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Free stores, also known as "really, really, free markets," are nothing new to the activist scene, but as of late numerous SDS chapters have taken up the banner and introduced the tradition to the campus. The idea is simple: everything at the free store is fair game - if you want it, take it. Folks are (of course) also encouraged to drop off things they don't want or need that others might. The goal is to create a space where people can experience and talk about the inequities of the current system, consumerism, and non-market modes of distribution. It's also environmentally-friendly, and a lot of fun.
SDSers at James Madison University recently set one up:
Junior Brian Picknally pedaled slowly as he tentatively biked around
the commons Friday morning, gleefully saying, “It’s a free bike!”
Picknally’s ride was accompanied by shouts of “free stuff girls!
It’s all free, come shopping!” as a nonchalant group shielded their
eyes from the sun and invited passersbys to comb through jumbled piles
of books and accessories as well as racks of discarded clothing.
Picknally seemed enthused about his find.
“Being a college kid with not a lot of money and finding free stuff
like this is great,” he said. “And it’s on the commons, the center of
The event, a free store sponsored by Students for a Democratic
Society, is characterized by the club offering items to the public free
as a way of fighting against consumerism.
“We’re trying to get people to realize that you don’t have to go
shopping to get clothes,” SDS member Megan Green said. “College
students are usually tight for money and it’s free nice clothes, it’s
not just free junk.”
In order to hold the free store, the group solicited donations from friends and other students by posting fliers around campus.
The group seemed encouraged by the large turnout due to curious students stopping by the free store on their way to class.
“Lots of people have come out and seem to like the idea,” sophomore
member Jamie Corayiannis said. “We really want to spread the idea of
mutual aid and helping each other out.”
Students for a Democratic Society is a relatively new group at JMU,
although much of the group is comprised of members from other related
JMU organizations, such as JMU Progressives, EARTH and Blue Ridge Earth
The group formed late last semester when the JMU Progressives
decided to become a recognized SDS chapter. Despite the name change,
the group still functions under the guise of both organizations by
streamlining their efforts to a similar message.
Corayiannis calls it “youth solidarity to fight oppression and move toward a more democratic society.”
The organization’s message goes back to the 1960s when members
preached a message of democracy and direct action. Many chapters and
new messages were revived on Martin Luther King Day in 2006, as part of
growing protests against the war in Iraq.
Corayiannis boiled the many themes down to a simple message of tolerance.
“It’s anti oppression across the board, no discrimination against age, sex or sexual orientation,” she said.
So far, the society has focused on educating themselves by
participating in a conference in Richmond during the first weekend in
February as well as becoming a nationally recognized chapter of SDS.
Currently, the group is working on planning a series of events that
will occur on campus and throughout Harrisonburg’s community. In
addition to holding a free store on the commons each month, the group
is showing documentaries in Taylor Down Under, holding regular meetings
in Taylor 302 on Wednesdays and getting ready to travel as a chapter to
Washington, D.C. in March.
The group is enthusiastic about continuing to spread their message, and even received kudos from an unusual source.
“Some parents walked by earlier, and they were like, ‘What is
this?’” Green said. “We told them it was free stuff and they were like,
‘Oh free stuff and SDS! What a flashback to the 60s!’”