Have you ever heard of a “Really, Really Free Market”? It’s a community event held in a public place where people are invited to bring usable household items and make them available to any attendee to take home at no cost.There is no bartering or swapping. Anyone can take anything they like, for free, with no limits. Thus, stuff is Really, REALLY free. Often, participants also contribute services, talents, or skill instruction freely as well. The website for the Blacksburg, Virginia RRFM home page says: “The RRFM movement is a non-hierarchical collective of individuals who form a temporary market based on an alternative gift economy.”
I attended my first Really, Really Free Market last month in Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park after snagging the e-flyer through a dumpster-diving Meetup.com group. The event was hosted by an anarchist collective, composed of mainly college-age activists. A well-known organization called Food Not Bombs offered free, hot vegan food to everyone, which they traditionally cook from salvaged groceries. I met new people and enjoyed the feeling of fun and camaraderie, despite the park’s usually overcrowded state.
There have been free market events held across the United States (read NPR’s story on RRFMs) and in other countries in the last few years. Some large cities with past or continuing RRFM’s include Pasadena, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Reno, Minneapolis, Richmond, and Washington, DC. These markets are usually organized by those motivated to empower the citizenry and protect animals and the environment, so don’t be surprised to be offered a petition to sign or a vegan bumper sticker. You’ll also be encouraged to minimize your transit carbon footprint. But, these events include people of all ages and bents, including students, hippies, yuppies, frugals, greenies, dumpster-divers, yard-salers, arty bohemians, the unemployed, the homeless, and the just plain curious.
Wish there was a market in your neighborhood? In theory, it’s not hard to start your own event. You need a central, public space with parking and wheelchair access that is close to public transportation. Restrooms, garbage and water fountains are nice bonuses.
Old-fashioned paper flyers and local word-of-mouth keep the event rooted in the community, but online marketing can be utilized as well, including group boards and social networking services. Inviting a cross section of people from your community will ensure a rich diversity of resources and talents.
You will need a few volunteers to market the event, recruit contributors, set-up the space, clean-up, and supervise. Any items left over at the end of the event can be retrieved by their original owners or donated to charity.
The main requirement is providing space for merchandise display and service stations. Blankets, baskets, chairs, and picnic tables are helpful. Performances may need to be placed on a timed, posted schedule. It’s important to hang a large banner. Typically, there is an element of free food and drink offered by someone at these events.
The two tricky issues in hosting RRFM’s are permission to use public space and liability insurance. Some markets are held without event permits or public food distribution permits. But some groups have been known to rent a private space or request a park party permit. Liability waivers might be an option for those participating. One way to circumvent this issue is to host this as a private event within an established social group, such as a church or community center. You might be able to arrange for the organization to provide their space and offer insurance. One last idea is called a “micro-RRFM”, where a few friends throw a “free yard sale” on their property and give things away to those on their block.
Here is a list of services, skill instruction, and activities that have been photographed at markets around the country: chess games, chair massage, haircuts, bike repair, dance performances, free hugs, artwork, juggling, origami, children’s games, group jump rope, hula hooping, beading, drum circles, stand-up comedy, recipes, balloon animals, letter writing campaigns, tarot card readings, tai chi, plant seedling giveaways, language lessons, poetry reading, face-painting, and puppet shows.
Another option, if you have cooperation from non-profits or city departments, is to allow the distribution of free items at the market to benefit the community, such as water or power-saving devices, compost bins or mulch, instant AIDS health tests or condoms, bicycle or bus maps, library bookmarks, children’s ID kits, or women’s personal safety whistles. The possibilities are endless!
The experience of sharing, receiving, and connecting with the community at your local Really, Really Free Market can be very fulfilling. Whether your event is within legal boundaries or “under the radar”, you might make a friend, find a treasure, munch a snack, finally pass off that white elephant gift, and enjoy a bit of fun, all for FREEEEE!