(I don’t usually write posts between radio shows, but this particular cause means a lot to me, so here goes. There has been a call for a massive array of blog posts on urban homesteading today, and this is my contribution. It’s late and I’m tired, so this is only going to be a sketch, and may reappear, fleshed out and updated, in March.)
I don’t know what Jules Dervaes was thinking when he copyrighted the phrases “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading.” I don’t know how he managed to convince somebody at the copyright bureau that he was the originator of these terms and of the techniques they cover. He did not originate these terms, nor did he originate the practices they describe. I suppose this is indicative of the vast cultural divides that exist in America: to those of us who have been urban homesteaders for the last thirty-five years, the movement is widespread and deep; to somebody who lives inside the beltway (mentally if not geographically) and commutes to the copyright office, we are apparently invisible, and Devraes was the first person who brought the movement to his attention.
Anyway, since getting his copyright, Devraes has been acting like a bully, sending threatening letters to long-established urban homesteading groups and authors, getting Facebook pages banned, and generally making it harder for urban homesteaders to network with each other. Will somebody please put a pie in this guy’s face?
The urban homesteaders who have been blocked on Facebook have started a “Take Back Urban Homesteading” Facebook group, and are the ones who called for the day of “urban homesteading” blogposts yesterday.
Just ysterday I was looking at a ca. 1980 copy of the Whole Earth Catalog, which has a couple of pages devoted to “urban homesteading.” At Devraes’ website, a “history” page indicates that in 1980 the Devraes were practicing rural homesteading in Florida, and did not move to Los Angeles and begin homesteading in an urban area until 1985. So no, they didn’t coin the term. And no, I’m not giving you a link to his website. He can toot his own horn. I ain’t gonna help him.
And yes, it is in widespread use. Copyrighting “urban homestead” is akin to copyrighting “alternative energy” or, for that matter, “home bible study.” For Devraes to attempt to prevent anyone else from using the term is, simply put, nuts. The Green Party has been unable to trademark “Green Party” because there is just one other group in the country that calls itself “The Green Party.” There are dozens of authors and local groups who use the phrase “urban homesteading” to describe their work, or in the titles of their books. How could Devraes get away with such arrogant nonsense?
Some of what this story is about is that urban homesteading, as most of us who engage in or encourage the practice are aware, is not just a set of material techniques. The urban homesteading movement–and the rural homesteading movement, too, for that matter–is about creating a community, and about creating community consciousness. Nobody else who uses the term urban homesteading” has attempted to copyright it because it makes no sense to get territorial over the language. Creative Commons is more our style than copyright and trademark.
At a deeper level, too, Devraes’ ego trip demonstrates that technique is not enough. To create a new paradigm, we need to purify our own consciousness first, or, as the example of the Soviet Union shows, we will just end up creating the same mess we were attempting to escape.
That’s my short, late-at-night-and-my-brain-is-failing, take on “urban homesteading” and the Devraes controversy. I’ve just come in from the Transition Nashville local food potluck. It was a good turnout, many new faces and a broad mix of ages, great food, and a lot of new connections made. My apologies if this post is not up to my usual standard. I usually hone my work carefully before I turn it loose, and this one is pretty much straight off the top of my head. but it’s late, and I promised, so here it is.
Jules Devraes, loosen up! The mind you save may be your own….