Civic Responsibility

Civic Responsibility. noun:
Probably the least talked about of the ten principles: “We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.”

Organisers really really prefer Radical Self Expression and Radical Inclusion; However, they have to make sure that events are legal, fun for everyone, and safe. (safety third). This means everything from educating about community values and responsibilities, and ensuring events are family friendly, to organising and supporting Rangers, hiring EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians), and developing relationships with Law Enforcement Officers and Fire Departments.
There are five Law Enforcement Agencies that patrol that event in the desert, and almost all regional events will eventually come to the attention of local LEOs. Fortunately, it is amazing what you can get away with when you have your forms in order and educated and informed Rangers who can interact with a bemused cop.

See also

A Burners Without Borders crew poses at a work site in Peru. Photo by Emma Taylor.A Burners Without Borders crew poses at a work site in Peru. Photo by Emma Taylor.

CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY, –NOUN, According to Scribe’s bookTribes of Burning Man, Larry Harvey (also known as the Hat) resists attempts to define Burning Man as a countercultural movement. Rather, he sees the festival as a generator of culture in its own right. Practicing the principle of Civic Responsibility is one of the ways in which our culture sets itself as parallel to the default world rather than in opposition to it.

Participants take great pride in contributing to their temporary community. Even the smallest theme camps try to offer something to others or volunteer in some way to better their events. Unlike many underground festivals or raves, Burns obtain all necessary 

permits and work to form good relationships with local law enforcement and the communities where they take place.

Civic Responsibility does not end at the edge of the playa. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans during Burning Man in 2005, a team of experienced Burners took their equipment and skills to the area to assist with recovery efforts. This led directly to Burners Without Borders, which leverages Burners’ ability to thrive in extreme environments as way to aid disaster relief. This effort is just one of many — Burners all over the world work together to beautify, improve, and generally make reality camp more creative, pleasurable and fun.

In 2008, Austin area Burners effectively took over the city’s First Night celebrations, filling the streets with art and performance, and culminating in the burning of a gigantic clock tower. With over a hundred thousand in attendance, this became the largest ever Burning Man-style effigy ritual, and a great example of civic responsibility.

The Lexicographer has been soliciting the opinion of other thoughtful Burners on the Ten Principles. Below you will find another opinion, but more are still welcomed. Use the contact information at the top to send your thoughts.

Other entries in A BURNER LEXICON can be found at

The 2008 New Years Eve Clock Burn in Downtown Austin, created by Community Art Makers. Photo by Bill Ledbetter.The 2008 New Years Eve Clock Burn in Downtown Austin, created by Community Art Makers. Photo by Bill Ledbetter.

Participation has been important to TRUFFLE since he attended his first Burn with the goal of placing a memorial at the Temple. Now he is a member of the Department of Public Works and spends 7 to 10 weeks a year on the playa. He had this to say on civic responsibility:

I gotta say, the radical sense of civic responsibility is my favorite. Usually this is viewed exclusively as: “Well, the organization uses some of my ticket money to help the locals, so I feel good about it.” But it’s a lot deeper than that: we’re playing at society here.

In reality, civic responsibility comes unexpectedly. For example, I’ve seen strangers chase down a rapist on the playa and keep sight of him until a Black Rock Ranger, and then anLEO could be found to handle the guy. I’ve seen strangers fill in on shifts they had no reason work, simply because the person they were relieving was overworked and in desperate need of sleep.

And yes: the organization DOES throw a lot of energy into civic responsibility. The first year I worked as DPW, the first week after the event the crew I was on drove along every road leaving the playa for nearly a hundred miles out, picking up trash that had blown off the sides of vehicles and was strewn all over the highway and desertscapes.Leave No Trace doesn’t end at the playa’s shoreline, ya know? We take responsibility for irresponsible participants even beyond the edges of our fair city.

It’s just that this is my favorite principle to see manifest in new burners, since usually they are completely taken by surprise that they have found meaning and purpose beyond themselves for their actions.



Ranger. noun:
Rangers are volunteers dedicated to the safety and welfare of our community.
They are not your mom, the law, or security; but they will help you find them when you need them. Rangers will not stop you from making bad life choices, but will try and help you recognise that it’s a bad life choice, and try not to point and laugh when you do it anyway.
“Sober so you don’t have to be” all a Ranger really wants is to be off shift without incident. They are trained to be non-confrontational community mediators, and try to recognise and address safety concerns, mediate disputes, resolve conflicts, and generally make our burn experience better.

A Black Rock Ranger riding on a Mutant Vehicle. Image by Ranger Trapper.

A Black Rock Ranger riding on a Mutant Vehicle. Image by Ranger Trapper.

RANGER, –NOUN, Friendly folks in khaki who keep you safe. The original group, theBLACK ROCK RANGERS, were created at That Thing in the Desert in 1992 by Danger Ranger. Their khaki clothing was selected for its ability to blend in to the playa dust ofBlack Rock City. Most regional events of any size will feature their own version, usually dressed in the same colors.The Rangers will be quick to tell you they are not event security, but rather volunteers who mediate disputes, aid the dehydrated, and prevent yahoos from making your fuel store blow up with their cigarette. They are effectively the nervous system of the community, helping to maintain its health and sanity. It’s also their job to act relatively normal in front of LEOs, emergency medical personnel, and other agents of Reality Camp. They remain sober so you don’t have too — and they count the hours till they get off duty.Compare with: Greeter.

