What if the most important person in our society was the person who gave the most? Angie Schuyler can imagine a society like that and her store, Recipro City, is a model for the gift economy.
The people at the gift table outside Recipro City looked a little sheepish. They had taken a number of items and it seemed they didn't quite believe it was not only OK, but encouraged.
Angie Schuyler had gone to move her car and when she came back she urged the "shoppers" to take as much as they liked. That's the way she does business at Recipro City.
At Repro City you don't need money. The store does not have regular hours. People make appointments to "shop." Often they have heard of the free store through word of mouth.
If you want to bring something in exchange it's accepted, but not necessary. What you find at Recipro City is a gift.
Schuyler knows that the actions of one person can make a difference and opening a store where everything is free is one step she is taking as she works to make a new economic model to replace the one she sees as corrupt and broken.
She believes money is at the root of war, environmental destruction, hunger, poverty, homelessness, and disease. She's one of a growing number of people who think the way to fix what ails the world is by creating a way to live without money.
It's a movement that's spreading around the world. (The first international conference on the Gift Economy took place in Malysia in 2013.) Schuyler cites the work of South African author Michael Tellinger, relating to the Ubunto Contribution System, as a major inspiration for her. He envisions a society that functions without money, barter, or trade.
Each individual is encouraged to follow his or her passion and use their natural talents or acquired skill to benefit the larger community. It would be a society in which the needs of the people-housing, food, water, and electricity--are met and everything is provided freely to those who contribute.
She also has been influenced by the writings of Charles Eisenstein, whose book "Sacred Economics," suggests people are ready to something different when it comes to the economy and looks at ways that change can come about.
Schuyler takes it even further, saying what must happen is a cashless economy based on principles of unconditional love and reciprocity. She's helping to build an economy founded on the principle of reciprocation that creates a free flow of goods and services, in a harmonious, healing and sustainable way.
Schuyler launched Recipro City as a model for that perpetually free-flowing cashless society. Today it is small and located in the basement of her home. But she is looking for a larger space and hopes it will be part of farm where free food can be grown and people can learn about the problems money causes and work together to arrive at alternatives.
Schuyler also is a mystic and says that her role in spreading the gospel of reciprocity is not one she sought. A naturally shy person, she dragged her heels when given the inspiration to open a store. At first she thought she was supposed to barter or trade with people. Finally, she understood that it was all about giving things away.
The vision is so real to her she wrote a story set on the day the new economy goes into place and she also has recorded it, infusing it with her excitement for the possibilities.
Just because she hopes one day society will no longer rely on cash does not mean she is able to live that way today. Schuyler relies on cleaning jobs to pay her bills. She also accepts cash contributions.
What is different for her is that she is no longer attached to that money and doesn't worry about where the next dollar is coming from.
"We waste so much of our lives chasing the dollar, speculating on what I would do if I had a lot of money that we ignore the resources that we have that we might not even be aware of."
Some resources come as a total surprise. A donation of jewelry making materials including stones arrived at her house one day, a welcome gift for the woman who once raised her children on the proceeds of the jewelry she crafted. She also never found out who gave her and her husband, Kevin, a greenhouse.
Schuyler has organized her second gift market of the year, taking place Sept. 13 at 11 a.m. at
By appointment only
1879 E G Ave. in Kalamazoo.
The first market at Kindleberger Park was a success, encouraging Schuyler to do it again. This time the market will be devoted to raising funds and collecting items Lisa Houwerzyl's animal rescue.
At the first market in June, Schuyler says it was fun to give things to people who had trouble believing everything was free. "We were greeted with a lot of amazement. There was a bike rider going by who slammed on the brakes. The reactions we got were priceless."
Many young people visiting the park that day were receptive to the idea of a gifting economy. "Young people get this," Schuyler says. "They're raising their kids with a new way of thinking."
Inviting people into a store in her home where she gives things away, hosting markets where more people can learn about a gift economy, and making blog posts explaining her trought process and worldview has been a challenge for someone who describes herself as reclusive.
She persists, however, because she believes the idea is not one she can keep to herself.
"It's a gift to the whole world. It's a way to put power back in the people's hands."
Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.