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Defending the Solstice Bonfire

Bonfire - Latest Updates

Police Quash Summer 2006 Bonfire

Letter to Park Service

Letters of Support

Click diagram for outline of our bonfire plans

Click here for latest bonfire updates

Reclaiming's Response to Ritual Bonfire Threat

by George Franklin - Photo by Otter, prior to a Solstice ritual

Here's a report on San Francisco Reclaiming's response to threats to our traditional Solstice ritual on Ocean Beach. This report is from December 2006. Click here for latest bonfire updates.

Background - Prior to the December 20, 2006 ritual, the planning group sent a polite letter to the GGNRA, which manages the beach, stating our intent to return to our usual location, and outlining our rights. Reclaiming folks also sent about 60 emails in support of our rights (now posted on website - see link at top). GGNRA's final response simply reiterated the no-fire policy and the supposed rationales (the actual reason for the new policy, according to a former member of the Ocean Beach Task Force, is funding shortfalls - GGNRA doesn't want to spend money patrolling the beach).

We arrived at the beach around 3:30pm. While the planners circled and went over logistical details, some adults and kids drew a giant pentacle in the sand, with the fire circle at the center. Then they gathered 50-60 feathers and stuck them in the sand in a ring around the fire, like a picket fence.

A "beach bonfire community meeting" a couple of weeks ago had planned a nonviolent response in case of police presence. We did a walk-through of the response plan prior to the ritual, with about 150 people joining one of three groups:

  • Rocks who surrounded the fire and linked arms (about 20 people)
  • Trees who formed a forest to the side, where they would sing, chant, and hold the energy for the whole space - a safe haven for families and those who did not want to risk arrest (80-100 people)
  • Mists who floated around the periphery, dancing and singing (40-50 people)
  • We also had a half-dozen Winds (police liaisons), and a bunch of Sheepdogs who facilitated movement

As might be guessed, it was rather chaotic, but also very beautiful. When the Mists first floated past the Rocks, I was confused, despite knowing our plan - "What's going on?" - I think authorities would be just as confused.

After the role play, we had each of these subgroups plan a short invocation of an element/direction - Trees invoked earth, Rocks did fire, Mists water, and Winds air, which led us into the ritual itself.

I have to admit, I was looking over my shoulder much of the time, expecting uniformed visitors. But for whatever reason, they stayed away, even following the ritual, which is when they showed up last Summer. Lots of people stayed afterwards, and finally about 9pm, the last 30 of us devoked the fire and put it out. We cleaned the space, trusting high tide to wipe out the small remains of the fire, and left the beach together.

Why did the park service police not make an appearance? Here are some popular rumors:

  • They got the date wrong, expecting us on Solstice Day instead of Solstice Eve - this is plausible, but since we know that they visited our website (they told us so), it's surprising that they didn't notice the correct date
  • Someone in GGNRA deliberately "got the date wrong," to avoid a confrontation
  • They were bluffing, and know any interference would be a violation of our constitutional rights - so they tried to scare us off, but don't intend to enforce the policy
  • They want to enforce it, but don't have enough "troops" to cover the sprawling beach
  • They are internally divided, and couldn't agree on a response to our response to their policy
  • We were between the worlds, and the authorities couldn't see us
  • None of the above

Regardless, unless something changes in the next six months, we have to assume they could interfere with future beach rituals. We now have a tested response plan, and a lot of folks who have done a walk-through. Maybe the Trees/Rocks/Mists will become a regular feature of beach rituals.

For Reclaiming, this may have been a first - integrating a nonviolent action response into one of our seasonal rituals. We have experience with adding rituals to actions, but I wonder if anyone has previously incorporated a full-blown action into an already-planned ritual?

Thanks to everyone who took part in the various aspects of this campaign - the people who attended public hearings, the 60 or so who wrote emails, the twenty people (see below) who met to plan the nonviolent response and the ritual, and to everyone who came out to the beach last night.

Also in this section of our website are background articles on the bonfire issue, plus with a collection of the 60 emails sent to GGNRA, which give a great snapshot of the range of political thinking found among Reclaiming folks - see links at top.

Lastly, since we have no photos of our ritual-action (due to our "no photography at rituals" policy), here's a 2004 biotech action in SF which used the same "Rocks/Mists/Trees" format -- lots of photos and a narrative of the action - click here

Bonfire Planners and Ritual Planners

I've written these bonfire updates, but I was one of a large group of organizers - here are the twenty people who met over the past few weeks to plan the response and the ritual:


Click here for latest bonfire updates

Post comments on the bonfire issue to Reclaiming elists, or email your thoughts to

Come back in late Spring for updates and organizing plans.

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