On the afternoon of Saturday, Oct. 4, at the Carrboro Town Commons, people exchanged food, clothes and candy and even watched a bilingual puppet show — all for free.
What’s the catch? There isn’t one.
The organizers of the Really Really Free Market encourage participants to trade goods and services for no charge. The free market, which happens on the first Saturday of every month, serves as an example of an alternative gift economy that does not need capitalism to function.
“You’re not required to bring anything,” says Heather Graves, one of the market organizers. “You can just show up, peruse and take some stuff. It’s absolutely wonderful. People do this with a really good spirit, and it’s proof in a way that we don’t need capitalism.”
According to the Really Really Free Market website, the first Really Really Free Market took place in Miami in late 2003 to protest the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, and the first free market in Carrboro took place in October 2004, making it one of the oldest in the country. Markets have occurred all across America and in many cities in North Carolina, including Greenville, Greensboro, Raleigh, Asheville and Wilmington. Graves explains that an anti-capitalist market opens the door to people from all backgrounds.
“The Karen community, the Latino community, African-American and white people — everyone is here,” Graves says. “It’s one of the few places where you see that much mix of people in one place for a common purpose.”
The 10th anniversary of the free market enjoyed a much higher attendance record than previous markets. Graves estimates that on a typical Saturday, about 100 people visit the market, with more people popping in and out throughout the day. However, Graves estimates that a few hundred people had visited within the first hour during the anniversary celebration. According to the Really Really Free Market website, about 800 people came to celebrate the event.
The anniversary market also lasted longer than normal. Traditionally, the free market lasts from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., but the anniversary market ran from 2 p.m. until after 9 p.m. Because of the extended hours, the organizers were able to add new events and services such as the bilingual puppet show for children, the craft station, the music stage and piñata and baking contests.
“The idea is to pull people in and get them involved,” Graves says. “That’s why we hung paper piñatas all over town this year to advertise for the contest.”
Although the market usually has food, this time the organizers provided food on a larger scale, working with the organization Fed Up to provide both lunch and dinner.
“People have a positive experience here, and it’s always fun like a festival — today it’s just a really big festival!” Graves said with a chuckle.
The Really Really Free Market 10th Anniversary also brought some new faces from the community.
Sitting on pink blanket covered with heart-shaped cookies, stacks of paper and bouquets of flowers, Aurora Linnea, a new Carrboro resident and first-time guest, 25, said she sees the free market as a way to share information as well as goods. As a women’s rights activist and artist, she said she hoped her pamphlets and printouts would help raise awareness of domestic violence.
“I feel like everyone has something to offer and give, and it’s so important to make those things available in a meaningful way,” Linnea said. “The market shows that we can all share and participate to make this world more livable and humane.”
After seeing the way the market works, Linnea said she will be back.
“I just think it’s a great opportunity to reach people and see what other people have to offer and how they’re utilizing this forum,” she said.
Tulsi Craddock and Lila Symes, who were also first-time patrons, used the forum as a way to discuss their Hare Krishna faith with the Carrboro community — and give out free lollipops.
“We try to find deeper solutions for ourselves as individuals and for society at large based on the ancient wisdom of India,” Craddock said. “We want to teach people here about our beliefs.”
Symes, 21, who recently moved from Australia to Krishna West in Chapel Hill, said she loves how everybody came together for the free market.
“To come somewhere just to give for the sake of giving without anything being attached is just really great,” she said.
Though adults may be the ones bringing goods, information and services, children are picking up on the free market’s message, too.
Graves has a favorite story she likes to tell about the free market. At one of the markets, she was watching some children who are market regulars. An adult had dropped off a big bag of Legos. Although many people would take the bag and walk off, the kids didn’t do that. They passed around handfuls of Legos to each other without adult supervision, Graves says. They were sharing.
With the publicity and support from the 10th anniversary celebration, Graves says she hopes more people will experience the market and leave with the same takeaway.
“That’s what’s supposed to happen here,” she says. “That in and of itself explains how it’s all supposed to work.”