Friday, January 14, 2011

Can Freecycle be A Tool for Redistribution of Stuff?

Congratulations Bridget, winner of last week's giveaway!

As we prepare for our move, which will likely be the second in a series of moves, we've been getting rid of a lot of stuff. One of my goals by the end of this year is to be able to list all the non-food items in my life. Right now it's still too daunting. I'm not simplifying because I think stuff is necessarily bad, but just because it's so hard to actually use very many things every day or even every week. And things take up time-- to organize, to find space for, to replace, to repair. (Married ladies, what have you done with your wedding dresses? I'm very attached to mine, but it just sits in the cupboard, which seems sad.)

We've been using freecycle a lot, and I've been pondering how it's used. In our neighborhood, it's people with a lot of stuff giving to other people with a lot of stuff. Which is great because it helps stuff avoid the landfill longer, and maybe even helps people save so they can hang out more or eat better (I'm not sure). So on the one hand, freecycle is awesome.

But I wonder if it could be something more.

My mom is part of freecycle Cape Town, and she mentions that sometimes people give away great stuff. The same stuff (it seems to me) that people are committing crimes (with guns... with guns they sometimes use...) to get their hands on. And the crimes are obviously not just about the stuff, but what if they weren't part of the equation at all?

We're all living in cities with invisible borders-- whether it's above the railway/below the railway; the neighborhood google maps takes pictures of and the neighborhood they don't go into (see Umhlanga in Durban, and the no info zone in the township); or just the places we don't go because we don't know. Particularly in Boston, stuff is not the [only] difference between poverty and wealth. Education, savings to survive the unexpected, and health-- and being empowered to make choices for good health (whether good food, safety, or safer sex)-- are much deeper markers of inequality in our society.

But the great thing about freecycle is that it's not mindless dumping of junk at Goodwill or the Red Cross. It's mindful. Can this be useful for someone? If freecycle helps us get to know our neighbors, maybe it can help us cross boundaries, just a little. And maybe those boundaries can get a little fuzzier. I'm not talking about some kind of paternalistic giving-gifts-to-those-less-fortunate. I'm talking about figuring out how to get to know our neighbors, and giving gifts across neighborhoods, not just within them. The how is the question. Thoughts?


CB said...

This is a really good question! And one that I'm afraid I have no answers to, but I've wondered a lot about it....The block that my flat is in was bought up and renovated by a liberal professor at Wits, who then sold off units in an odd kind of social experiment, to maintain a 'diverse community', which was theoretically good for the somewhat dilapidated neighborhood. The result is that my neighbors are indeed an incredibly diverse bunch socially, economically, racially...I'm sure I ought to be learning something, I'm just not sure what....

Concrete Gardener said...

I think it's interesting that you're not necessarily feeling like you're learning something. It made me think of UWC where we used to say that we were in the only place (at the time- right after the end of apartheid) where a black South African and a white South African (or an Israeli and a Palestinian, etc) could dislike each other without it being about race. That was made the setting extraordinary. Anyway, maybe staying in a block where you're not consciously part of a social experiment, is proof that the experiment is working... [insert evil laugh]

Aside: Eug, Noah and I recently had dinner that brought together Iraqi families and Boston-based families, and it felt very beautiful. We spent time mainly with two families, and they really loved Noah and I felt like we could hang out as equals. Anyway...