Well, in an attempt to research all the facts, I've been keeping this on the down-low for the past month. But now, I'm ready to finally scream it from the rooftops:
The Wednesday edition of Piss Clear -- Black Rock City's independent, alternative newspaper -- was CONFISCATED by the authorities. This was "The Drug Issue," and at least 2000 copies of this particular issue were removed, i.e. stolen, from the front of our camp on Wednesday afternoon -- when no one was around.
During the event, I had suspected that this was what had happened. Having done this "playa newspaper publishing" thing for nine years now, I have a pretty good idea of how fast the newspapers go when they get distributed. And "The Drug Issue" went FAST -- a little TOO fast. They were all gone by around 6 PM that afternoon.
I knew it was going to be a popular issue, but I didn't think they'd disappear from our racks and boxes that quickly. Despite my initial gut reaction notion that a good chunk of them had been stolen, I originally had dismissed it. After all, who the hell would steal a whole bunch of Piss Clears? In my Black Rock City utopian haze, I had just assumed that "The Drug Issue" was REALLY popular.
But something about that assessment nagged at me. It might have had something to do with the fact that all that afternoon, across the Esplandade from our camp, four Pershing County Sheriff and/or BLM vehicles were parked. This was not the usual parking spot for official vehicles. We openly discussed that they were keeping an eye on us due to "The Drug Issue," and then, once again, we dismissed it, chalking it up to paranoia. It seemed silly, and besides, we were right near Center Camp, where the authorities often congregated anyway. Right?
But as the week went on, I started suspecting that something was up. Despite the increased population of the city, the Thursday and Friday issues still didn't go as fast as the Wednesday "Drug Issue." And everyone seemed to be looking for a copy of it. Our camp was deluged with requests for Wednesday's edition. Considering that we printed 8000 issues a day this year, it seemed odd that so few had gotten the issue. But a lot of people had heard about it, or had seen someone in their camp with one copy of it. It was definitely in demand -- and we had no more issues at our camp to distribute. Every copy of the "The Drug Issue" was gone.
It wasn't until I got back to the Default World that I heard a big meeting had allegedly been called on Wednesday afternoon at First Camp, which is BMorg headquarters in Black Rock City. Supposedly, it was a meeting between the Burning Man organization, the Pershing County Sheriff Dept., and the Bureau of Land Management. Amongst the heated topics of the meeting was one particular issue of Piss Clear. Yup, that day's edition of "The Drug Issue."
According to my anonymous source -- who is, let's say, very high up on the BMorg food chain -- the authorities wanted "The Drug Issue" removed. This was actually just one thing among several issues that were being dealt with in the meeting, but let's just deal with the topic at hand. The BLM and the Pershing County Sheriff had problems with "The Drug Issue," and wanted the Burning Man organization to deal with it -- in other words, they wanted the Rangers to confiscate it.
Supposedly, BMorg told the the authorities that they couldn't do that -- that Piss Clear was an independent newspaper with no ties to the organization, and that they couldn't censor what we printed. After all, the mayor of Reno can't confiscate issues of the Reno Gazette-Journal just because he doesn't like what's printed in it. It's the same thing in Black Rock City, the BMorg argued.
Allegedly, a compromise was reached, and it was this: the Rangers would remove the remaining Piss Clear newspapers at the Center Camp Cafe, since that was considered under the jurisdiction of the BMorg. This was seen as a way of placating the authorities that something was actively being done by the BMorg about the situation.
I was told that only a small, one-inch high stack of "The Drug Issue" was left at the Center Camp Cafe by the time the Rangers got there to remove them. That story seems to check out, as we deliver a box of newspapers to the Cafe around noon, and they're usually all gone by around 5 or 6 PM.
However, all of this information now sheds new light on how an entire box of Piss Clear disappeared from our camp so fast on Wednesday afternoon.
As the day started to cool off, we left our camp to go explore Black Rock City. When we left around 5:30 PM, the Sheriff and BLM vehicles were still parked across the Esplanade from us. And there were still plenty of Piss Clears in the box at the front of our camp. When we returned about two or three hours later, all of the Piss Clears, with the exception of a few left in the rack, were gone.
Knowing that the authorities had a problem with "The Drug Issue," it now seems perfectly obvious what happened. The authorities STOLE a box of Piss Clear -- about 2000 issues.
This is basically the reprehensible crime of art theft, and it disappoints me that not only does this happen in Black Rock City, but that it was done on the part of the government authorities there.
Supposedly, the Burning Man organization knew nothing of Piss Clear being confiscated other than the small stack that the Rangers removed from Center Camp (and distributed amongst themselves, we can only hope). They had no idea that an entire box of newspapers had disappeared from our camp that afternoon.
Now that I've vented this whole story, I really don't know what my next step should be. I'll be honest -- I feel pretty powerless in this situation. And angry. Publishing Piss Clear is my art, just like building a theme camp is for someone else. When I invest over 100 hours of time into a project such as this, only to have it stolen, it's understandably quite upsetting.
And what really pissed me off is that during the event, no one from BMorg even bothered to tell me about any this. If "The Drug Issue" was such a problem, then why wasn't a dialogue initiated? Why didn't someone come over to our camp to discuss it?
If we had simply been asked by the BMorg or the authorities to remove the newspapers, for fear that "The Drug Issue" would cause problems and jeopardize the future of the event, then of course we would have complied. We love Burning Man, and understand the political compromises that must be made in order to keep it all running smoothly.
But instead, the authorities simply stole our newspapers. This would be like, in 2001, the Sheriff going in and just taking the Jiffy Lube sign, instead of asking the camp's organizers to relocate the sign within their camp.
Bottom line: it's art theft, which according to all the recent BMorg literature, is a crime second only to stealing babies.
One final thought: did the authorities even bother to READ "The Drug Issue"? It definitely wasn't called "The PRO-Drug Issue." Filled with cautionary testimonials, it wasn't exactly a glamorous portrait of drug use on the playa. Sure, the cover was cheeky and faux-controversial -- a mirrow on the playa with the Burning Man logo on it made out of lines of "cocaine" (which was actually confectioner's sugar). The fact is, over half of the drug guide entries were about negative experiences. We even recommended, for the first time ever, not doing psychedelics or Ecstacy on the playa.
And as for the tongue-in-cheek article entitled, "Taking the High Road: How To Score Drugs On The Playa," it wasn't like it contained any REAL useful information. This was apparently the article that alarmed the authorities the most -- but had they read beyond the headline, they would have found an article long on sass, humor, and wit, but short on any hard facts or info.
At the end of the month, the Piss Clear web site -- http://www.blue-period.com/pissclear
-- should be updated with all of 2003's issues, including "The Drug Issue." If you missed it on the playa, at least you'll be able to download a PDF or read it on the web.