The ability of experienced Rangers to fade from notice until they’re needed but appear the moment they are is something I have always admired. It confuses me when people get nervous when they come visit your camp — don’t stop what you’re doing, just smile, offer them some water or a place to sit down, and get back to it.

After being a Burner for more than a decade I recently had my first experience rangering at a small regional event. It was an great experience and I know I’ll do it again.

Other entries in A BURNER LEXICON can be found at


Centre Camp Café

Center Camp at night. Black Rock City, 2011. Photo by lemur2.

Center Camp at night. Black Rock City, 2011. Photo by lemur2.

Centre Camp Café. noun:
One of the three sanctioned places on playa that you can spend money, Centre Camp serves café style drinks 24 hours a day for the entire length of the burn. Even while the man is burning there’s a few dedicated volunteers pushing coffee, chai latte, and lemonade.
Whether or not you agree with Centre Camp Café being a legitimate exception to the no commerce rule, you’ll find it does fill it’s role as gathering place for the community with a certain style, and it’s a lovely place to sit and watch the crazy and the beautiful go by.

Tips for your coffee run.
Don’t jump the line. It’s so rude, and you throw away the chance to make friends with the people around you.
Make friends with the people around you. You are at Burning Man for F sake, smile and say, “Hello, how’s your burn?”
Bring your own cup.
Tip your server.


CENTER CAMP, –PROPER NOUN, All communities need a central gathering place. In historic times, a town green provided a place to meet, share and graze the livestock. Black Rock City is no different (especially if you include people in animal costumes). You will find Center Camp where the two great arms of the curved temporary city meet, facing into the heart of Burning Man where an open expanse ofplaya surrounds the effigy.

Center Camp is a massive shade structure — the official website claims it is “largest temporary freestanding tensile shade structure in the world” — topped with flags that add visibility in the high desert winds. It is one place in the city where you can guarantee finding someone else awake at any time of day or night.

A performance inside Center Camp. Black Rock City, 2007. Photo by Elaine.

A performance inside Center Camp. Black Rock City, 2007. Photo by Elaine.

Center Camp is a favorite place to get out of the heat & enjoy entertainment of all kinds. It has formal spaces for music, spoken word & other art but often plays host to spontaneous performances by creativeparticipants seeking a ready audience. It is a refreshing place to stay out of the sun, and its lights and promise of relaxed human company are a beacon at night.

The lexicographer often wonders whether Center Camp exists partly as a set of training wheels for ardent consumerists, terrified at the prospect of an entire week without anywhere to spend money on a morning latte.

For more entries in A BURNER LEXICON, visit

Trash fence

Trash fence. noun:
Black Rock City’s perimeter is marked by miles and miles of plastic orange storm fencing, laid out in that iconic pentagon. This is the trash fence. It stops most wind blown trash from ending up miles down wind in the open desert.
The Trash Fence, as a location, almost always refers to the far point of the pentagon, directly in line with the 12 O’clock axis. It’s a worthwhile trek in the middle of the night and the farthest you are going to get from the noise and chaos. A great place to look out into the deep dark empty desert, or to watch the sunrise from, it’s a common place for Daft Punk’s art car to stop and do a show, and for the annual Merry Pranksters picnic.

A sign welcomes visitors to That Thing In The Desert. Photo by Keith Harris.

BLACK ROCK CITY, –NOUN, There’s a very old legend that talks about a wonderland of luxuries and pleasures that disappears mysteriously into the dust when the visitor tries to return. Black Rock City, home of the annual Burning Man festival, may be the closest thing humans have made to this mythical place. Located on the playa of the Black Rock Desert, it becomes one of the largest cities in the state for the single annual week of its existence and then fades back into empty desert.

Black Rock City, or BRC, is not just a random assortment of tents and mutant vehicles. It has organized city streets laid out on a grid system. The city is surrounded by a TRASH FENCE which both delineates its territory and helps ensure the event leaves no trace on the surrounding desert. There is an airport and a functioning post office where participants can send and receive snail mail. In addition, visitors can find theme camps acting as bars, pancake stands, yoga studios, massage spas, and dance clubs (among others) all functioning on thegift economy.

Although there is no commerce, Burners pay hundreds of dollars in ticket fees to attend; these are effectively taxes which fund large scale artworks, employ certain core workers of the Burning Man organization, and line the pockets of the Bureau of Land Management and other agents of the default world.

See also: Department of Public WorksPyropolis, Regional Burn

I know several canny Burners who make it a regular practice to MOOP the trash fence as all kinds of delightful surprises blow away and are caught there.

Thanks to Ghoast for contributions to this entry.

