Editor’s note: Adrian, a co-organizer of Tulsa Really Really Free Market, requested that their last name be omitted from the article.
As the Tulsa Really Really Free Market (TRRFM) began on Dec. 17, Rags Ragland, one of the organizers for the event, gave out star stickers “for being good” for giving items away or shopping in the market, and offered attendants donated plastic or paper bags to carry the items they took.
In the parking lot of the Oklahomans for Equality (OKEQ) Center and the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, 621 E. 4th St., (Tulsa, OK 74120), people were carrying large plastic and cardboard boxes of things they no longer needed. The concept was quite simple: If you have too much and don’t need it, give it away and let others have it for free. As Ragland explained, “There is no requirement to give in order to shop.”
Cien Carmona, an organizer who goes by they/them pronouns, swiftly moved tables inside the center to accommodate the wealth of items people were giving. Teenagers, families, and unhoused neighbors began walking around and shopping for the books, clothing, dishes, and art supplies they wanted. When asked about how this approach was different from shopping at a thrift store, Carmona said, “We believe that goods can be exchanged within the community and you don’t need money.”
Bystanders quickly stepped in to help people carry heavy boxes of their donations. Those who donated would often stick around and share conversations with the people who took their items home.
“If you can imagine a world without money, that is it. If you can’t imagine a world without money, come in and experience it for yourself,” Carmona explained.
Adrian, another organizer who goes by they/them pronouns, created a Christmas music playlist that was playing as people shopped. As TRRFM advertises through social media such as Instagram and Facebook, “we were actually kind of questioning…[if the gift wrapping station] would fall through, and several people showed up with supplies for the gift wrapping station,” said Ragland. As shoppers left, they could gift wrap their goods for their friends and family.
Ragland explained, “The Really Really Free Market is an international anti-capitalist movement. We are trying to establish a gift economy locally in an effort to challenge the competitive nature of capitalism.” There are RRFMs in many US cities as well as in Asia, such as the Singapore Really Really Free Market; however, these markets are not a part of a bigger organization and only share anti-capitalist values and the name.
Many of the people giving away and shopping for things are repeat customers. Carmona said, “People who come once usually come every month after that.” Experiences of the market are overwhelmingly positive.
All of the organizers have had an experience of bringing or taking something from the market. Adrian said, “I got some roller skates that I really liked.” Carmona mentioned the joy of seeing the stickers they created go to strangers. At the end of the day, any items that are left over get donated to Youth Services of Tulsa or a thrift store.
The organizers feel the impact on the community has been significant. Adrian said, “We have the food pantry every month, and in October it was a really big pantry.” They mentioned how unhoused neighbors were able to get food or clothing, as well as how the donations of gender affirming items such as binders or shirts positively affected LGBT+ attendants.
“This impacts more than just one person; it impacts all of us…and it is a great place to have solidarity with each other,” Adrian said.
The future goal for the organizers is to expand the services that the TRRFM provides, such as partnering with cosmetologists to give free haircuts, having free STI testing, and expanding the food pantry. On a more bird’s-eye view, Carmona mentioned how their goal is to be able to host the TRRFM at the Expo Square at the fairgrounds.
While some would regard the words “anti-capitalist” and “socialist” as scary, people like Carmona, Ragland, and Adrien have created an inclusive space that doesn’t exclude people on the basis of how much money they have. Adrian said, “These are scary times, but we are together.”