A Point Of Light

There are two possible endings to the saga we are currently experiencing. (Well, there are obviously a lot more than two, but most fall within one of two general directions.) Inhabitants of the globe can continue to revert into contending “tribes” screaming at each other from the false security of their particular “bubbles” while the earth warms, species disappear and we eventually all die off; or we could emerge from this difficult era recognizing that the current upheaval has been an unpleasant and perhaps unavoidable side effect of our transition to a more inclusive, more mature, social order.

Most of us have imagined what that “more mature” society might look like–a society in which humans care for each other and protect their environment, where our various differences are cause for celebration rather than suspicion. Those fantasies usually include fairly significant changes to our intellectual and economic life–less consumerism, more respect for science and expertise, a more robust social safety net, and so on. (I’ve actually put my own fantasies into a book– Welcome to the Club: Mending a Fractured America, which is currently being peer-reviewed. When and if it actually hits print, I’ll let you all know.)

Depending upon where you look, you can find lots of evidence for either scenario.

In this blog, I tend to obsess about problems that, left unresolved, might bring on planetary doom. But as several people have pointed out, there is a lot of positive evidence “out there”–mostly bottom-up, grass-roots efforts by mostly younger people–that we might call (per George H.W. Bush) “points of light.”

One of those recently struck me. A Detroit resident named Halima Cassells has started something I think is significant.

Cassells is co-founder of Free Market of Detroit—a place where you can probably find the things you need, and then some.

It started in 2012 like this: Cassells had a year-old baby, and since her other daughters were so much older, she no longer had the baby supplies she needed. So, she decided to host a backyard BBQ, invite all her family and friends, and ask them all to bring baby items they no longer needed. People could take what they needed, as much as they needed. The result was all the moms in need left with more baby gear than they could have imagined. Their needs were met. And they didn’t spend a dime.

 Fast-forward to 2019. The Free Market has grown into a regular event, with one or two held a month, dozens of people attending each one, serving a thousand or more annually. There is a DJ, there is a dance space, and everyone brings as much to give away, or as little, as they are comfortable doing. Some people who might not have an item to give will offer to teach people something, like knitting, crocheting, or yoga. They can also pledge to host a Free Market in their own communities.

 In this way, the Free Market of Detroit is a multi-genre interactive installation, while at its heart it is an old-fashioned swap meet—although nothing is technically traded. It’s all given, freely, says Cassells.

Too often these days, the term “sharing economy” means the exploitation of some people by others for profit–Uber is good example. Cassells’ effort, however, is not only genuine “sharing”–it  has multiple spin-off benefits as well.

When Cassells realized how abundant her community was, she asked herself, “How can we put this [idea] to good use? It amazed me how much stuff people were really happy to get rid of, and happy it would be used. That was the beginning, and a lot of those questions continue [to] inspire more questions like, ‘What is value? How do we place value? Is it time specific? Beauty specific? Status specific?’ …How do we place value on objects and people and usefulness of time and information?”

Not only does the Free Market allow people to acquire needed items without monetary outlay, it facilitates the recycling of consumer goods that would otherwise wind up in a landfill. It undermines mindless consumerism, and it helps to build community.

It’s one of a multitude of grass-roots efforts that can and will usher us into a better future–if we don’t kill each other and destroy the planet first.


  1. Isn’t the planet already killing off inhabitants due to the heating of the earth?

    Our arrogance is troublesome; lack of humility.

    Nature has a way of eradicating those less adaptable.

    We just discovered even more bad news about the planet which caused tremendous momentum for the Green New Deal in this country and the UK.

    We are only stewards of this planet, and she’ll teach us who is Number One every single time.

    I love the points of light stories in Detroit and Cleveland and many other places. They’re inevitable, and they can reach massive scale quickly because we have social media. Social media was developed for sharing — free of cost.

    If you haven’t discovered Twitter, you’re missing out. Just beware, it will ruin what you think is “news” coming from MSNBC and CNN. Fox and the GOP also use Twitter, and you could have a blog dedicated just to the comedy coming from these two dimwitted outfits.

  2. “Most of us have imagined what that “more mature” society might look like–a society in which humans care for each other and protect their environment, where our various differences are cause for celebration rather than suspicion.”

    We have no evidence before us relating to a “more mature” society; neither are we watching two political parties fight it out on cable news and social media. We are witnessing and part of, most unwittingly, humanity vs. inhumanity. This world has always been comprised of the givers vs. the takers; there are few, if any, points of light in America’s current borderline caste system. The once proliferation of yard and garage sales in neighborhoods have dwindled; not a “Free Market” but still beneficial to buyers and sellers alike and items sitting unused were put to use so they didn’t end up in landfills, cutting waste in this nation of wasteful consumerism.

