The courtyard on the corner of 703 Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz is teeming with vegetation and vitality as those in need and those with abundance mingle and connect. It’s here at the SubRosa Community Space on the third Saturday of every month that a wealth of goods, services and knowledge exists. Only one thing seems to be missing — currency.

At this gathering called Really, Really Free Market (RRFM), individuals can give away goods or services to those who want or need them. Although sharing is not a novel concept, the idea of a collaborative event initiated by the community and without a bartering system stems from anarchist ideas.

Illustration by Owen Thomas
Illustration by Owen Thomas

“It came out of the 2004 protests in Miami against the free trade agreements in the Americas because free trade isn’t actually free — it costs a lot in terms of people’s labor and exploitation,” said UC Santa Cruz graduate student and organizer of the market who identified himself as Bob. “So activists in Miami staged a Really, Really Free Market.”

This market operates on an idea called a gift-economy, which Bob said is “to share what we have in abundance with one another in order to create community and resistance to those models of exploitation.” Gift-economy is characterized as an exchange with no intention of being compensated for a given good.

“It’s a different type of mutual aid without relying on stores,” said a UCSC alumna who goes by Penske Pocketknife.

At SubRosa all events are open, initiated and funded by the public through donations. Volunteers hope to meet the needs of the community, whether it’s through social interaction, goods or events.

“SubRosa was created by four long-time radical community members after years of talk about wanting a [do it yourself] community-centered space in town,” SubRosa member James said about the opening of SubRosa in 2008. With the Bike Church, Bike Santa Cruz County (formerly People Power) and the Hub for Sustainable Living all surrounding the Pacific Avenue location, the founders of SubRosa jumped at the chance to join this community.

For Bob and James, SubRosa creates a place for people to feel safe, be social and simply exist. However, there has been a decline in visitors. James suspects the lack of traffic may be due to lack of advertising and a shift in the community’s climate.

“Something that has really changed from 2008 is Facebook and technology,” James said. “People’s social needs are being met differently than they used to be.”

SubRosa transitioned to an event-oriented space, which seems to feed the needs of the community by giving them something to focus on, instead of just an open space. It hosts presentations, guest speakers, film showings, live music, queer dance parties, noncompetitive Super Smash Brothers tournaments, open mics, letter writing to inmates and RRFM. Like the market, these programs require donations but SubRosa emphasizes no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

SubRosa formerly offered free childcare for community members but because of a volunteer shortage, it now focuses on hosting events like RRFM. Clothing, utensils, tools, food and artwork are some of the items given away at the market. Occasionally there are hair stylists and massage therapists sharing their talents for free.

“The [RRFM] helps people get by day to day. But

it’s also a movement that’s bigger than any one free market,” Bob said. “It’s a misconception that anarchy means chaos, violence and no rules. It just means people themselves are the best ones to lead their own lives. And that power should be at the grassroots level.”

The SubRosa Community Space holds its Really, Really Free Market on the third Saturday of every month from 12 p.m. – 3 p.m.