I was thoroughly intrigued last year when I learned about the freegan movement — folks who eschew consumerism in favor of gathering up free goods, including food. What I just learned last week on NPR is that various factions of these so-called anarchists actually organize what they call Really, Really Free Markets around the country and, guess what, everything is free.
At a RRFM, people offer food, clothes, haircuts, firewood, massages, music and more for free. You can bring things to give away or just take things you want or need. It's all based on the gift economy that is a rising notion amongst the Burning Man set wherein nothing is expected in return for what you receive. No purchase, no barter, these are straight-up freebies.
Born as a protest to the G8 summit of 2004, the SouthEast Anarchist Network (SeaNET) held the first RRFM simultaneously in Miami and Raleigh. These days, you can find markets in Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California and more. The East Village is home to New York City's RRFM. In today's economic climate, the words free and market need to be redefined for a lot of us, so why not in this way?
But the RRFMs are more than just a protest or place to score (or unload) free shit. They are a like-minded collective of ideas and beliefs, a like-hearted community hopes and dreams. They are a social and political refuge from capitalism and a helping hand for those with less. They have no hierarchy, no leaders. It's quite the bold premise, simple as it may be.
RRFMs provide a meeting ground for all types — from middle class folks who have fallen victim to over-consumerism to the urban foragers who dumpster dive to collect food and other goods often yielding way more bounty than they can consume. RRFMs offer a space to spread all of that wealth.
Surely most folks who participate in a gift economy do so with the proper intention of actually being active in the cycle of give and take rather than just being freeloaders. I often joke that “if it's free, it's for me” which might lead some to the mistaken idea that I'm a taker. In reality, I actually give a lot of stuff away, too. However, I generally feel a tinge of guilt or debt when someone gives me something without any reciprocation whatsoever other than gratitude despite the fact that I freely give things to others all the time, including blood and, someday, my organs, with no expectation of reciprocity other than good karma.
All that being said, I think a barter system might be the better way to go. Of course, this is all based merely on my own world view, but I think having some sort of reciprocity is a good thing. It holds people more accountable and dissuades the temptation of those who might lean toward being takers. Because, again, in today's economic climate, we're all a little fed up with takers.