    After Katrina and the collapse of the levees in New Orleans I watched as hundreds sat in sweltering heat, surrounded by floodwaters with dead humans and animals as they waited, hoped and prayed for help. I watched them taking care of one another as best they could. MSNBC interviewed an elderly Black man named Charlie who freely admitted he was stealing his shopping cart filled with baby needs of every sort; he told the interviewer, “No one is taking care of the little ones.” He asked the young mothers to “please, only take what you need for your babies for today, leave some for others.” And without fail; every young girl and woman did just that, they left some for others. Charlie returned and traveled on after refilling his shopping cart. I still wonder what happened to him; a true humanitarian. He was the last “point of light” in this country I remember seeing. Charlie and those young girls and women undermined mindless consumerism during one of the most horrific tragedies in this country’s history. Trump cherry picks those to help with OUR tax dollars during the escalating weather disasters as he removes EPA regulations and plays golf while this country sinks further into the mire.

  3. You are speaking of cooperation vs. exploitation. It will require more frontal lobe per capita for that balance to shift, in my opinion. Perhaps Mother Evolution hasn’t finish her work.

  4. It’s nice to see an uplifting story. It reminds us of our humanity. Meanwhile, there is too much of man’s inhumanity to man. We have seen just how close we can come to destruction of everything we thought we held dear. It’s just possible we aren’t done with that lesson yet, so there is a lot of work to be done.

  5. A positive read and hopeful vision. I look forward to the book. I post your blog posts on Twitter frequently and believe it to be a good platform for your work and voice.

  6. It IS good to see something positive these days. But I can’t help seeing that scene from “2001: A Space Odyssey”, where one tribe of ape/men attack another tribe for the use of a water hole. The point being that we have ALWAYS been competing amongst ourselves. As resources dwindle, the competition, i.e., survival behaviors, will increase. I read a scientific article a few years ago that estimated that the Earth’s resource bank could support up to about three billion humans. After that, the resource withdrawal exceeded the deposits (renewing). Well, we’re now about to cross the eight billion threshold…and growing.

    So, the intellect of those who see nurturing and cooperation through the use of science, education and actually practicing inter-species love and caring is probably the true expression of why our brains are so large. These traits generally represent Democrats or Progressives. The more primitive aspects of outright “competition” and “win at all costs” belongs, mostly, to Republicans. Republicans, therefore, are ANTI-social, ANTI-Earth and PRO-extinction. The thing is, they don’t see that about their agenda. Of course, their backward-thinking churches keep reinforcing those notions.

    Enjoy the Earth while you can. Save your photographs for your children and grandchildren. They’ll want to know why you tried so hard to save it.

  7. In the Eli Wiesel haggada , he describes an event in his town. Before Passover, there was a room where people would pass through. Each one would either leave money or take money, depending on their circumstances. No one knew who gave or who took the money. How humane!

  8. My contribution to this discussion is a familiar one to regular readers. The other “tribe” in this fractured America needs help. They are not a different species whose character, as some would have it, is innately corrupt.

    We need specific and major initiatives tailored to address the economic and social woes of rural and rust belt America. As I have said before, where is our Robert Kennedy?

  9. go to a flee market,open market,or that saturday drive in swap meet. locals, and the lot, reaquainted,and or, meeting new. communal Bbq and park with groups making music,with instruments.
    if any one rememebers griffith park, l.a. in the summer. groups playing,ragge,another soul,another jazz, another choir, and a few others. no blasting it,friendly,down to,,earth.. where we met for a recapture of our own being. the beach, volley ball, frisbee,or a gathering of the boards. i lived in southern calif in the 70s and a few years near nevada city.. im in my 20s and bulletproof. the concerts were every weekend,they came from all over the world. kmet radio had a concert update twice an hour, from santa barbra to san diego. (free to any group)who and when and where those groups were playing. it was free,and a public service complement. kmet and klos were the top in their day. promoting the people,and then,the music. now we see corp america and (geo bush 2nd), distroy something that was far more responsable for the gathering the masses,in peaceful gatherings. back then they didnt need to promote,be good, no guns or coolers. we all had a basic agenda,to have a good time with anyone who showed up,and make a event,real… when the people still had a choice,and the radio was a bastion of information and keeping the people happy. i remember wolfman jack, xprs from baja califoria. late at night,driving a car that would never see the next engine rebuild. im looking for a cruise in the next city. no turf wars,just a society bent on no pressure,and no hostilities. where we really did,have far more respect for each other,than today… social media sucks when you can hide and slander,without regard for others,and a govenrment,bent on corp america,taking over at any,,,cost.. even at our own human event,,,,,best wishes.
    . p.s. seems trump wants to be a authoritarian, (the washington post,5/13/19 anne applebaum)inviting orban to the w,h, ,he forgot to bring putin along…

  10. What we most need is an economic system that makes the crucial shift: Away from working against nature to learning from and working With nature’s creativity. Fortunately, it now exists: Regenerative Economics has been developed by a former stock broker who woke up to what the financial system is doing to the world and is pouring millions into pulling together all the best work going on in multiple fields to craft a new economic theory and put it to work. They are also partnering with corporations all over the world that are making the shift. I think founder John Fullerton will be remembered as the Adam Smith of the Sustainability Revolution, no kidding.

