(Urban) Homestead: A Different Kind of Critique

By now you’ve likely heard about the Dervaes regime family trademarking the terms urban homestead and urban homesteading.  The internet has been in an uproar.  A Facebook group to Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) quickly swelled to nearly 4,000 fans. Twitterers are tweeting it up under hashtag #dumpthedervaeses.

You might have read how I feel about the term homestead in general at Homestead Act 2.0.  Or followed my initial take on the Dervaes Debacle with (Urban) Homestead Act 2.1.  Hang with me because I have a bit more to say on the matter. Well, I actually have a lot more to say because the world is full of interconnected injustices.   But for today I’ll keep it to the current Dervaes Self-Destruct as it relates to global-agribusiness complex.

The Crime is in the Rugged Individualism

Rugged Individualism is a myth that everyone has equal access and opportunity as well as the bunk notion that everyone just needs to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps.’  It is a myth based in capitalism, ownership and (unearned) privilege.

Emma Goldman stated clearly:

“Rugged individualism’ is simply one of the many pretenses the ruling class makes to mask unbridled business and political extortion.”

In the case of the Dervaes, I argue that people are angry that a piece of their identity is being stolen. The outrage is about something being taken from us.  That a way of resisting has been co-opted. We get mad and turn our anger on a family that has made themselves an all too easy target.  The anger is justified. The Dervaes family is essentially reproducing a land grab (the aggressive taking of something to broaden power).

The irony is that the United States was built upon land grabs.  By white, monied, land-owning men taking things that weren’t rightfully theirs.  Homesteading, you know. The United States used manifest destiny as justification for colonization and genocide. The Dervaes family cites intellectual property as their rationale for trademarking a way of being and living (that they didn’t invent).

Howard Zinn stated:

“(We are) a nation of individuals saying, “I am an individual. Don’t blame me for the collective crimes of this country.”

The community is responding to the Dervaes family in the same way that Americans respond to things.  By getting angry that something is being done to us. Us personally. Us as a small community.  Rather than getting amped at a system that is unjust and operates out of upholding oppression.  A system that is unjustly harmful to both the national and  global communities.

Here is the bigger picture: the Dervaes family is emblematic of the global capitalist agribusiness complex.  When they brand a term in common usage, a term they didn’t invent and is in no way unique to them, they are showcasing themselves as a micro-model of how this system works.  A system that takes things that aren’t theirs to take. A system that tells people they can’t use words.  It brings to mind a host of other agribusiness ills such as seed ownership. Biopiracy. Genetically modified seeds. Monsanto. Land degradation.

Hope is in the Outrage

I am genuinely in awe of the collective outrage. I feel hopeful. What if this newly bonded community/ies could stay connected?  Stay connected once our differences in politics, religions, genders, abilities, sexualities, classes and races become clear?  Stay connected and actually gain strength and power because of our differences?  Could it happen?  What if it did?  Who could we take on?  What systems could we dismantle?

What if our communities could find our way to see that the trademarking is not just a personal attack. That it isn’t about me. Or you. Or your neighbor. Or the blogger you know out there in bloggy land.  What if we could instead focus on the trademarking as part of a larger social justice issue?  What if we could sustain this level of engagement to take on the very systems that purposefully create social injustices?

I don’t care about the Dervaes family personally.  Their leader is just another person to sell out. To give up their purported ideals to make a buck.  To make that buck under the guise of protecting the little guy.  So perfectly and completely ordinary.  I imagine that he is a smart business person that recognizes that, in the end, bad publicity is still publicity. And that people have short memories.  The outraged urban homesteaders will likely move on to other issues.  And he’ll be sitting on a pile of (extorted) cash.

What I do care about is Food Security. Food Sovereignty. Sustainable Agriculture. Systemic Oppression. Equality.

I want us to get collectively angry enough that we produce a revolutionary and systemic change.  A change to the systems that create injustices.  As long as we are rooted in our participation of capitalism and rugged individualism we remain stuck. Stuck in a system that oppresses us all.

