define themselves, other than to identify with one another
I love a community who dance ecstatically, stomp the ground with both feet to connect with it, and at the same time leave no trace that they were ever there.
I love a community who make mistakes, learn from them, and grow.
I love a community who realize that love is often dirty, harsh, and painful but seek it with no remorse.

Several years ago Apogaea, the Colorado Regional had to cancel their event 30 days out. Every single thing that I’ve been attempting as a human, and that we’ve attempted to accomplish as a board and event committee has been to make sure that this doesn’t happen to our community.

When I joined Burnt Oranges in June of 2017, I had no idea what I was in for. Despite having 20 years of event production experience and being very connected to a local and global community, I’d never had to deal with the palpable sadness felt when PreHeat was cancelled that spring. I had no idea that the organization that’d I’d reached out to help had no access to their finances, no current event leads, and that I’d have to accept the written resignation of two board Presidents at once. I had no intention of leading when I reached out to help, but on that first call, when I finally realized what had happened to this organization, I took up a challenge.

And the three existing board members showed me more heart than I’d ever felt. They were full of ideas, they had feedback on what they’d tried, and they had dreams of developing this organization into something it was meant to be, and how it had been founded, as a place where artists who couldn’t find funding anywhere else could find funding, an organization that helped create interactive venues for participatory art. We discussed dreams for an organization that did public art outreach throughout the state, and had an active role in civic action.

But they’d never produced an event before, and the people who did the last one were gone. So instead of trying to do what they did, which left storage units filled with dirty clothing, peanuts, and broken equipment, we decided to do it differently. We were forthright in our efforts to connect with the community, and continue to support them. We funded nearly $25,000 in art and community action projects in 2017. And we purchased infrastructure necessary for the future of events. And we got annual liability coverage for the organization, and its officers. And we hired legal teams to review our bylaws, our waivers, and our 501(c)3 status. And we hired professional accountants to work on our bookkeeping, and train the board in how to operate it properly. And it was expensive, but worth it.

In 2018 we worked with our community’s artists, including Matt George & the Palm Beach Burner Collective, and Lance Barbour and the Augmented Reality Sandbox, and gave them an opportunity to display their art in front of tens of thousands of people. Because that’s what Art Organizations do to help develop artists and create opportunities for them.

In 2018 the board of directors attended the South East Round Table (SERT), a conference for boards, event leads, and department leads supported by Burning Man and hosted in Knoxville, Tennessee by a dedicated group of individuals who had recently started “To The Moon”. Dozens of states and just over 50 people represented a connection to the larger community. New friendships were made, and lasting connections to the human resources and background of how these events flourish, perish, grow, ebb, and change over time were made.

We discussed the “lifecycle of an event” and how organizations much larger than ours had problems that matched their size. We discussed how attacks on social media ruined relationships, caused volunteers to quit out of frustration, and created huge divides in vibrant communities.

And we realized that we were not alone in a global community of Do-ers, who struggle with all of the same things every day. I realized, when I asked one of the founders of To The Moon, and brand new Regional Contact for Burning Man why she did it. “Because I can see someone’s capability before they know they have it, and it’s my job to bring it out, mold it, give them resources, and see them grow.” I’d never heard something that resonated with me so greatly.

I’d been run through that same permission engine. One of my mentors, Tom Laporte, passed away last year. He was the “voice of the man” during the live broadcasts of the event for all of us who sometimes can’t make it out to the desert. He’d done just that with me, in 2011, when he invited me to the desert to take a walk through the permission engine that it is. A lot of us call it that because we’ve been waiting our whole lives for permission to do things, but somehow never get to go-ahead to do them. We’ve also been told “NO” a lot, since we first started going to school, in our jobs, and in our communities. And the greatest thing about learning how a do-ocracy works is finding a way to create your own personal “YES” to that thing that you’re fascinated with, that thing that you’re enamored with, and that thing that you’re willing to sacrifice money, time, and energy into creating for others.

I often joke with the newcomer and ask them what they think. In their amazed eyes, with their lack of words to speak about how they’re trying to interpret what these events are, I wait, and then say to them, “Well, I hope you enjoyed it. We only do it for the newcomer. Now you have to do it.”

And when I look around at the dedicated people who have actually stepped up to help provide this Tabula Rasa for the community, I’m in absolute awe at their greatness. For these positions don’t pay, and often cost. They cost time, energy, and a lot of personal funding to make dreams happen. But the ultimate payout in a de-commodified environment is the overall love that each of us feel, no matter what we recently wrote on facebook when we see those flames lick that structure, and burn it to the ground.

As we look at opportunities to find ways to come together as a community, I’d only ask a few things to the old-timer, to the newcomer, and to the person sitting on the fence.

  • Will you step forward and tell others that “you are the community” and post a creed of your own.

  • Will you step forward and volunteer and show others that you care

  • Will you step forward and share your stories with others, so they can know why YOU do it

  • And will you step forward and shine and agree that NOBODY has the perfect play book for personal transformation, community transformation, and our desire to create. If you disagree, please send all of us the playbook, because we could use some answers right now.

So I’d like to take a moment to see if we can offer each other inspiration, and start telling a different story. One of Love, one of Light, and one of what happened when the fire cleansed us. I’d like to see if we could take a moment to take a collective breath and say to each other, we can actually change this and make it better.

I’ve recently posted a call to action on our web site, which I hope has some of you considering how you can be more active, and feel that you have a voice in the future of the community, and the future of your own personal journey. From event volunteers to creating and supporting artists like the Palm Beach Burner collective to opportunities to get involved in BWB-supported projects in the Panhandle; we’re connected to quite a few amazing things happening here in Florida.

As we look for the future of what “Afterburn” will become, we’d ask you to take a deep breath, and work with the amazing people who are already working on it to create something better, something greater, and something ultimately more fulfilling than coming to something that someone else did for you.

Participant or Spectator? I love a community filled with Participants. Let the spectators learn our ways and want to come. It’s up to each of us to show them what they’re missing.

Tabula Rasa. Thank you Ladi N Sain for the inspiration. And thank you to the 65 people who already bought tickets, and the 39 people who are currently on our roster of volunteers. 104 people doesn’t sound like a lot, but you haven’t even begun to see their best yet. And I know we haven’t seen yours.

It’s an empty slate that we’re attempting to provide. We’d love your input, guidance, and cooperation in putting some amazing things upon it. Your things. Community things. I hope you’ll join us.

Linked is our current, publicly viewable budget for the event which we’re updating daily. If we hit the break-even mark, we’ll start adding back things that were axed. If we don’t, we’ll be asking the entire community how they’d like to proceed, if at all. We certainly don’t want to give up now.

I welcome your personal feedback to [email protected]. If you’d like to address the entire board, please email [email protected]

If you’d like to tell the committee how you feel, please send me an email with your name for an invite to our Slack channel.

If you’d like to share some ideas in a private forum off facebook, find our discussion board, “The Combustion Chamber” here. It should be live for your posts.

And once again, thank you to everyone who’s currently building. I promised no spoilers, so you’ll just have to come out and see what they’ve been up to.

YOU are the community.

Ben “Jamanai” Slayter
Volunteer Board President
Burnt Oranges, Inc.

Volunteer Producer
Volunteer CATS Fire Safety Co-Lead
AfterBurn: Tabula Rasa

Volunteer Black Rock Ranger & Green Dot Ranger, Burning Man
Volunteer Camp Co-Lead, Burners Without Borders BRC

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