How to Start a Local Really Really Free Market

It’s easy to organize a Really Really Free Market, which is a market that operates according to gift economics, in which nothing is for sale and the only rule is share and share alike. In the interest of not taxing the reader’s patience, a single apostrophe stands in for the two “Really”s throughout this text.

The ’Free Market model has several virtues to recommend it for anarchists and other freethinkers hoping to build local infrastructures and momentum. First, like Critical Mass or Food Not Bombs, a 'Free Market lends itself to a decentralized approach: so long as the idea is well-distributed, neither hierarchy nor central coordination is necessary to organize a ’Free Market. This makes the ’Free Market model helpful for those hoping to cultivate personal responsibility and autonomous initiative in their communities; it also means that, should the ’Free Market in your town run into trouble with the authorities, they won’t be able to shut it down by simply targeting the leaders.

Here are a number of suggestions for starting a 'Free Market in your local area.


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    Spot a potential space for the market to take place. Many of the best spaces for holding a market must be rented. While it doesn’t make sense to pay to hold a free event, it probably won’t do to hold your ’Free Market in somebody’s backyard, either. However, if you look around at all the potential options, it might just be possible to find a spot that you can hold the market for free. Talk to your local municipality or council about using public land, emphasizing that your "event" won't return any profit and is free for all comers. Perhaps a local farmer is happy to have you use a field or perhaps there is a free yard somewhere that someone is perfectly happy for you to use. It's worth asking before giving up on the "free" aspect.
    • Your ’Free Market should take place on neutral ground – that is, in an area everyone feels an equal claim to or ownership of, so that no one will feel more or less comfortable than anyone else.
    • For similar reasons, your location should be a central, visible area. If you can use a space where major public events happen or where a wide range of people are already accustomed to gathering, it will dramatically increase your chances of success.
    • While public space or commons is ideal, you'll still need to check the existing regulations about use of such spaces to avoid breaching any rules or regulations in place about the use of such spaces. A little hassle in the way of form signing and permit gaining may well be worth the effort and conformity to reclaim public space for a good purpose.
    • An empty car dealership is great for this, and you can pitch showcasing the property to the owner; expect a list of conditions, however, and don't mess them up.
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    Advertise the event. It's important to get the word out so that as many people as possible come along and join in. You can advertise successfully by posting fliers, sending out emails to every listserv you can possibly think of, taking handbills around and give them out at bus stops, public events, in neighborhoods and apartment complexes, etc. And don't forget to use Facebook and Twitter as good ways to advertise to people who are likely to be interested. Also see if local radio stations will run Public Service Announcements for you, or if local papers can run a listing or even a story on your event. If you're willing to give an interview, a local journalist might find your market an event worth covering for the local paper.
    • Solicit participants person by person and preferably in person. As a rule of thumb, one personal invitation is worth a hundred fliers.
    • Invite an accomplished storyteller, a hairstylist, a popular folk musician, a collective of spoken word artists, a specialist in therapeutic massage, a portrait painter, a bicycle mechanic, an automobile mechanic, and everyone else can you think of or run into. Offer to help provide whatever resources they need. Having such people at the 'Free Market will attract many interested participants.
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    Brainstorm all the possible sources of things to give away. The more items that you bring to the ’Free Market yourself, the more excited others will be about the event, and the more they will expect from themselves as participants. Some of the things you could do include:
    • Go through your own closets, attics, basements and storage places and encourage everyone you know to do the same. Here is an ideal opportunity to declutter all the hoarded items!
    • While you could dumpster bread and vegetables, see if it is possible that employees might be able to give you stock that would have been thrown out anyway. Just be careful about the safety of food that hasn't been refrigerated or has been inadequately wrapped; don't use anything that could endanger people's health.
    • 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. Check out businesses, schools and other places that are undergoing renovations as they may be updating their existing furniture and fixtures, and you might be able to get some of the old stuff for free. There is a huge dump of gear in many resort areas, after the season winds down, and the workers start leaving-the common areas get stuffed with it.
    • Get all your friends together the night before to cook a nutritious meal for one another and to also bake a few hundred delicious cookies, muffins and cakes to give away the next day. Make this into a festive occasion so that everyone has fun as they cook and bake, as well as providing a meal that night.
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    Don’t stop at gathering objects. A good ’Free Market is about people interacting with each other, not just taking and leaving things. Organise games, musical improvisations, and other participatory activities that can incorporate chance passers-by. Set up displays and dioramas for the shy but inquisitive.
    • Be sure to have some children's games organised to give parents a chance to involve their children in the event. Have someone supervise the games to allow parents time to wander around the 'Free Market.
    • Try to make games using some of the free goods you've collected; recycling creativity will entertain everyone!
    • Making things such as recycled crafts is an activity that can enthuse those attending the 'Free Market. This can be a great way to get people to gather around a table together for chatting as they make items. Allow them to take home whatever they've created but be sure to take photos for a Facebook or similar photo gallery (give each participant the URL to the photos so that they can check out everyone's creations).
    • Coordinate with other groups to broaden the scope of your ’Free Market. A dance troupe is coming to your town for the weekend; can they put in an appearance? How about a barbershop quartet, a team of champion skateboarders, a holistic health care provider, a symphony orchestra? You’re not just keeping old clothes and stale bagels in circulation, you’re introducing an entirely different economic system that can provide as much diversity as capitalism, if not more! Make sure that this philosophy comes across in what you do and offer at every ’Free Market.
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    Make sure you have a plan for what to do with the leftovers. Even though your 'Free Market is about free items, there will probably be things leftover as there won't always be the right person interested in taking each freely available item. Obviously, don't discard of the objects you're left with; instead, donate them or find some other good use for them. The local thrift shop or volunteer organization may be thrilled to get a big shipment in from you but be sure to check first. If nobody wants your remaining items at the time, you’ll have to either have a place to store it all for the next ’Free Market or consider taking it to a recycling depot.
    • At the end of the day, be sure to clean up the site of your ’Free Market meticulously; you’ll benefit from having a reputation for being responsible in this regard and you'll be able to hold it again.
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    Broaden your impact. Once your ’Free Markets have taken off, you can move on to other Really Really Free programs: free movie showings and other entertainment events, free education projects, free housing occupations! The sky’s the limit once people have a taste of real freedom and realize that they can make great things happen.