The big question is: Can we move? I’m hopeful. Are you?

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33 Responses to (Urban) Homestead: A Different Kind of Critique

  1. hejemonster says:

    grow and resist…go girl go! tell that truth! keep bringing it. you are taking this thing deeper and deeper. you are so right…people’s outrage is so warranted, and most Americans have been trained by dominant memes of capitalism and rugged individualism to believe that our individual “rights” and personal properties are so very important. but this whole thing smacks of the larger structures the agro-business nonsense of the monsantos of the world….trademarking seeds, trademarking words/ideas, intellectual property, bio-piracy…it is all related. well done grow and resist…keep on keepin’ on!!

  2. Jennifer says:

    way to turn outrage into the possibility of positive action, into a vision of hope to dismantle systems of inequality. yes. yes. YES! Keep bringing the truth, keep writing. Keep using your words!

  3. pobept says:

    Don’t be fooled by their public face this is a for profit corporation. They have no intension of being a public service unless it leads to cash in their pockets.

    This is the listing from the U.S. Trademark site for ‘Urban Homestead’.

    (REGISTRANT) Dervaes Institute CORPORATION CALIFORNIA 631 Cypress Avenue Pasadena CALIFORNIA 91103

    As you pointed out, it’s just a power grab by a big corporation.

  4. Michele says:

    Excellent piece!
    The Dervaeses have the same capitalistic mentality that is wrong with much of society, ‘it is a legal therefore I am entitled’. They seem to think that this movement needs a leader and that they of course are the authority on the subject. My my my, how a few 20/20 spots have gone to their head. They are a product of the perverse nature they claim to be so opposed against.
    This movement is one that needs to stay. It needs to not be quiet. It needs to keep fighting the good fight. Not just against the Dervaeses but against the very capitalism that gives them the legal right to do what they have done.

  5. Jessica says:

    Great post. I’m hopeful, too.

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  8. bethany says:

    wow, this is a thoughtful and well-written post. thank you for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

  9. Jennie says:

    Oh! Nicely put!
    Do you read much of Vandana Shiva? 🙂 If not, you should, she’s right up your alley.

    I like your take on this. It’s easy to forget the real problem in the heat of anger over the symptoms.

  10. Glad to hear this sentiment being expressed. It is what was concerning me about the outrage. However, I like that you have spun this into hope. Great post.

  11. I’ve enjoyed your discussion of the term Homesteading in a historical context. I’d be interested how you feel about modern homesteading/legal squatting, particularly as it applies to the mortgage crisis. Thank you for your posts.

  12. misterkrista says:

    This is so great!

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  14. e werb says:

    thanks for putting this issue in such an accessible broadened context – it helps explain why it has such resonance for many who are also politically conscious, and even active

    i appreciate your call for, and challenge to the awakened multi-modal homestead community to connect the dots for the big picture and its corresponding prizes

    the Czechs had the velvet revolution, Egypt in the throes of a social media revolution, might this be a harbinger of another homespun revolution ?

  15. Manda White says:

    I AM hopeful! I am more hopeful when I read something from someone like you who gets the big picture, and offers up the idea of unity on a common front, and collective action rather than uproar just to moan,complain, and call out the bad guy. Yay you!

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  17. Jenn says:

    Thanks for posting this – all through this kerfuffle I’ve found myself thinking about the term itself as well as the power behind this movement, and what else it might be useful for. This, though, is a far better explanation than what I’ve come up with so far, and really resonated with me. I think we need hope, now more than ever before, and I hope we can find some to make some bigger, broader changes that are long overdue.

  18. Ollamha Anne says:

    These folks do not actually have a trademark. Their application for an exclusive trademark was rejected in 2008. Check out Canadian Doomer’s blog on the topic:


    They don’t really have the right to demand that anyone stop using the terms Urban Homestead or Urban Homesteading.