  11. I am constantly amazed by the amount of worn but usable furniture, children’s bicycles, etc.. left out for the garbage collectors. This despite the many, many places now recycling/fixing up such items for the needy. Along with this is the unbelievable amount of perfect food “leftover” from business and community meetings that can easily be taken to homeless shelters.

    Will we ever move away from “all about me”, my image, my stuff to caring about our planet, town, country and fellow human beings? We have the ultimate symbol of the opposite leading us. How many of us dare call out his anti-humanity to their kids every day?

  12. Humans are good and evil. It’s rare that you can find one and not the other in any one of us. I like the term base instincts to describe the motivation for some of the evil that we do. We are all survivors and the closer we live to actual survival situations the tougher we get about making sure that it’s us who goes on.

    We clearly have the ability now to make sure that we all can survive and live self actualized lives but we generally choose not to. We prefer power – the ability to stand above others, not equal to them.

    One of the troubles of our times along these lines is that base instincts get plenty of advertising on absolutely pervasive entertainment media. They get a lot of exposure and that has inculcated them into our culture – what we observe in others we deem to be like us during our formative years (which are all of our years).

    Is there a path to a collaborative instead of competitive culture? At the moment there are too many people making too much money promoting competition.

    Perhaps this society has to collapse to make room for a better one.

  13. Sheila,

    “There are two possible endings to the saga we are currently experiencing. (Well, there are obviously a lot more than two, but most fall within one of two general directions.)”

    A Third Way might be accepting both “endings,” stay focused and do the best that we can.

  14. “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
    —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from “I Have A Dream” speech, Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963.

  15. I do it directly, putting good stuff by my mailbox. Things are picked up within a day. It is not trash. And, my neighbor says the people who pick up my things look very happy.

  16. I like Marv’s suggestion of a Third Way. We know the yin and yang of humanity with a quick reading of history. Thus, for instance, Alexander could conquer the then known world but yet build one of the seven wonders of the ancient world with his great library at Alexandria. I am afraid the current order of things has been around since the Agricultural Revolution in present day Iraq whose surplus finally gave rise to urbanization and large armies and is a permanent fait accompli, so we have to go from there. Our task is to advocate more yang and less yin in trying to reduce the effects of the yin, the yin being currently defined as dictatorship, trashing the environment, racism etc.

  17. Sheila, you are a lifeline to many……not sure you realize this. “Mindless Consumerism” This country is not alone in that. JoAnn Green, as usual you show us the value of wisdom that sticks to some of us who have been around a while. Jack Smith, your beautiful stream of consciousness makes me live what you talk about.
    Pete: good point/”perhaps the society has to collapse to make room for a better one” Lester, I understand what you are saying about so much waste…along the same lines, look at all the empty buildings and all the homeless????????It’s almost like there should be a huge national or worldwide database connecting the needy with the necessities. Carol, Regenerative Economics is a practice that should have been started long ago. John Neal you hit it right on the head: we definitely need a Robert Kennedy clone. Susan Burke, the community activity you described is exactly what is needed in each and every community in this country…The closest we come (that I’m aware of and participate in) are the pantries; however these are funded. Vernon you remind us about the competition surrounding survival for humans and how delicate that competitive balance has become. Peggy, you made me remember what my Mother used to say: “survival is about balance.” “Man’s inhumanity to Man” is something we can not shake but at least those who work toward the greater good can keep things balanced? Todd, “We are only stewards of this planet, and she’ll teach us who is Number One every single time.” It seems we still haven’t figured that out. Over It, I guess cooperation vs. exploitation is a key way to determine the degree of balance mentioned earlier. When will we know that balance exists?

  18. Maywin – nice summary and adds! One more regarding “mismatches” before our eyes. So much work to do….infrastructure, maintaining public lands, affordable housing, etc. and so many people without college degrees needing work…

  19. I have attended marvelous, encouraging city and neighborhood events in downtown Indianapolis in which families of all sort enjoy commiserating, and I feel a surge of optimism. But then — from the same city — the next day we get news of another spate of nightly murders.

  20. Good idea !
    Good thing she was able to do this in an open – free market society , and not be knocked down by AOC’s U.N. agenda 21 / agenda 2030 .
    Could not have done this with pure New World Order/socialist New Age – B.S.

    Bring on Tribal Sovereignty !

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