For many burners, the life we lead is one of beauty and joy. Our community thrives in an environment it helps to create, one that is filled with music and laughter. We have silly clothes that make us look great, we have dancing and merriment packed weekend to weekend, we have the luxury of appreciating the world we have helped to create. Rare are the times that we as citizens of our subversive society are forced to contend with real hardships or make difficult decisions based on what we need and not what we want.
In the wake of the east coast’s devastating Hurricane Sandy, the need for our community to step up to the plate and do what we can for our (perhaps) less fabulously dressed neighbors is more apparent than ever. We do not live in a safe little bubble; it’s one of the reasons so many of us choose to be the change we want to see in the world (thanks for that one, Ghandi). Sometimes we are left standing with our blessings piled high around us while our neighbors are utterly devastated by events totally out of their control. Natural disasters like the earthquakes in Christchurch, NZ, the tsunami in Japan, or the wake of destruction that buried New Jersey and New York City during Hurricane Sandy can leave people feeling as if their entire life has been taken away from them.
What greater impact could a community of artists and innovators hope to have on our planet than lending a hand to those in need? The burner community has been working diligently for years all over the world to help others, but in these difficult[AE1] times, where only a few months go by without reading “thousands of lives ended or displaced, billions of dollars in damages, total annihilation” in the news, what can we do to make a difference?
The answer: absolutely anything at all. It’s all you can do.
As a field operative of a non-profit disaster relief organization (Operation Thunderstick) that responded to the Japanese tsunami in 2011, I felt, as I rode through the washed out landscape of Japan, that I had just wasted my time and money. It looked totally hopeless. How could a handful of people, or even a thousand people, do anything at all to rebuild what was lost here? The answer is surprisingly simple. You can dig one old lady’s house out of the mud in about a day. You can clean out one farmer’s field of debris in a couple of afternoons. It might be one of a dozen such farms in the county, but while there are still over a thousand acres to clean out, today you made a real, sincere difference to that one family. When the New Zealand burner crew walks into Christchurch, they know they can’t help the entire city at once, instead they focus on helping each individual person seeking to grieve for their loss. This past weekend, when a team composed of Burners Without Borders and Operation Thunderstick went in to help with important demolition efforts in New Jersey – while yes, there are 160 houses that need to be destroyed before the town can rebuild – these people were able to take down one. That one still counts.
The idea that you can help improve the world you live in doesn’t have to be reactive either. This past Fall saw the advent of a new community event in Philadelphia called “Get Down & Pick It Up!” Headed by local artist Gaetan Spurgin and the Space Pirates art collective, this was an outdoor dance party held during the day at a famous local swimming hole that has seen much better days. The subversive community known for its love of nightlife showed up on a crisp autumn day and spent hours cleaning up this spot so that after the first big thaw this coming Spring it would be substantially cleaner than in years past. Motivational beats and light refreshments were provided free, thanks to donations from DJs and sound technicians in the crew. The result was a successful day spent cleaning up something that every Philadelphian can enjoy. The difference is still made, one park, creek or vacant lot at a time.
Whether you are rocking for disaster relief, partying for peace, or just getting down to help clean things up, there is no great overseer saying that you can’t have fun while helping those less fortunate. Is demolishing someone’s ruined house a somber and sobering experience? Absolutely. Does ripping up some floorboards and smashing through walls make you feel like a totally awesome badass? Of course it does. You can help make these humanitarian efforts fun and engaging, increasing not only the likelihood of attendance but also success. A formal, sit-down, $50-a-plate dinner with a silent auction can raise a ton of money for breast cancer awareness or children’s literacy programs, but you can attract a lot more attention and resources to supporting these causes if you can get people excited about helping. As it happens, chances are that the people whose lives you are trying to rebuild might appreciate the fact that you are trying to help them and having fun at the same time. When your whole world is crumbling around you, a warm smile and a good laugh can make all the difference.