  19. Ashley says:

    Thanks for this post! Just the other day I was googling the term “biodynamic” to learn more about the differences between it and organic, and was grossed out to see the little R in the circle following the word. It belongs to Demeter, purportedly for the purposes of protecting the integrity of biodynamic producers that are certified by them.

    That’s all well and good, I suppose, but it takes away the term commonly used to describe a certain set of farming practices from the common use. and that, I think is quite a problem! You would think that saying “certified biodynamic by demeter international” would be quality assurance enough, providing Demeter has built up a reputation for reliability, but nooo, they had to trademark a word that represents a whole practice of farming, which does not belong to them.

    It’s a bit like verbal and literary piracy. This trademarking trend could gag us all: Imagine if someone was allowed to trademark “organic,” or “garden” or “family farm.” What would we be left to talk with?

    Thanks for your post calling attention to this growing problem. I had bad feelings about the phenomenon initially, but reading your post really turned on the light switch for me.

  20. domaphile says:

    So well said – I really appreciate your perspective on this topic! The best part of this whole mess is the community that has sprung up around it and I hope the conversation can go beyond the Dervaes. I have found so many new blogs to read this week, yours among them, and am loving it. Your about page made me laugh out loud!

  21. Inder says:

    Again, based on my flimsy understanding of intellectual property law, I understand that you can trademark almost anything. The rule about not being able to trademark terms in “common usage” only kicks in when you try to defend your trademark, usually in the context of a lawsuit of some kind. I do hope someone will challenge the Dervaes’, because their purported trademark on “urban homestead” is indefensible. Let’s just say, if I were their lawyer, I wouldn’t take that case on without getting my legal fees paid, upfront! It’s not a winner. Legally, their trademark is indefensible, and an indefensible trademark is worthless, not worth the paper its registered on, and not worth all of this fuss.

    Right? Not quite.

    It costs money to navigate the legal system. And it is always harder to take something away from someone once they have it (try getting a security deposit out of your landlord). It would take money and resources to force the Dervaes to give up their (ridiculous, indefensible) trademark, because the legal system gives the person who pulled the trademark the initial advantage – you can have your trademark, until someone acts to take it away.

    Most people aren’t going to out and register trademarks, it’s usually corporations that do it. So of course, corporations have a natural advantage – Advantage # 1 is that they own the trademark so the burden of getting it back is on YOU; Advantage #2 is that they generally have more resources than anyone who would want to challenge it (except another corporation – of course, most trademark battles happen between two corporations).

    It’s all part of this pervasive legal system that gives people who are already entitled more entitlements and subtle advantages, even though the rules (like, you can’t trademark a term that is in common usage) are fair on the surface.

    Man, let’s just say, when I really saw how pervasive this system is, when I was in law school … that was a rough week. (And now, I’ll be the first one up against the wall when the revolution comes. Sigh.)

    I do have some hope that all of this outcry will work to hurt the Dervaes’ brand to the point where they have nothing much to protect anymore. Since we are dealing with a capitalist system, and there’s not much we can do about that right this instant, I do think we can make our anger known – by not buying their product, and telling our friends that they are BS, etc. By using the term “urban homestead” as much as we please (I don’t actually like the term, mind you) and putting the burden on THEM to defend it.

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  24. Lynne says:

    I just read in SFGATE about the family in Pasadena trying to claim property rights to the urban homestead term or concept. I checked their website and they state that this is not true but lies that are being spread about them. If it is true then that places them in the same category with the bio seed companies that want to claim ownership of heirloom veges and so forth. What are they thinking? I thought they stood for a change from this type of mentality. Sad to see things turn out this way for them as they were such an inspiration to me. But they were only one light in the sunshine of this movement. People like Bill Mollison, Geoff Lawton and the author if this article as well as every single person who grows a garden and teaches others and shares willingly are also part of that light. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of these days someone will try to copy right and sell the sunlight and the air. Sad .. maybe someday
    we will evolve beyond that. Happily many already have.

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