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Party Lines

Protesters are torn between Burning Man and the RNC.

For activists, it’s a scheduling nightmare: The eighteenth annual Burning Man festival—when 25,000-odd revelers descend on the Nevada desert (the Google guys take the company plane) for a weeklong party—overlaps with the Republican National Convention. And would-be demonstrators can’t decide whether to pounce on the agitprop opportunity of a lifetime or flee to their annual bacchanalia of art, electronic music, tent building, and fire dancing.

“It’s like a metaphor of crossroads,” says Speed Levitch, a sometime tour guide and devoted “burner.” Burning Man is August 30 to September 5, when the temporary tent city is set ablaze; the convention runs August 28 to September 2, during which time one hopes nothing will be ignited.

Most members of Billionaires for Bush, the group that pretends to include heiresses and Halliburton CEOs, are staying in the city. “Several veteran Billionaire burners have decided not to attend Burning Man,” says member Pam Perd. Andrew Boyd, 41, the group’s Schmoozer-in-Chief, plans to focus on protests here, like one on August 29 in front of the Plaza Hotel, where members are dressing up as usual in top hats and tiaras.

“If I had my preference, I would be at Burning Man, but I feel like I have an obligation to be here,” says Jonny America, 29. “It is a sacrifice; it’s like not seeing your family for the holidays.” Instead, he has organized a “Paula Revere” ride down Lexington Avenue alerting New Yorkers to Republicans coming “one if by chartered jet, two if by SUV.”

John Perry Barlow wants it both ways. The 56-year-old philosopher, who for seven years has imported a swimming pool to his “Otter Camp” in the desert, is organizing 70 people to dance around the city in “Republican-rich zones.” “I’ve been a Republican,” says Barlow. “Most can’t dance.” On September 3, he’ll go to Burning Man to dance the rest of the weekend.

And a few will forgo protesting altogether. The writer Daniel Pinchbeck, who’s been to Burning Man four times, was set to skip it, until he watched the Democratic convention on TV. “All my enthusiasm evaporated when I saw how protesters were kept in pens,” he says. “In some ways, going to Burning Man is just as much of a political statement.”

August 23, 2004 issue of New York Magazine

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