Guy W. Farmer: David (Pershing County) vs. Goliath (Burning Man)
September 1, 2012
It’s a David vs. Goliath situation in the recent lawsuit filed by the huge, well-funded, Burning Man organization against tiny Pershing County. I hope Pershing County wins.
First, a bit of background: Black Rock City LLC, the San Francisco-based entity that operates the annual naked drug festival on the desert playa near Gerlach, sued Pershing County in Reno federal court last month for attempting to raise county fees and enforce a state law that burners say would effectively end the annual bacchanal as they know and love it.
“While Black Rock officials want to characterize our motives as a big money grab, the truth is that the money is of little concern to the Burning Man organization,” Pershing County District Attorney Jim Shirley told me in an email interview last week. “Public servants should not back down just because a large multi-million-dollar corporation wants to bully us into not following the law.”
By modest estimates this year’s “non-profit” festival will gross nearly $20 million. In other words, Burning Man is big business.
“This will change the nature of Burning Man,” said festival spokeswoman Marian Goodell. “This is not in the county’s jurisdiction to change the nature of it. It’s not their job.”
She sounded like someone from the big city who’s here to tell a small Nevada county how to conduct its business. Pershing County’s population is approximately 5,500, while the festival attracts more than 60,000 free spirits, many of whom like to go naked and do drugs. Why else would they pay $300 to $400, or more, to bake in the desert sun and endure blinding sandstorms during the Labor Day weekend?
And what’s worse, some of them bring children to an X-rated event featuring sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and a lot of “radical self-expression,” whatever that is.
Last week a Reno newspaper published an article suggesting that parents consider taking their children to Burning Man. For my part, I urge local police to enforce a state law that regulates “obscene, indecent, vulgar and/or lewd behavior” on public property.
That’s what caused Ms. Goodell’s heartburn.
“Our job is to protect those who cannot protect themselves,” Shirley told me. “There have been children removed from their parents … due to neglect and abuse. While Black Rock City … wants to portray the event as a fairytale land in their public relations, they fail to mention serious crimes that have occurred in the past and are expected to occur in the future.”
From personal experience I know that some questionable activities take place out there on that remote desert playa. While visiting Burning Man in 2008, I saw a naked middle-aged man cavorting near the area set aside for young children. Why worry? Because known pedophiles have been arrested at Burning Man, that’s why.
I hope our courts ensure that a small Nevada county isn’t steamrollered by a powerful Bay Area money machine. Better yet, I continue to dream of the day when Burning Man moves back to California, where it belongs, and parents leave their children home, where they belong.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a longtime critic of Burning Man.