The Campus Soapbox

Nouse invites campus political groups to vent on an issue of their choice. This edition, Freesoc on overconsumption

Call it a swap shop, a free-cycle, a bring-and-take stall, or a small, happy revolution of a Saturday lunchtime, but an event by Freesoc saw the redistribution of approximately twenty-five CDs, twelve items of clothing and many more books, magazines and bric a brac. Bizarrely, there was no taker for the book of make-up techniques (become a corpse, mummy or lime green alien).

The idea is that everyone brings their unwanted goods to the table and takes away items that other people have left. It’s an alternative to our wasteful and environmentally unsound culture of disposability, an alternative also – should you be desirous of a new purple chenille jumper or Yo La Tengo album – to handing your money over to a corporation whose ethics you may disagree with. From sweatshops (Disney and Levi’s) to alleged involvement in the murder of trade union leaders (Coca-Cola) to the bulldozing of Palestinian homes allegedly with people still in them (Caterpillar), the extraordinarily dubious behaviour of corporations is the rule and not the exception.

You might ask, why not donate unwanted items to charity shops and patronise their stores for that chenille jersey? It’s a fair point: charity shops are just great, and the bring-and-take stall is never intended to replace them. It does however serve a broader purpose than just getting your hands on new stuff (and simultaneously a warm glow in your belly). It promotes the notion of free-cycling generally. Many cities, including York, have free-cycle schemes – an email list where unwanted items are announced, and can be claimed ( – and these schemes can cater for the recycling of a far greater range of stuff than charity shops, including furniture, tools, and computer parts. It’s also the truly revolutionary idea of operating without the exchange of cash. People struggled to believe that Freesoc weren’t offering them complementary plum coloured knitwear in an attempt to convert them to some freakish cult, or felt guilty, declaring they really couldn’t take that book without giving us money (lots of stuff on the stall eventually went for free; our publicity was admittedly a bit crap and people hadn’t also got much to swap, but that’s also cool). It goes to show just how ingrained the idea of consumption is. The intention of the swap shop is to make people think how much of their day they spend paying for things, and how much the movement of money regulates our social relations. Consider Christmas, and the notion that love for your friends and family is somehow related to buying them iPods and eating twelve mince pies in one sitting.

At a recent debate on the role of private companies on campuses, one gentleman announced that those opposed to corporate influence were deluded – we thought we were citizens, but we were only consumers. He might be right about the pervasiveness of consumption, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Join a free-cycle or a swap shop, self-organize, be environmentally and people-friendly, and become a citizen again. By swapping a Husker Dü album for a pack of biscuits, we made one guy’s day.

Contact Freesoc: socs442 (at)

By Leah Watt, Freesoc member


  1. 13 Dec ’05 at 11:34 am

    Donald Johnson

    Freesoc – the enviornmentally friendly group who graffiti all of campus.


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  2. I always thought that the environment was a place which people inhabit. Putting chalk on brick isn’t damaging the environment, it’s asserting our right to creatively interact with it rather than just passively moving through ugly 60s buildings. Apparantly the way to have the right to alter the environment is to be able to pay the advertisment fees, rather than having a stake in it, by using it and living there.

    Hope that clears things up, Donald.

    Concerned, James College

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