Festivals, Politics, and Change

Some enlightening words by David Nickles, of the DMT-Nexus’ magazine – The Nexian:

We can collectively dream of worlds that surpass our wildest individual imaginings and bring them into being year-after-year—and we do. Is it really less conceivable that we could take actions in our daily lives to challenge the systems and structures that seek to deny us access to that which we need to survive? By all means, change yourself and your festival culture, but don’t stop there. Unless we act to dismantle the destructive cultural constraints that hold us hostage, our change will never manifest beyond personal revelations and state-sanctioned temporary autonomous zones. We know we are capable of incredible actions; now is the time to focus on ways to break free of the culturally-prescribed containers of festival settings and to build new worlds that truly realize our fundamental needs as human beings.

Humberto Braga recently wrote an article entitled “How and Why ‘Conscious’ Festivals Need to Change,” where he argued forgoing one year of Burning Man in order to buy our way out of dominant culture by building a techno-utopic retreat. Braga’s frustration is understandable, even if his proposed solution falls considerably short of addressing the issues he critiques. Nowhere in this vision does he seek to directly negate the coerced inequalities we face in daily life. In fact, it’s not too difficult to make the argument that his proposal is rife with many of the same problems he (accurately) identifies within “festival culture.” No doubt he will disagree with my portrayal of his ideas, but you, dear reader, can make up your own mind on this point.

Following Braga’s critique, numerous conversations about festival culture started, resumed, or took on new directions. Amidst these discussions, Brian Duffy wrote a response to Braga entitled, “How Burning Man and Festival Culture Make Change Personal.” In an attempt to keep this digital dialogue rolling, I would now like to offer a response to Duffy’s perspective.

Early on in his article, Duffy states:

However, festival culture does not in itself constitute a sociopolitical movement. A transformational festival should be no more or less political than a neighborhood potluck. Festivals are not designed to orient their attendees toward a specific agenda. No matter how obvious it may be to so many of us that problems like child poverty and military-industrial exploitation require urgent solutions, festivals like Burning Man cannot and should not frame themselves as rallies for political change, “progressive” or otherwise.

There are several assertions here that beg questioning, such as the claim that “festival culture does not in itself constitute a sociopolitical movement.” If we understand “sociopolitical” to refer to phenomena that combine social and political factors, “social” to refer to phenomena relating to groups of people interacting together in some form of community, “political” to refer to relationships of power between people, and “movement” to refer to a group of people working together to advance shared ideas, how could festival cultures be anything other than sociopolitical movements? Is there a single festival that does not challenge its attendees to grapple with questions of power relationships within a temporary community, advancing some shared ideas? The question is not whether festival cultures present sociopolitical movements, but whether these sociopolitical movements have any bearing on the world at large.

Read the rest.

1 Comment on "Festivals, Politics, and Change"

  1. BuzzCoastin | Sep 13, 2014 at 3:22 pm |

    when you gotta buy a ticket to get in, enlightened, saved or changed
    it’s a festival
    when you finally stumble onto your own Bodi tree
    there exists the possibility of personal change

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