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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