by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster
Imagine going into a store where everything is free. It happened in San Francisco as the Sixties and New Age Movement were beginning.
Free Stores were opened in Haight-Ashbury in 1966 by the Diggers, a community-action group made up of improvisational actors. The stores operated from 1966 to 1968, in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco.
The experiment can be viewed as the beginning of today's Gift Economy. Traditionally, buying and selling of goods and services took place using coin and printed 'money.'
The stores closed, but innovations continued. The last half of the Twentieth Century saw played out a series of innovative practices which challenged this, and other, assumptions.
Although barter and trade persisted locally the lack of a unit for transactions limited the practice to very local areas. Reacting to the abuse of money, and the Vietnam Conflict, people began reaching out for alternatives for war and commerce.
In 1966 the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, started in Laguna Beach, was contributing income generated from sales of LSD to fund protests against the Vietnam Conflict with marked success.
Though few knew it doors were reopening from a century earlier.
The first experiments with alternative life-styles and exchange by Westerners in North America came through the Transcendental Movement, communalism ignited through the writings of Robert Owen, a Scottish Socialist. Owens introduced Time Hours with the National Equitable Labour Exchange in 1832.
These experiments often failed. Abigail May Alcott, mother of Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, made the observation she was the commune's only domestic animal. It was deemed inhumane to employ animals for labor during Fruitland's existence in Massachusetts.
Communalism did not persist. But time hours was successfully introduced in Ithaca, New York in 1991, providing an alternative to money during the recession then taking place. Ashtabula has a Time Hours Group through St. Peter Church. Try it.
FreeCycling, person to person gifting of unused items, started on May 1st, 2003 in Tucson, Arizona, and took off as the ease and effectiveness of the practice became obvious.
Baby clothes, parts for appliances, furniture, things pass rapidly from person to person through freecycling, saving money without overhead.