This is a response to Crunchy Chickens call for a day of blogging in response to the attempt of the Dervaes Family trademarking the terms "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading."
I live in a tiny town of less than three hundred souls in the Hell’s Canyon area near the Boise border with Oregon. It is the exact opposite of urban. I moved here after many years in Brooklyn, NYC though and so I am an urbanite homesteader in the country. I can’t really say I am an “urban” homesteader. I do identify with the people that do call themselves that but I live in a place where most everyone cans, gardens and potlucks as a way of life. So honestly, I feel a bit silly doing so. It is nothing hip here. It is how people live and have lived together for a hundred years.
Hyperlocavore is built around helping people learn self sufficiency and sharing access to land, tools, seeds - in short coming together to grow more food in cities and suburbs. I’ve been interested in branching out the idea of “self sufficiency” to a broader frame of “community resilience” along with the Transition Town folks have done. I hope to help us all expand the circle outward rather than deepen our cultural tendency to contract into ourselves and families as a survival strategy. I don’t believe any of us can weather the shocks to come alone or in small insular families. It’s just my mother and I here so I understand interdependence in a way I did not 5 years ago. We can’t do it alone.
When I heard about the Dervaes’ ill advised attempt to trademark the common terms “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading” a wave of sadness came over me. Tempers are running hot in the country and the world as the economy contracts and convulses. People really are hurting and so many of us are in a sort of survival mode already. It’s been a really rough two years. I knew it was about to get ugly in the sustainable and self sufficient blogosphere when I first read about it.
So the Dervaes like most of us are trying to find their way to some level of security. I understand that. My first impression of the story was that they had probably hired some lawyer that gave them bad advice. I think I will stick with that, as I prefer to think that over some of the more vitriolic accusations I have seen people make in their anger. I understand their anger though.
I want the family to have a graceful way out and to take it. I asked people to give them room to walk the claim back. The family seems to be digging in for the long fight though at this writing and the wider community is in no mood to let them bow out gracefully. That’s the sad part...lot’s of energy and money which could be spent on good things will be put into this fight on all sides. I think we all have more important work to do.
William Gibson once wrote “the future is here already it is just not very evenly distributed yet.”
I try to keep that in mind when I think about people’s understanding of copyright vs. creative commons. I imagine that if the Dervaes’ got some good advise from advocates of a creative commons framework they may have found a way to both protect some concepts which might truly be theirs alone (still looking for those mind you) from corporatisation and share the abundance we all know is our birthright.
The abundance vs. anxiety aspect of this also interests me. I can feel Jules Dervaes’ fear. He is an apocalyptic Christian. Many people here are living in the grip of that world view. It must be a terrifying place to be. To think of the world coming to an end.... to feel a profound need to protect your own. It is a mindset that is hard to battle and win. Everything in this culture tells you to isolate and fight, to get personal, to at all costs protect yourselves and our families. In my view it’s the grain of all us vs. them thinking and the root of all I think is tragic in our species. Only humans can be tragic figures because we are supposed to be better, to transcend this fatal flaw. And yet to overcome it we must evolve into a new species. We’re not there yet. At the very base of our brain is the reptile and the reptile sadly wins too often.
A chief called Lawyer, because he was a great talker, took the lead in the council,
and sold nearly all the Nez Perce country.
The Dervaes’ claim they are misunderstood and they are simply trying to protect the community from corporate interests, to prevent Monsanto Urban Homestead Seed Packs® from entering and poisoning the market. Instead we'll have Dervaes Urban Homestead Seed Packs®.
We are sensitive to what has happened to the language, the dilution of meaning of the terms “organic” and “sustainable,” bringing tragedy for the entire world which that emptying out of meaning that represents. Multinationals are the only beneficiary. Still to most of us urban homesteaders Dervaes' claim rings hollow and we do not feel protected by their benevolent gesture.
There have been a lot of pixels spilled regarding the wrongheadedness of this approach so I will just leave that for others to elaborate on. With that filing of paperwork though the Dervaes clan has kicked the wrong hornets nest. We are, as a rule, the most ornery, anti-corporate, individually and collectively hardy bunch you will find.
