by Julie Liardet.. GENEVA – People strolling, music, smiles, bursts of laughter. Customers walk between clothes and trinkets, homegrown zucchini and children’s games, spread on tables or on the ground. A neighbor has brought his electric razor; another has just found a book by French sociologist Marcel Mauss.
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This kind of flea-market-with-veggies could be coming to your neighborhood soon. With a twist: here everything is 100% free.
The gratiferia (free fair) concept originally comes from Argentina and then expanded to neighboring countries and all of Latin America. The idea was quickly taken up in the U.S. and Canada, and this year, it has arrived in the Old World. Sales and swaps are completely forbidden at gratiferias. Everything must be in good condition, and of course, a bit of civic sense is required. Do not show up with a van and load up everything in sight. This free fair aims at “liberation from materialism,” with the goal of leaving behind “the oppression of the economic system.”
Ariel Rodriguez Bosio, the brains behind the gratiferia, has posted a YouTube video entitled “gratiferia, una economia de la nueva era” (“gratiferia, an economy for the new age”). In the video, where he appears as a sort of philosophical/spiritual guru of the no-growth movement, the Argentinian explains that he started the first market of its kind in his apartment at the beginning of 2010.
The gratiferia arrived in Europe mainly through social networks. The idea of anti-materialism engaged people, for example Céline, 39, who coordinated one of the first such fairs in France, at the beginning of September in Châteauneuf-sur-Charente. The goal is “to pass along things we no longer need, that can be useful to someone else,” she says. Each person can come and drop off or take all kinds of objects, divided into categories. Céline’s sister Isabelle, 43, who organized the event with her, estimates that 1,500 people came to the fair, which took place on land lent by the municipality.
“We didn’t expect so many people, because the concept was unknown here. There were people of every social class, families… Some people came out of curiosity. The atmosphere was very relaxed.” For the organizer, the day was very emotional. “There was a lot of joy, of interaction between people. When you give, you also receive a lot. It’s not only one-way. People were thanking us all day.”
Isabelle hopes to “sow a few seeds” so that gratiferias start popping up elsewhere in France and in the world.
Will the gratiferia change Europe? In antiques fairs and garage sales, everything has a price. Gilbert Montigaud is organizing a (paying) antiques fair this month in Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire, 20 kilometers from Châteauneuf-sur-Charente. “I didn’t go to the gratiferia myself, but I have heard about it. It’s not at all competition for us, because it is very different. We will still have just as many clients.”â€¨
The experience of giving
Gratiferias now exist in Argentina, Spain, and France, among others. What is happening in Switzerland? As far as we know, there have not been any events with that specific name, but several similar events have taken place. On Facebook, many groups offer bargains. For example, there is a Facebook group called “Giveaways in Lausanne and nearby,” with 3,000 members. You sign up, post a photo of the object in question, and anyone who is interested can then make contact with you. Among things to be given away are, for example, children’s raincoats, a Buddha lamp and a ticket for the thermal baths in Val d’Illiez. The Unipoly association at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne also organizes free bazaars. In Gland, a town in the Vaud, similar free fairs have also been organized for many years, although these are reserved for local citizens. Like the Argentine fairs, this has the goal of letting inhabitants give away things “that can be used again and help others,” says Didier Christen, Gland’s head of infrastructure and environment.
However, the goal of a gratiferia is not just to get rid of your possessions, but to have the experience of giving them up and donating to others. Céline, who already exchanged things with friends, is happy at the notion that this “innovative concept” could “shake up European thinking, because it’s free.”
Christine Muller, a member of the green Ecolo party in Hannut, Belgium, shares her feelings. The party organized its first gratiferia in July. “We wanted to give a real meaning to ‘free,’ and show that not everything is about money,” she explains.
But isn’t there a risk that giving things away for free will encourage more consumption? “Some people were surprised that everything was free, and held back, while others wanted to take everything, for the same reason,” Christine Muller remembers. “It’s exactly the same as with buying and over-consuming in stores,” Céline says.
Sabine Kradolfer, an anthropology and sociology researcher, says swap exchanges were set up in Argentina after the 2001-2002 crisis. While the gratiferia may be a cousin of swaps, Sabine Kradolfer says that these free fairs do not arise from that crisis nor from the current economic situation, which is more stable in Argentina than in Europe. “But there is a vision of society that underlies all these movements,” she adds. “It is the idea that humans are not selfish individualists, alone and separated from society, as expected by neo-conservative economics. Instead they feel part of a vast group, the local and global community. By giving, people feel that they are linked.”
Berlin’s ‘system error’ free shops
by Andrea Abi-Karam and Taylor Miles on October 9, 2013
We’re told to take what we want from the tight racks of used clothes, kitchen supplies, and books in this second-hand shop in the Freidrichshain neighborhood of Berlin. We don’t have to pay. We aren’t stealing. We don’t have to exchange anything in return.
