A Really Really Free Market (RRFM) is a community gathering where participants give away usable items, skills, food, entertainment, games and many others things that a community can come together and share. An RRFM is a 100 percent free and non-commercial event (no bartering or advertising), created by all the participants that show up each month. It is also a demonstration of collective spirit, abundance, recycling, and sharing through the gift economy as an alternative to a capitalist economy that promotes and feeds off fear, competition and scarcity. The RRFM intends to transform people primarily through its experience and is then carried into other areas of life, inspiring people to be more generous towards each other and to set up free boxes, free skools, donation-based cafes and so on.
There are now over 50 different RRFMs in cities across the US and a few other countries. Here are some key steps to organizing one in your town or neighborhood:
- Call a meeting and invite different kinds of people from the community to help organize, do publicity, and conduct outreach for volunteer help with skillshares, services, entertainment, food preparation and set-up/clean-up. You can start off with just yourself and few friends, but it is best to reflect the diversity of the community so that all kinds of people feel comfortable coming to the event. Try to encourage all volunteers to take some responsibility and invite new participants to help organize every month. You may need a core group to continue to help organize or you may find the RRFM takes off on its own.
- Find a high traffic location accessible to the public. It often works well to host an RRFM in a popular park, near a farmers’ market (or other major regular public event space) or at a centrally-located, politically and culturally neutral indoor venue. A change of venue for winter may be needed due to weather. It’s best to find a free space. Occasionally, city councils have given free park use permits to RRFMs, but many are hosted successfully without permits, unless a band plays amplified music or there is a conflict with scheduled parties. If people are just hanging out in a park together and not selling anything, there is usually no problem. Remember, there is no one in charge and no formal organization – it’s more of a happening – so who would be responsible for getting the permit? Charging to cover venue costs is antithetical to the spirit of the RRFM and a few people paying for the venue may create an unsustainable, hierarchical situation.
- Pick a regular day, usually once a month, and stick with it. This lessens the need for ongoing publicity and facilitates word of mouth advertising that helps build attendance steadily. Weekends are best so families and people with regular jobs can come.
- Create an attractive banner or some other large, highly visible sign to help new people find you out of crowd and attract passer-byes.
- Announce by word of mouth (especially at community service organizations, schools, churches, etc), handout and post fliers, and send announcements to local listservs and calendars. See if local radio stations will run Public Service Announcements for you, or if local papers can run a listing or a story on your event. Make all your fliers, signs, and announcements bilingual. At every RRFM, put out a sign-up list so people who want to receive news of the next one or coordinate with other organizers can leave their contact information.
- Brainstorm all the possible sources of things to give away. The more you bring to the RRFM yourself, the more excited others will be about the event, and the more they will expect from themselves as participants. Go through your closets, and encourage everyone you know to do the same. Get day old bread and unsellable produce from bakeries and grocery stores, either from employees, or if you are adventurous, there is there usually a dumpster in back. Visit colleges at the end of each semester, corporations that are going out of business, and wealthy neighborhoods where they leave perfectly good items sitting out on the curb. Get all your friends together the night before to cook a nutritious meal and a few hundred delicious cookies. However, you should try to avoid any implications of charity – charity encourages people to think of themselves as receivers of gifts rather than as empowered participants that have things to offer to the community as well. One of the most powerful aspects of the RRFM is that everyone has something to contribute, even if it’s something as simple as a story or a funny joke.
- Organize skillshares, games, entertainment and other ways for people to interact. Invite an accomplished storyteller, a hairstylist, a popular folk musician, a collective of spoken word artists, a masseuse, a yoga instructor, a caricature artist, a bicycle mechanic, and everyone else with some skill or talent that can you think of. Offer to help provide whatever resources they need, such as setting up music equipment or a service booth. Consider what services others at the RRFM may need, as well, like childcare. Folding tables, blankets, and serving ware will definitely come in handy.
- Coordinate with other groups and events to bring in new folks of your RRFM. Invite a dance troupe or favorite band that is coming to your town for the weekend to put in an appearance. Some RRFMs have gone back to their roots and shown up as a positive demonstration of alternatives at protests. Just be careful not to be too ideologically dominating. The RRFM’s strength is as a transformative learning experience. Some RRFMs have been set up successfully in relatively politically conservative towns.
- Section off an area that is for personal items that should not be considered free. This will avoid unfortunate accidental takings.
- Have a plan for what to do with the leftovers. You can ask people to take back what they brought and place items on individual blankets or tables, but some items will likely be abandoned. The local thrift shop or goodwill may be thrilled to get a big shipment in from you, or it may not be what they want at all, in which case you’ll have to either have a place to store it all for the next RRFM or another way to redistribute the leftovers. For this you may need a truck or a good bike trailer. Clean up the site of your RRFM meticulously; you’ll benefit from having a reputation for being responsible in this regard and keep the authorities happy.
- Remember to keep it fun and friendly to show that a community gift economy is a desirable alternative.