The RTR [Rubber Tramp Rendezvous]: Just another white male space fueled by capitalism? #VanDwelling

I don’t want to really inaugurate myself into the van dwelling life with criticisms. If you’ve followed my recent frustrations, then you’ll know that sadly I still don’t even have a van yet, so I’m technically not a van dweller. But out of the zillion and one videos I’ve been watching with the hopes of preparing myself for this lifestyle, you have to know I’ve come across the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, the RTR.

I had no idea what the RTR was. But all of a sudden, it seemed like out of nowhere I started seeing countless YouTube videos and Facebook posts from folks talking about it, asking who’s going, where they’re coming from, how long it’ll take them to get there, do they have room for a spare person to camp. A bit of interrogation and I found out it’s an annual convention of van dwellers who meet up together and do things that van dwellers do. A lot of interrogation and I found out that the founder created the RTR in his own words as ‘a support system for people who need help now.’ This help involves practicality — like how to stay warm in cold weather, solar energy, how to go to the bathroom in a car, and more — all of which I’ve even benefited from from hearing him talk about. The help, he says, is for folks who are living in their vehicles, largely by circumstance. In his words he spoke of those who’ve fallen on hard times, been evicted, or otherwise are subjects of social inequality and are forced into the lifestyle, and not because they want to. It was created with a sense of urgency.

I thought it sounded respectable, even commendable. But I also learned there have been heavy criticisms of this event. I myself have to admit that I learned that he and he alone wants to benefit from the flow of cash that is the convention, which seems to negate the help that others need. Another comment from a YouTuber said she heard it’s full of white supremacists, but someone refuted that. Still, I’m interested in a more critical analysis.

The RTR is a free gathering. No one is charged for attending, and it apparently draws a few thousand people, vastly up from its inception of 45 attendees of the days-long event.

I came across a lady who was explaining that the rules are strict — that no one is allowed to film at the convention, because it will divert from his corporation and take away from his earnings. In fact, someone got reprimanded for trying to capture footage with a drone. Folks have criticized all this: I’m not the first one to have this conversation.

The lady that explained these rules wasn’t bitter. In fact, she wasn’t at all and was fine with these rules, stating that if folks want to make money then they should start their own. But it just seems so much bigger than that, and I just take issue with that. There are many on YouTube who create videos because they are able to monetize their channel. This isn’t limited to car and van dwellers, of course — there are many, many more people than not making money from YouTube who aren’t in these categories. Many are hopeful of receiving subscribers, thus creating higher views and interactions with the ads played before, during, and after their videos, which would generate income and assist with the costs associated with living in a vehicle — gas, insurance, hygiene, maintenance, clothing, water — FOOD. But with the only convention I’ve heard of so far, the founder won’t allow anyone but himself to film. Anyone who wants to know about what went down at the RTR must go to his channel and his channel alone, since this will ensure that he’s the sole beneficiary of any revenue. And folks will watch. And they’ll click on the links at the beginning of his videos and put money into his bank account. The interesting thing here is that I’ve watched several of his videos and the overwhelming conversation in them is him talking about ‘bucking’ the corporate capitalist rat race that is a 9 to 5 with a brick-and mortar abode and ridding yourself of the stress by living cheaply in a car, van, RV.

But if this is the case, is this really a desire to want to help as much as is portrayed? The founder also mentions that the biggest help he’d give to this event is to women, because they seem to get hit the hardest — they’re the ones out on their luck, and don’t get the respect and attention they deserve. But of course we know it’s women who’ll face the brunt of inequity, and who could use the views from YouTube to generate income. It’s women who are in their cars, hiding from domestic violence. The fact that no one else can have coverage of this event that takes place outdoors, with the hopes of gaining views to boost their internet community and potentially getting a few coins to provide provisions for themselves or their immediates who are also probably off the grid, seems biased at least and unfair and reeks of greed and dominance.

But that’s me. I want to know what you think. I’ve put together a slew of events. The only time I’ve heard of folk being prohibited from filming is to have a stream of press from the main source, to collect royalties. I’ve personally never put together to an event where it was supposed to be empowering and told folks they couldn’t film (except for when we’ve been on a retreat and privacy was a concern).

In the meantime, tell me: have you been to the RTR? If you haven’t, why not? And if so, what are your thoughts? Is it possible assist folks, but put a ban on how people can support themselves — in this case through views? Can one really claim to have women at the center of a desire for help, assistance and change while keeping them from one of the main causes of gendered inequality: economics?

Because of my social science and ethnographic background I’m not satisfied unless I’m actively engaged, there and experiencing things for myself which is why I plan on attending at some point. And I will follow up with this analysis and tell you all about it. In the meantime, I want you to comment below and tell me what you think. Share your thoughts.

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6 comments

  1. I was wondering the same things about the RTR. A friend of mine is working her way into van life and has attended their annual van build. She is white and and is planning to go to the RTR in January and invited me along because of my desire to become nomadic. As I watched the videos and listened to the guy I thought about how much of a dick he seemed like and what the rest of the people their would be like as well? I know for certain that there will be mostly people who don’t look, think or act like me. I wonder if it is worth the time to get out there and the money that I will spend on the road? Where are the like minded nomads?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jennifer! Ya, I think it’s so interesting that he “does so much for the community” but doesn’t want folks to film because he wants folks to be directed to his channel so he can generate revenue. I want to go for no other reason than to see how it’s like, but we need different spaces. I can’t imagine myself being satisfied with mostly white people in their vans and only mundane conversations about building and not safety and other things that come with being raced and gendered in this country.

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  2. If I were to attend the event, I would definitely NOT want to be filmed, by multiple people, and posted on YouTube. I have not seen any of the host’s videos, but whatever the case, if he is posting video and “making’ the attendees, he is NOT considering the safety of his attendees FIRST. I have been “stealth camping” in a major metropolitan city for over 2 years, and it is of paramount importance to maintain a certain anonymity.

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  3. He put me n the work. He gives out information freely. You have nothing to base such unpleasant views on. Nothing. You put in the work then you complain. This is just terrible. And Brenda, no one is coerced to do videos by ANY stretch of the imagination.. Watch before you criticize.

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  4. I have been to some RTRs. IMO they started going downhill when Bob starting talking about them on YT. Before that, only folks who were interested and involved knew it was even happening (it was discussed on the forum).

    On the upside, I don’t think the RTR is a _de facto_ white male space. It’s mostly white, but women are well-represented and I heard no unkind words about LGBT attendees.

    The issues that caused me to leave the 2019 RTR early were:

    1. youtubers and youtube fans endlessly talking about subscriber numbers, thumbnail strategies, etc. ARRGGGHHH!

    2. at least 1 belliigerent old crank in pretty much every group of folks I talked with. The cranks spewed forth loud and usually incorrect information at newbies. After a few days of trying to do damage control in those situations I lost heart and left to spend time on my own.

    There’s also a WRTR (women’s RTR) before or after the RTR. I hear this year’s was a success.

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