Revolution #212, September 26, 2010
Popularizing Bob Avakian at Burning Man and Power to the Peaceful
Burning Man is an annual celebration of art and community that brings participants from all over the world to an unpopulated, inhospitable, ancient lakebed in northern Nevada. But during Burning Man it blossoms with culture, flame, music, and neon lights as a mega-block party in the face of white-out windstorms and unbearable heat (or rain and cold).
Since 1990, Burning Man has been an experiment in creating a culture that eschews money and disdains commodity relations. Tickets are sold for the event, but once inside, there is virtually nothing for sale. It is a gift economy, in which people are encouraged to bring what they need and share with others, to embrace diversity and be participants, not spectators.
Burning Man is known for hundreds of art placements that break convention in collective collaboration and in sheer size, interactivity and irreverence, and prompt new ways to look at the familiar. Art that is not considered the sole province of trained artists.
There is much to embrace about Burning Man. Since its beginning it has been a radical, counter-cultural gathering, where space is carved out for people to be free to think, and experiment, outside of prescribed politics, religion, sexuality and ideology, and where people openly discuss how to create new morality and co-operation in the "default" world.
There is a great need for people who are yearning for a different, better world to be introduced to Bob Avakian and his revolutionary vision of the most radical rupture with traditional property relations and traditional ideas, and a vibrant, exciting communist world in which people would really thrive—the unleashing of art and science, awe and wonder, ferment and imagination in mind-boggling dimensions.
Two of us went to Burning Man art to popularize Bob Avakian among 50,000 people. We intended to have a one-two punch; to raise broad curiosity about the identity of the person in the image, and then to answer with the Message and Call. Logistically, this proved far too ambitious, especially in a week's time in the harsh conditions in the desert.
Before the event, I got permission to install a number of 3' by 4' enlargements of the image of the Chairman along a 90-mile stretch of highway (between Wadsworth, Nevada and the Black Rock Desert or "the Playa," as it is known to "Burners"). Virtually everyone attending the event must travel this route.
Since over half of this stretch is within the boundaries of the tribal lands of the Northern Piutes, I contacted tribal elders to get permission to place the images along the road for the week of the event. They not only graciously agreed, but were also very interested in our project, hearing about Bob Avakian, and receiving the Message and Call. In return, they told me about the history of their people, including how they defended their land against settlers and the U.S. Army in the Battle of Pyramid Lake.
The signs were double-sided. People could see them going to and coming back from the festival.
Many artists commented on how much they liked the art of the image. They also loved the unique "mystery cards"—"...like a name you know you know. You can't remember it, but you can't get it out of your mind either." Artists and organizers told us that our placing of art along the road leading to the festival is a first.
We installed a large flashing neon version of Bob Avakian's image in the midst of the art on the playa. Although only visible at night, it looked great! Hundreds of image cards were distributed at the festival itself—left at camps, many of the numerous free bars and parties, and stuck in the spokes of participants' bicycles.
We did have some experience that the image was creating a stir. While getting out the cards and wearing our image shirts, we were stopped by people asking "who is that guy?" One person from Seattle said he had seen the image up there, and wanted to know about it.
Still, at the end of the week we were disappointed that we could not have done more to answer the question, "Who is this guy?" We knew we had made some headway, but it was hard to gauge just how much had been accomplished.
The answer was not to be learned for another week. On September 11, a dozen of us took out the image cards and the Message and Call to a crowd of tens of thousands of mainly youth attending the yearly Power to the Peaceful concert in San Francisco. The enlargements, which a week before were along the highway, were now raised on tall poles towering over the crowd.
Many of the people attending this concert had been to the Burning Man festival as well. All during the day, friends were telling me that people recognized the image from "the playa." Reports of dozens of people excitedly running up to our people shouting "Who is this guy? We saw his picture all over Burning Man!" Some told us that they found the card stuck in the spokes of their bicycles, others found the card in their camps, parties or bars they visited. One young sister from Germany was amazed that even though she had seen the image everywhere for two weeks, she had no idea who it was. "A Communist leader? In this country?" She pulled out a pen and made a note: "Bob Avakian, Revolutionary Communist Party."
Another young Latina ran up to a person wearing the image shirt. Poking him in the chest, she demanded, "I've got to know, you've got to tell me, Who Is This?!" The three enlarged images along the highway to Burning Man had seemed hundreds to her. She saw the cards everywhere. Then, she and her friends were walking on "the playa" at night when they came across the image of the Chairman flashing brightly. "We were so frustrated! We all sat down right there for a half-hour, trying to figure out who it was."
The image had been imprinted on her brain since Burning Man. She said she had kind of forgotten about it, but "when I saw it again, it all came back to me and I had to find out." It took her a full week, but she finally got her answer. She, and two young men, volunteered to be part of a revolution crew at Burning Man next year.
A total of 3,500 of the Message and Call were distributed at the Power to the Peaceful Concert, and on another level, we all got a deeper appreciation of the power of the image to generate interest on a grand scale, and getting out the name Bob Avakian as a Revolutionary Communist leader, and the Message and Call for all to dig into.
A two-state, two-week, one-two punch!
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