’Free Market in Winona

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Two years ago we hosted the CrimethInc. Convergence in our town, Winona, Minnesota. During that gathering, we attempted to organize Winona’s first Really Really Free Market. Foolishly, we had only promoted this ‘Free Market to the local liberal scene and circulated the news amongst our DIY community. That was a mistake—out of town participants outnumbered locals 20 to 1, our local liberal community didn’t come through, and all the items available at the ‘Free Market would only have appealed to DIY kids anyway. Though we considered that a defeat, we knew we’d try it again sometime.

After years of planning, we finally threw our first Really Really Free Market! Organizing and promoting it was a long, arduous task. We live in a small town: Winona has only 27,000 people, and has the largest radical community of any place within 100 miles from us. It has always been tough for us to make things happen here—small town outreach work is always hard. All but one of our anarchist community are originally from Winona, and owing to our slim population, we’re fortunate enough to have a very wide social network. When we started a monthly community newspaper—think of a hybrid of a local indymedia project and Harbinger—we knew it would help us reach people that we had been struggling to connect with for years. We began promoting the ‘Free Market in the first issue, albeit subtly, and by the third issue, we had warmed up to the subject enough to devote an entire two pages inviting people to participate in the event.

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We invested a lot of energy into connecting with new social circles: we made close friends with the local homeless shelter; we knew the administrators at the food bank well enough to solicit their help distributing fliers; the punks were down to give away free bicycles; even the local food co-op was putting food aside for us. Representatives from all of these different social circles and more met four times before our first ‘Free Market to discuss logistics—we devised promotional schemes and dreamt up ideas and dispersed. When the day came, the first organizer arrived at the park 30 minutes early, to find to his surprise that over two dozen people were already there, waiting for the market to start. An hour into it, that number had grown to 200, and the event was a huge success. It went on that way for four hours: people giving away carloads of clothes, furniture, food, a box of hundreds of toothbrushes! A trash-bag full of condoms, starter plants for a garden, and five kids bikes were given away via a free raffle. We were all really inspired and pleased with the event, knowing that most of the work was out of our hands.

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We plan to bring the lessons we’ve learned to this year’s CrimethInc. Convergence in Milwaukee, WI. We’ll have plenty of examples of our community newspaper and plan to hold a workshop instructing anyone how to produce an effective, high-quality newspaper to nourish their radical community for under $250 a month. We know how difficult it can be for small midwest towns to get things off the ground—we’ve been struggling to for years. Hopefully, news of our successful ‘Free Market will motivate other small-town anarchist communities to attempt similar feats.

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