Other entries in A BURNER LEXICON can be found at


Playafied. verb:
Dust coated, for ever. One of the joys of playa dust is how it gets on you and in you and never leaves. Every veteran burner ever has had the experience of cleaning a playfied object over and over, only to have that fine patina of dust return as it dried. It’s maddeningly frustrating, especially when it’s that truck you borrowed from a relative, and promised it’d come back in good shape.
There’s lots of supposedly good techniques out there for getting rid of the dust, and many work to some degree, but at some point you give up and accept that your stuff is playafied for good.

Facebook replies:

  • Merry and then – six months later, you are delighted when you open that trunk or bag – and you are right back on the playa!
  • Toi Box My favourite getting rid of dust technique(on things you can’t just throw in the laundry with vinegar) is “endust’ or a similar furniture polish that is fruit oil based. The hydro carbons actually cling to the dust and help to remove it, while the oil help to condition after a harsh dry alkaline playa. Very successful on leather (use a spray version a toothbrush to get into cracks and seems), somewhat on canvas, not so much on felt. Be prepared for your more porous black materials to forever turn “playa black” which is a slight grey colour or “playa white” which is a really light tan or beige.
  • MizAnna My not-so-minivan is permaplayafied. For clothes, before washing or endusting, I like to take an air compressor to them to blow whatever out that I can. Then clean away and hope for the best!
  • Xray N Vinegar works to a point. I have a couple of shirts that will never be the same

Playa brain

Playa brain

noun: The sun, heat, noise, dehydration, lack of sleep, and any chemical/alchohol based rampages you may have been on *may* affect your cognitive abilities at some point during your burning man experience. Playa Brain may cause you to: make bad life choices, make good life choices that you never would have otherwise considered, lose your keys, find Jah, forget you long term life partners name, ditch the thing you’ve been planning on all year to spend the night with a dubstep DJ, or even high-tail it for the nearest city.. There is no predicting how a burn is going to go, even for an old dust for blood. Sometimes it’s going to affect you more than others and you are going to make choices that you wouldn’t otherwise. It is not uncommon to see virgins too overwhelmed to move, and jaded veterans moved to tears. Expect the usual tricks that your brain plays on you when you are over-tired and over-stimulated, then multiply by the amount of chaos affecting your personal burn experience. Prepare for Playa Brain the best you can, hide a spare set of keys, and try and go with it, have a nap an Emergen-C, and more water.



Polycamperous. aj:

There are those among us for whom things are complicated. Their lives are full of scheduling, hard choices, and far too much communication. Some say they are uncommitted, want to much, and just can’t settle down. However, with good planning, a willingness to compromise, and even more communication it’s a lifestyle that works for many.
The polycamper is hard to define; some sleep one place and play another; some have several tents, while some have none; some keep their commitments small, and some actually lead more than one camp.
When there is a polycamper in your camp, you can probably rely on them more than you expect. The adage, “when you need something done, ask a busy person” applies, they likely know their commitments and schedule and are able to communicate their availability more clearly than someone who is “probably available Wednesday”


Frat, noun

The natural opposite of the Hippie, the Frat comes to Burner events for the party, nudity and sex. Which are a fairly decent set of priorities. However, Frats could care less about the art, the community, or the culture; often to the point that they don’t realise it’s happening, other than when it’s providing spectacle.
The good news is, it’s only a phase. Most Frats grow up, and some of them eventually get it and become contributing members of the Burner community.


B.Y.O.C. verb

Stands for Bring Your Own Cup, and is a fine example of how radical self reliance blends well with gifting and community spirit.
At burner events the world over, people will gladly pour you a drink and share their meal. Even if they are not providing a bar, they often make extra, just for sharing. However, it’s a lot easier to gift you if you have your own cup. Many playa bars won’t serve you unless you have your own. If they do, they’ll hand you a disposable one that becomes your MOOP to deal with and you have to carry it around until you get it back to camp. Most burners head out for the day with out at least a cup, and many will tuck a bowl and a spoon into their day bag, just in case.

Toi Box replied: Tips for BYOC:

* you probably want something that can hold about 8- 12 ounces. (sippy cups are a little small)
*Get something with a lid, you may not be able to finish your gift before you or your party is ready to move on and a lid really helps. especially if you are on a bike.
* Something with a wide mouth to make it easy to clean out as all kinds of things are going to get poured in there.
*Cups with caribeners attached to them are awesome. Stainless steel ones with lids can be purchased at 3Vets in Vancouver or Capital Iron in Victoria



Glamping. noun

Sometimes the evening’s activities call for a little black dress, but when you are a glamper that’s less of a problem than choosing between heels, flats, wellingtons, or platform rocker boots.
Beautiful, luxurious, glamorous, and ridiculous. From portable hot tubs to full service cocktail bars, Burners make camping in adverse conditions look good.
Of course there’s trade-offs, Glampers rarely fit their gear in the back of a hatch back, and occasionally are still tearing down camp long after other people are back home, but what’s the rush when you brought a real bed and a propane powered shower.
So if you think ‘roughing it’ should be saved for the bedroom, not the campground, you might be a glamper.