9 Unexpected Ways Festivals and Politics Are ConnectedArticle by: Becky Neil|@beckyneilsf
Thu June 30, 2016 | 00:00 AM
With election year upon us, my conversations have taken a turn for the political. I’ve participated in heated debates over hot-button campaign issues such as immigration, gun control, healthcare and abortion rights, minimum wage and job security. Which candidate will be the best to lead the United States of America into new territories of equality and justice?
These conversations matter, and they especially apply when I’m celebrating community, creativity, and expression at festivals throughout the season. In fact, utopian festival experiences can be a platform for broader social change: As we are transformed by festival experiences, we in turn transform the society we inhabit.
Actually, festivals have played a rich political role throughout history. In nomadic and tribal life, festivals marked significant milestones in community life such as planting, harvest, marriage, entry into adulthood, or trade markets. In Western civilization, dramatic theatrical performances in Greece were early examples of festivals – they often lasted an entire day or longer. In The Republic, Plato advocated for state-approved public performances that exemplified the most righteous human behavior as a method to create an obedient and well-behaved population. During the medieval period, the French royalty produced festivals for the laboring classes to blow off steam in silly and serious competitions, be entertained by performers like jesters and minstrels, and generally forget about how oppressed their lives were and how much they suffered on a day-to-day basis. Modern music festivals emerged on the contemporary political scene during the 1960s. The massive Woodstock gathering inspired a generation’s worth of peace advocates and connected thousands of young activists.
I know many festival attendees are looking to escape from the stresses and pressures of day-to-day living. It’s hard to live in a world that sometimes seems so broken, and festivals offer a moment’s reprise into something fun, light, and happy. Yet political issues are more relevant to the festival experience than you realize. Remember how security treats you on the way into the festival? That involves law enforcement and crowd control tactics including profiling, privacy rights, and consent to search. The presence of specially trained medical staff is a harm reduction effort that’s a result of restrictive federal drug and health education policies.
Even food vending options at festivals are subject to the service codes of the Food & Drug Administration as well as permitting and site reviews by local inspectors. When you peek into the backstage of festival production, you realize how intricately festivals are intertwined with political processes. If you want a better festival experience as an attendee or producer, you will eventually have to become involved in policy advocacy at the local or national levels.
To that end, some producers and organizations are doing innovative and intentional political work at festival sites all over the U.S. Here are eight examples of how politics is at play at festivals this summer.
DanceSafe promotes health and safety within the electronic music community. Onsite at festivals and online at home, the organization offers test kits to identify substance purity levels, information, and tips for staying safe and healthy while partying. In addition to this important education and awareness work, they are collaborating with the Drug Policy Alliance on the #SaferPartying campaign and efforts to amend the RAVE act. They’ll be at the DoLaB's Woogie Weekend in early July.
2. The Festival Lawyer
Lawyer Cameron Bowman writes a blog and offers workshops at festivals with practical advice about your rights at festivals. Fest300 has published a slew of fun and useful articles festies can keep in their back pockets in case anything goes awry during a festival. View them here. Keep up to date with his festival appearances via his Facebook page.
Have you registered to vote yet? Find HeadCount at the next concert or festival you attend. HeadCount does arguably the most literal political work at festivals: they register attendees to vote. Their work encourages music fans to participate in active democracy, thereby increasing the amount of festival attendees who are voting on important policy issues.
CleanVibe’s mission is to make festivals more sustainable by reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills. Their teams of staff and volunteers handle the cleanup and garbage sorting for major events like Bonnaroo, High Sierra Music Festival , and Governors Ball, to name a few. CleanVibes aims to show concertgoers how easy it is to minimize their waste footprint in hopes that they might apply this knowledge to their daily lives.
5. Project Radical Inclusion
This documentary film by Burning Man theme camp Que Viva asks a hard question: how inclusive is Burning Man, really? Through interviewing attendees and offering attendance scholarships to artists of ethnic minority, they hope to inspire more conversations about race and inequality at festivals.
6. Digital Detox
Digital Detox produces Camp Grounded, a festival where adults can go to get away from digital technology and reconnect with a playful, embodied human experience. I’m including this as a bonus because Digital Detox’s work is more strongly about cultural change (appropriate uses of technology) rather than systemic political change (net neutrality).
Deeply aware of their position as outsiders bearing U.S.-based economic power, Envision’s production team has worked hard to establish mutually respectful relationships with Costa Rican governments and organizations. Not only does the festival offer its attendees educational workshops teaching permaculture and primitive survival skills, Envision partners with Costa Rican organizations to teach sustainable environmental practices to the region’s population.
A nominee in our 2015 Best Fest Quest, PorcFest is an annual festival produced by the Free State Project which celebrates freedom and liberty in New Hampshire. The Free State Project itself operates on the “power in numbers” political strategy. They have gained the stated commitments of 20,000 dedicated libertarians who promise to move to New Hampshire and agree to live by the political philosophy of limited government and maximum people’s rights. PorcFest enables potential recruits to learn about this approach to systemic change and meet likeminded people.
9. Her Forest
Electric Forest's new women's-only space is the most high-profile move by a mainstream music festival in the U.S. Her Forest is a collaboration between women and is intended to create the most supportive, comforting and empowering environment possible for women at the festival. Within Her Forest, there is a Women's Group Camp, a Women's Circle, and a special Forest Women Panel. It's intended to not only serve as a platform to share goals for the future of the music festival community, but for women's empowerment and equality in society at large, as well.
Festivals are social laboratories in which normal daily social rules can be tested, rewritten, or discarded temporarily. So, how will you change society by attending a festival this year?