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.