  • Organise horizontal leadership to prevent problems with authorities. Amorphous, informal networks are at a tremendous advantage when they enter into conflict with formal, hierarchical groups. All of the power the government may bring to bear against you depends on there being specific representatives for them to target, and to a lesser extent on public disinterest. In maintaining horizontal structures and public anonymity while mobilizing massive grassroots support, you will be able to outmaneuver authorities in every instance, but you should balance that with a recognition that while avoiding the obvious pitfalls, it is also a good idea to keep advised of any legitimate complaints that will arise. You should not be so amorphous that you can't prevent dope dealing, or deal effectively with a small logistics problem.
  • Consider what services others at the ’Market may need, as well. You could have someone with a truck available to make deliveries, or someone organizing children’s activities in case a lot of overburdened parents show up. In some situations, you should have a team designated in advance to deal with police, media, or other troublemakers.
  • If you come into conflict with city officials or anyone else, treat it as another opportunity to solicit media coverage. Hang banners by major intersections a week in advance. Just don't hang anything on town property or you risk getting into a spat with a petty official over it – put the same banners a few feet away, on private property owned by sympathetic locals or in places town employees are too lazy to reach.
  • Make all your fliers, signs, and announcements bilingual or multilingual where relevant, or else produce them in different languages for different contexts.
  • At every ’Free Market, 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.
  • Things you might have available at the 'Free Market include electrical goods, clothing, furniture, firewood, homemade craft items, animal homes (such as birdhouses), toiletries and cosmetics (especially handmade), seeds and vegetable seedlings, fruit trees, vegan and vegetarian food, hot drinks, toys and baby/children's items, homemade soap, groceries, books and magazines, materials about the environment, free thinking, philosophy, recipes, etc., bikes and scooters (and maybe a repair shop), screen-printed t-shirts (make-while-you-wait), plants, self defense workshops, massage, haircuts, music lessons, and much, much more!


  • Don’t expect to draw thousands if your ’Markets happen randomly every year or so. Consistency is one of the most important elements of a successful ’Free Market. A sporadic schedule inevitably means that attendance will be limited to those immediately connected to the networks through which promotion takes place; a regular event can eventually attract quite a lot of people, as word spreads outside the circles from which the idea originated. On the other hand, your ’Markets should not occur more frequently than you can replenish energy and resources. Each one should be a unique event, with enough effort invested in it to make it something unprecedented. That way people will always show up to see what happens, and will take them seriously enough to contribute energy themselves.
  • Don’t stop at approaching the official representatives of a group—talk to the rank and file so your outreach efforts don’t depend on authority figures but extend directly to the people you want to invite. Forget about government officials—they’re usually too tied up in red tape to think about your event as anything but a headache—but do contact the workers at homeless shelters, interfaith councils, and other social support institutions: they’re probably so overwhelmed and under-equipped that they’ll be thrilled to direct people to your ’Free Market for additional resources.

Things You'll Need

  • Material for fliers, posters, signs, etc.
  • Free goods
  • Ingredients for making food
  • Venue and perhaps tables, stalls, etc.
  • Music, musical instruments
  • Fun things like flags and decorations
  • Pamphlets, fliers, papers and other materials
  • Internet
  • Helpers and participants

Sources and Citations

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