In 2002, an interested party wrote us asking why the history at briarpatch.net differed from other versions they had found, in particular, one written by Michael Phillips and posted that year to his personal website.
The briarpatch.net version had originally been authored by a committee of volunteers who delved into the archives to come up with that version in 1983. It was passed around and everyone signed off on it prior to its use in responding to our mountains of correspondence.
Michael penned the version on his website from his personal recollections and published it in 2002.
As Michael pointed out, there were three details that differed.
- Where the Briarpatch was first founded.
- Who founded the Briarpatch.
- Details about the Pier 40 offices.
1. Where the Briarpatch Was Founded
The first point of difference between the 1983 committee-composed version and Michael’s 2002 version is the opening sentence.
“The Briarpatch was founded in Menlo Park in 1974.”
It would have been more accurate to say:
“The Briarpatch was founded in San Francisco in 1974.”
In 1973, Dick Raymond (operating out of Menlo Park) had introduced the phrase “Briarpatch Society” to his friends as a kind of placeholder for the concept of an alternative way of doing business that we were all seeking.
However, prior to the time that Michael and Andy rented the Pier 40 offices and members volunteered to pay for a coordinator, there had been no group of people calling themselves “Briarpatch,” “Briarpatch Society,” or “Briarpatch Network.”
There were, Briarpatch networks formed in Marin, Sonoma, the East Bay, and on the Peninsula. However, the San Francisco network predated all of these to become, chronologically, the “first” Briarpatch Network.
2. Who Founded the Briarptach?
A less than accurate impression was created by the second and fourth sentences of the 1983 “History.”
“Fathered by Dick Raymond of the Portola Institute and mothered by Gurney Norman, author of “Divine Rights Trip” in The Last Whole Earth Catalogue, the phenomenon of mutual support for right livelihood and simple living was an idea whose time had come.”
“Gurney Norman put together the first Briarpatch Review using Whole Earth’s layout studio.”
Both of these sentences are true, as far as they go. However, some have pointed out that a reader might think Dick Raymond and Gurney Norman were the sole or main founders of the Briarpatch.
As you’ll find out from any of these histories, Dick was a great evangelist for the idea of a “Briarpatch Society.” His Portola Institute birthed the Whole Earth Catalog which served as the magnet that attracted the people who eventually became the Briarpatch. Raymond encouraged people to get involved in creating something.
Gurney absolutely inspired many of us with his first issue of The Briarpatch Review and later, as the network began to gel, Dick invited Michael Phillips to dinner and encouraged him to restart the Review.
These things we all agree on.
Michael Phillips was definitely urged on by Raymond and the two of them organized that first face-to-face meeting with help from Michael’s friend Lew Durham and others.
Michael was inspired by Gurney Norman’s “journal” idea, for sure, so it wasn’t difficult for Dick to get him to seriously think about restarting The Briarpatch Review.
But it was through Michael’s commitment and leadership that the Briarpatch Network came to be and it thrived for many years under Michael’s leadership. It is, therefore, far more accurate to say:
The Briarpatch Network was founded in 1974 in San Francisco by Michael Phillips.
With Michael’s encouragement, the launching of Briarpatch became a group effort with many of Michael’s friends and associates doing the hard work involved. Michael’s friend Andy Alpine became the first Network Coordinator and, later, Shali Parsons joined Andy in fulfilling the coordination responsibilities.
The San Francisco Briarpatch became known as the “Mother Patch” not only because it was the first, but because it supported the launch of the other networks, and also because of what it offered, which included:
- Monthly meetings open to the public
- Weekly consultations for member businesses
- Skills exchange
- Community Trust (shared tools, gear)
- Telephone hotline
- Briarpatch Review
- The Briarpatch Book
- Workshops and courses
- Lectures and conferences
- Parties and celebrations
- Apprentice Alliance (a matching service)
- Common Good School (training for community organizers by community organizers)
Michael single-handedly recruited a team of apprentice consultants to aid him in the ongoing effort to create a feedback loop of business practices—those that seemed to work best for Briarpatch businesses. We were learning from observing and listening to members during the many advisory meetings and site visits carried out by Michael on his own and with the consulting team
Phillips also co-authored several books during the Network’s first decade that summarized our ever-evolving knowledge base. He traveled the world sharing the Briarpatch experience with anyone who asked, from small businesses to overseas Briar-like networks to the World Bank. The details of this effort will become clearer as you read these various histories.
In Counterculture Green by Andrew Kirk, Michael’s role is summed up beautifully this way:
“Phillip’s office became the defacto hub of the Bay Area countercultural business network that was formalized with the Briarpatch. His advice and advocacy were instrumental in creation of a remarkably successful subeconomy in the region that foreshadowed the rise of alternative business and the greening of the American economy in the coming decades. Phillips and the talented bunch of “Briars” he gathered into his network, despite their long hair and countercultural lifestyles, were totally serious about business and creating a viable new model for enlightened economics that could succeed in the marketplace.”
Andrew G. Kirk, Counterculture Green: The Whole Earth Catalog and American Environmentalism by, p. 123 (University Press of Kansas, 2007).
3. The Pier 40 Offices
A third, less critical error was the idea that Michael and Bahauddin were somehow subletting from Margo St. James. This is a minor technical issue, but here’s the real story. First, the incorrect original explanation:
“Phillips and Alpine started out using the old C.O.Y.O.T.E offices (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics — Margo St. James’ organization that was working for the decriminalization of prostitution) on San Francisco’s Pier 40.”
Again, it was the other way around. Bahauddin found the office. Michael paid for it.
As a natural extension of the Briarpatch spirit; foreshadowing today’s “coworking spaces;” and mimicking Portola’s penchant for incubation, the Pier 40 Offices saw a lot of traffic. Margo got to use it as an office for C.O.Y.O.T.E. and one story says it was the office of the Portola Institute. That might be true. More likely they meant to say it was the office of Point Foundation since Raymond and Stewart Brand had recruited Michael to be its first president. And the Portola offices were in Menlo Park.
Nevertheless, the main purpose of the San Francisco office was to have a place to counsel the hippie entrepreneurs coming for advice on a regular basis.
That’s a lot of words to explain three differences between just 2 versions of our history. Think what that would be like multiplied by all the histories shared here.
The "History of Histories" is Born
Thanks to that query from a stranger, we were motivated to go big and create a semi-permanent solution to this and any future questions about the “one true” Briarpatch history. What could be an elegant and simple solution? What if, in the spirit of openness, we included everybody’s versions? Thus was born our History of Histories.
Memories (of the way we were)
People are different and they remember things differently.
A History of Histories allows us to share the richness of these different recollections and reminds us to value our diversity. This may also be the most open way to provide access to the many memories we have about our shared past, despite the variances. In most cases, we’ll leave it up to the authors to argue about their different recollections (if they must).
Here, all in one place, we choose to share any and all versions of our history, especially those authored by members. We may also share some written by historians or others just to illustrate how far afield some stories can get. Not only will this collection make up a fascinating historical record, but it eliminates the impossible task of creating the one, perfect history.
Do you have a story about Briarpatch that you’d like to share? Use our contact form to reach out to the coordinator to make that happen. Alternatively, join the Briarpatch Virtual Community and post your story there.