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#BurningMan and Paul Addis: The KDVS Interview (Part 2)

3:32 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on this topic: Burning Man, the Death of Paul Addis and Radical Activism, Part 1 of the KDVS Interview

On November 16, Richard Estes interviewed me on his KDVS program Speaking In Tongues about Burning Man and the recent suicide of Paul Addis. This is part 2 of the interview, in which we talk more about the effects of police and pranksters on countercultures and activist movements.

A cluster of NYPD arrests an activist on a night march

Arrests at Occupy Wall Street. The question of when and how to involve police in activist or countercultural movements is often a controversial one.

Speaking in Tongues: It might be useful for me to clarify or to be more specific about my intention with this question. One of the issues which emerged in relation to Occupy, and it occurred in Oakland, and I think Occupy Wall Street and Sacramento as well, was this question about assaultive behavior within the occupations, particularly as directed toward women. And so the issue of whether or not to report such crimes to the police — essentially whether to engage the police at all — was at times a controversial one. Was there a similar type of response initially in terms of seeking police assistance at Burning Man?

Kit O’Connell: I think the police have been involved when something like that happened. At the very beginning, there are stories of people taking it into their own hands and telling people to leave or things like that. But police have been called out for specific incidents. It’s something where the Organization does make that call from time to time.

But I also think the police to some extent arrived on their own, just suddenly becoming aware that there was this huge gathering happening in their midst every year and it was an opportunity — obviously there were safety issues but of course also an opportunity for revenue generation as far as giving out things like speeding tickets to people driving around in the desert. So I think there was a need for order at some point but also there was this sort of encroachment of the police into this separate space much like in Occupy where they weren’t always invited but they appeared anyway and had to be negotiated with one way or another.

SIT:  One of the impressions I’m getting from hearing you describe what transpired with Addis in Burning Man, it draws my attention to what has been sort of a — I don’t know if conflict is the right word, but competing social perspectives within anti-authoritarian movements whether you want to call them anarchist or whatever — between those who see such movements as an opportunity for individualization and celebrating the individual with the least amount of social constraints possible, and those who see autonomous communities within the tradition of someone like Colin Ward, who celebrated communal forms of social organization within the United Kingdom that often took extremely mundane forms like house squatting or organizing a sports league where people were acting nonhierarchically and were working autonomously outside of a capitalist relationship. That’s the type of tension that I perceive when I hear about this situation with Addis within Burning Man.

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#BurningMan & Paul Addis: The KDVS Interview (Part 1)

2:41 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on this topic: Burning Man, the Death of Paul Addis and Radical Activism

Remains of the burned Burning Man effigy.

The iconic Burning Man effigy after Paul Addis burned it in 2007.

On November 16, Richard Estes interviewed me on his KDVS program Speaking In Tongues about Burning Man and the recent suicide of Paul Addis. Burning Man centers around an annual festival in a temporary desert city that surrounds a human effigy. This effigy is ritually burned on Saturday night of the week-long event, but Addis was jailed for setting fire to it on the Monday before its scheduled destruction.

Here is a part one of the transcript of our conversation.

Speaking In Tongues: We are fortunate enough to have Kit O’Connell from Austin, Texas. I invited him on the air today to speak about an article he wrote which appeared on his website as well as Firedoglake about Paul Addis.

Paul Addis was someone who was involved with Burning Man and I believe he may have been involved with Occupy as well — I’ll be asking Kit about that momentarily — but his life I believe is one that raises a lot of significant questions about radical activism, the people involved with it and how it can be effectively pursued. Kit, welcome to Speaking In Tongues.

Kit O’Connell: Hi, thanks, it’s good to be here.

SIT: Let’s just start with — as you noted in your article Paul Addis committed suicide I believe on Saturday, October 27th.

KO: Right.

SIT: And he did so by jumping in front of BART train, certainly very evocative for a lot of people here because we ride BART and we’re very familiar with it. Who was he and why do you consider his death to be noteworthy?

KO: He was an artist and I think an activist, certainly in his own mind and very involved in the Bay Area in various ways especially in the art scene. He had also been part of Burning Man since even before it began as a member of the Cacophony Society, which is one of the groups that their culture and activities created an origin point for Burning Man. So he was with Burning Man before there was even a Burning Man and he stayed with it through its earliest years when it was a temporary frontier city and he became disillusioned with it as it became more and more organized, especially in the late 90s after some more rules were put in place due to some tragic accidental deaths on the playa.

So they started putting more rules in place, so he wanted– You know, it’s a classic frontier story of someone watching the city they helped create become more orderly than they want. Of not being a frontier anymore but instead being a metropolis.

SIT: Kit, can I just interject a moment.

KO: Sure.

Movie poster for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

SIT: Oddly enough, it sounds vaguely reminiscent of the John Ford film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

KO: I actually haven’t had a chance to see that, to my discredit, so I’ll have to take your word on that. But it’s the sort of story echoed in Westerns and literature as well.

SIT: Lee Marvin is Liberty Valance and Liberty Valance is the man who really created the city. … And then [James Stewart] plays the man who ends up being elected senator. In any event, Liberty Valance, despite his importance to the creation he becomes a sort of drag on the city going forward and eventually he is expelled.

KO: Burning Man always balances a frontier and sort of punk attitude mixed with a sort of loving chilled out hippie atmosphere and Burning Man is often a balancing act between those two personality types to a large extent. And he certainly fell more on that punk frontier aspect of it. As as watched the city become more orderly and more rules-driven he became disillusioned. Of course it’s a running joke that people go to Burning Man and say ‘well it was better last year,’ but he took that seriously.

And he took seriously the joke that people have told for years of let’s shake things up by burning the Man early and he went ahead and did that. He actually did burn the man early in 2007 on Monday night, the first night into Tuesday early morning I believe during a lunar eclipse so much of the city was watching that. All of a sudden they knew the Man was on fire. Paul Addis did it, he was actually charged with destruction of property for lighting the Man early and he served as a felon in jail as a result of that.

SIT: It seems to me that an implication of your article is that this is a serious foundational event in the transformation of Burning Man.

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