Instead, we are participating in a component of the solidarity economy at the Schenkladen, a gift shop where everything is free. The free store is part of a platform called Systemfehler (meaning “system error”, or society mistake) — which provides a space for multiple political projects — and is one of four free stores in Berlin, located inside one of the many “housing projects”, elsewhere known as communal or collective living.
The concept is simple: people donate stuff they don’t need and people who need the stuff take it. The free store is not a charity but rather a preventative practice. Charity becomes a benevolent band-aid to capitalism’s downtrodden; instead, the free store works as an alternative economic system based on mutual aid.
“People — they’re not used to doing stuff without money or without [exchanging],” Ellen Sati, who volunteers at the store on Jessnerstrasse and other Systemfehler projects, says as we sit around a dimly lit coffee table in the space. “It’s something that’s not so presented in society… that there’s not really money involved.”
Free stores subvert the entire premise of what people understand as a store, transforming it into a place of cooperative sharing. They don’t want people to have to buy and sell stuff , and they especially don’t want items to sit at home untouched. The general guideline is that each person shouldn’t take more than five things, but the very concept of taking something without anything in return can be strange at first, Ellen observes.
“Some people are a bit not at ease when they just take something, and they ask, ‘Is it fine?’ and, ‘Yeah, of course,’” she explains. Around her, volunteers prepare a soup dinner before this evening’s free entertainment, a clown performance.
Fighting for a new economy
Through the free store, Ellen and the other volunteers fight for an economy that’s “not so much based on money and on getting things in return, but more on people, interaction, creativity, and [the] energy people put into [projects].”
Imagine if you could navigate the world not based on how much you worked and what your earnings give you access to, but through supportive economic interactions based on cooperation. Though these types of economic interactions are largely written off by Western economics, they happen constantly on a smaller scale in communities, neighbourhoods, and certain cultures. The problem for capitalism: cooperation can’t be measured in economic profit. Capitalism suffers from cooperation (for example, communal living) because when people share resources, the need for production and consumption decline.
“It’s not like capitalism, so against the people with the elbows,” David Vogel says from the other corner of the table, sitting on a sofa up against the window. Rather than it being about competing as an individual for a career, a solidarity economy structure encourages collaboration. Systemfehler’s horizontal organizational structure reflects the volunteers’ belief that cooperation transcends competition. The store has monthly meetings where decisions and problem solving happen based off unanimous consensus.
“We always try to find a solution that fits everybody, which takes more energy and time sometimes, but it’s more I think it’s better,” she says.
Although critics may argue the process is too painstaking, David says that in his experience, in the long-term, the unanimous consensus process is ultimately more “sustainable.”
“Another concept of our group is good feeling,” he continues. The seemingly simple concept of how the economic interactions of our lives make us feel is a concept completely alien when success is measured in money and profits. Instead of credit card cold transactions, people leave the free store with the feeling that they participated in a cooperative project.
“We don’t do it to work here…it’s also about fun and being together and doing this together,” says Ellen.
Systemfehler was founded in 2007 at a different location on Scharnweberstrasse. The original free store was evicted due to problems with the house owner, but rather than allow the police to just throw them out, the free store volunteers turned the eviction into a demonstration walkout to foil the police force.
“It was very funny because the police opened the doors of the shop [and] there were a lot of colored balloons coming to them,” he says, explaining that they packed the store with balloons and then marched to the new location carrying all the free shop items, an over-escorted moving day.
Sharing more than costs
There are costs to running the Systemfelher space, however, mainly rent. The volunteers pay their costs through monthly donations from people in different forms, as well as being a solidarity partner for non-commercial festivals and info stands at events in the city.
The free shop is the most well-known project using the space, but Systemfehler also hosts Café maschinen(t)raum, which runs various cultural evenings, including concerts,a theatre, and a bar. Systemfehler also hosts a Volksküche night, or people’s kitchen, where the volunteers cook for lots of people for minimal cost, as well as nights for anarchistic ecological films and meditation.
On this particular Wednesday night dinner is almost ready. A visiting Israeli volunteer warns us in warm-hearted tones that we may want more salt with our soup. The three volunteers share the life circumstances and ideals that got them involved with the project. Ellen and David discuss the division between the rich and the poor exacerbated by capitalism and the need for grassroots movement building.
“So I think we need little steps, and slowly – perhaps not too slowly – but not too fast, otherwise we will have the same system in another way, or with other leaders,” David says. “But I think we have to smash the hierarchy structure. For me [the free store is] also a part of this process.”
Although curbside free boxes have become a fixture in the activist community, the free store subsumes the identity of a well-organized storefront into a community project based on horizontal organizing, good feeling and cooperative sharing.
If more cooperative projects were to take over typically capitalist places like stores and restaurants, perhaps people would be able to envision a world held together by collective sharing, instead of alienating exchange.
Ellen looks up at us with a laugh and asks, “[You] want a revolution, yeah?”
Living Without Money Post 2 REVIEWS: ‘Life Without Money’ and ‘Sacred Economics’
Living Without Money Post 3 The Free.. visiting a money-free Social Revolution
Living Without Money post 4 100’s of Mutual Aid nets as Covid Collapses Capitalism
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