"I walk the line between good and evil..." - Alien Sex Fiend
One of the toughest things of this Burning Man was walking that narrow line -- to one side, your focus on the positive aspects of all the beauty and creativity around you; on the other, wild rumors of horrible devestation and chaos going on somewhere else. Hopefully you are one of the astute readers who knows that the purveyers of "news" (CNN, Fox News, etc.) have made absolutely sure that we respond to fear, even when it's the reaction to seeing a situation on the TV that doesn't affect us, nor can we affect the situation. I'm not talking about compassion -- that's basic human nature, and we all have it. The distinction is that the compassionate person wants to help with the situation, to make a difference. News stories rarely provide a way to do this. Instead, they tap into your fear that you could easily be the next victim... "stay tuned" to their channel to "stay informed".
Sure, there were a handful of people at Burning Man that were indeed from New Orleans, and many more that had loved ones or friends there, and it was important that they got some real information about what was going on. But for those of us with no connection to the place, we're left with the uncomfortable dilemma of what to do with the news. There's really nothing we can do about the situation, nor do we know anyone affected, but is it heartless of us if we want to have a good time regardless? And to the credit of many, I don't think this dilemma was a big problem, and since Burning Man is a virtual news blackout many likely hadn't even heard the news, or heard very very little. However, since I worked at the radio station I had to be somewhat informed of this to make sure the word did get out to the people who needed to know.
In reflection, this may have been one of the better things that I had a hand in doing this year (albeit a minor one). Somewhere around the beginning of the week news started trickling in about the situation that Katrina had given to New Orleans, and a few people were coming in wanting to get the word out. Luckily there was a Chicago man who'd contacted us before Burning Man about working coordinate emergency communications to the burners. Although this was more in case of flooding of the playa rather than the flooding of New Orleans (the rains had been heavy this season in our area of the desert), this was a perfect test to see whether coordination of other Burning Man radio stations could be done to simulcast important news, and also whether we could pre-record an announcement and deliver it on CD to other stations as well.
Both of these were accomplished to some degree, and as a result we were able to get emergency information to the people. Some camps had set up free phone booths for fun or as part of their camp; many (or all?) of these camps offered up to relocate their booths to central locations for the use of people needing to contact the outside world. Collections for hurricane relief funds were established at the exit gates. I believe that some members of the DPW (Department of Public Works, the people who construct and dismantle the physical infrastructure of Burning Man) volunteered to go to New Orleans to help firsthand with things, since they're people that have experience doing hard work in difficult situations (like the desert of Burning Man).
Although none of these efforts were any of my brainstorms, I'm at least proud that I was able to be part of the radio station that led the broadcasting efforts to inform people about them. Thanks to that, people were able to secure contact with their families, donations were collected for disaster relief, and perhaps in some indirect way, I was able to help the situation, and make a difference.
In part 3, my best BM coups, and worst snafus. "Stay tuned"...