The Dervaes have rubbed me personally the wrong way as a website owner, trying to serve a community something they need and at the same time make a living without selling my values out. It’s not easy. I would love some one to write that book. Currently I sell or try to sell books through indiebound.org which let’s my members shop as they would Amazon but send the sale to their local mom and pop bookstore. It’s a way to support local economies online - a hard balance to find. I don’t think I’ve sold one book yet.
As hyperlocavore - I am concerned with local economics. I live in probably one of the poorest counties in Oregon and feel strongly the desire to help build a vibrant local economy here. So I try if I can as I consider selling things online to only work to bring things to people they cannot get where they are. Looking at advertising for revenue then I am greatly limited by this ethos.
I have advertisers who helped kickstart the project on the front page. None are massive corporations. I want to support other small business people and they have supported my project. I want to let you know about them! They are all really good people. When I say I am anti-corporate I mean I am dead set against large multinationals destroying and dissecting human and local sovereignty. I am not against all business or trade.
I see some people reacting in an unthinking knee jerk manner who don't seem to understand the legalities of operating at all. We live in this world...not the post revolutionary utopia. There are good reasons to protect one self and one's ideas....if they are truly your own. This seems to be not the case here. That said - I don't want to play internet lawyer. That too is silly.
I also caved and started using Cafepress to sell t-shirts and water bottles. I justify this to myself by saying I need to get the idea out there. My site makes no sense without a critical mass of folks looking for yardsharing partners - and most folks don't know what that is yet! I mention this all to say - it is not an easy thing to make a viable online enterprise and stay pure as the driven snow. I haven’t sold any chotchkes yet either.
So when the Dervaes make a big noise on their front page about not accepting advertising I get my back up. Puritans never sit well with me. The world is far too complex and diverse. I especially dislike them when they attempt at once to lord it over others and at the same time undermine others ability to sustain themselves with attitudes like “no advertising,” while trademarking our identity wholesale. The mental gymnastics involved must be very strenuous. These are confusing confused times.
The real silver lining
The upside of the drams, and it is a very massive upside, is that it has helped us all know ourselves as a community. We might have been united by our subscriptions to Mother Earth News before or by the blogs we hang out on. But I am not sure we thought of ourselves AS a community in the way we do now. This is strength. This is a real opportunity for us all to organize in our own interests beyond the trademark battle. I know we share struggles and issues with counties municipalities and the federal government. We have interests we share beyond canning and GMO free seeds and very far beyond the fight with the Dervaes.
In trying to build a truly sustainable life we enter individually into conflict with the outdated codes in the places we live, with corporate run Home-owner's Associations, with neighbors who fear we are bringing down the value of their homes, some of whom are underwater in their mortgages and suffering greatly. We may feel conflict with those who simply think clotheslines remind them of poverty they thought they had escaped and those who fear farmville style gentrification. We could be working towards awareness raising and self sufficiency rights beyond the fight with the Dervaes family.
It is my hope that a great good can come out of a rather icky feeling situation. I also hope Jules will come around and I hope we will give him and his kids space to do so. Let us know ourselves and our issues and let us learn from our individual battles how to win our neighbors over. Let us work together from here on out as a real community.
Rights we might consider organizing around:
- the right to grow food
- the right to buy from small growers
- the right to implement grey water systems
- the right to grow with unconventional methods - permaculture for instance
- the right NOT to have a lawn (some HOAs enforce this)
The list is very long but that’s a start. You get the idea. I may have jumped the gun in setting up a working group with this focus on facebook. Hollie Butler from Seattle started urbanhomestead.info. and we talked a bit about merging efforts. It’s unclear to me whether the working group is needed or if the original facebook page is becoming just that. I am not wishing to step on any one's toes but to help where I can. Things kind of blew up in a good way and I haven’t been able to work much on it since the page passed 1K. It’s my hope that whatever comes out of all this energy being expended it is a win for all of us.
It is a new day folks - because now - we have each other.
Some background information
Update 2/22 - http://blogs.laweekly.com/squidink/2011/02/urban_home...
A bit more about where I am coming from:
A Hyperlocavore Responds to Catastrophe
More soon in terms of relevant links - but I wanted to get something up for Monday!
Twitter hashtags: #dumpthedervaes #urbanhomestead