Barter Your Boss Away! by Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)
As a homeless teen in 1978, I stumbled upon a functioning barter system in Seattle, Wa. that I have yet to see rivaled and I think it is time we did this type of thing again. Perhaps people just need a model to follow. I am not sure how this system evolved, some of it may have been guerilla barter, an *employee thing,* but a lot of it was institutionalized amongst the participants, with full knowledge and cooperation of ownership. A lot of the businesses involved were cooperatives. It was probably the non-cooperative venues that had the employee guerilla bartering. But I know barter was reliably in place all over Seattle by 1978, and died out in approximately 1985. Some key players in the Seattle alternative/underground culture were involved in this experiment, as were some of Seattle's most historic and beloved venues, including the Blue Moon, the Fabulous Rainbow, the Neptune Theater, Cellophane Square, Cause Celebre, Left Bank Books, and more. Many of these Seattle institutions continue to do business, thus proving the barter system did not bankrupt them at all.
I came upon the Seattle barter network through the portal of Morningtown Pizza, an anarchist/hippie cooperative run out of an old garage on Roosevelt Way NE, north of the drawbridge over Lake Union. Morningtown served vegetarian pizza with whole wheat crusts, but they abhorred dogma, thus, intense meat subs were also offered. Morningtown snickered, with irreverent cynicism, at strict vegetarian restaurants like the Sunlight Cafe. Rogue characters, lack of respect for God, American colonialism, authority, and corporations, were trademarks of a lot of the barter contingency. One of the major revolutionary components of this social experiment was that of *no boss". Most of these collectives did not play into the concept that work had to be horrifically oppressive, that you have to dress like an idiot of submission to work effectively, or that bosses were necessary. Usually punk and alternative music blared at a lot of these collectives, people dressed and looked like f*cking freaks, and the workers had attitude problems, *most* of them, and were proud of it! The freedom to *not* have to dress and act like a businessman, or wage slave worker, was highly valued in this cooperative culture. Collective process and individual responsibility was stressed as the alternative to authority and bosses on shifts. If you stole from Morningtown, you stole from the collective, so there was an honest edge.
In 1981, when I was working at Morningtown, the arrangement was Morningtown paid your rent. Most of us lived in cheap rooms in houses and on houseboats in the University District and walked/biked to work. It was a simple life. We could eat all the food we wanted at Morningtown at any time. So that took care of food and housing. But what about records, beer, movies, ice cream and cool leftist buttons and posters? For those necessities, we had pizza barter slips. We could always trade pizza for beer at the Blue Moon, as well as homemade ice cream in the summers, from Cause Celebre. Often a worker would be sent with a pizza, while on shift, to Capitol Hill, for example, to return with ice cream from Cause Celebre for the workers on duty, or to the Blue Moon to return with beer. Inside Morningtown, hand-crafted wooden tables (traded for pizza and subs), were lit by oil lamps, and a wall held 30 kinds of tea and lots of quaint copper tea kettles with strainers, hanging in a row. The walls at Morningtown were decorated with things like a red and black poster that simply said "Eat the Rich," and a poster of Colonel Saunder's head, with "Chicken Killer" under it. A pedestal stood in the corner, holding a large, well-used dictionary. A sign hung over the pizza counter that said something like, "We Are All The Boss."
At the Pike Place Market, Morningtown traded with the Soup 'n Salad Restaurant Collective. It was the first restaurant in the spot now used by the SoundView Cafe. Soup 'n Salad offered hearty soup, salads, and teas. Street performers would sign up for 2 days a month to play inside Soup 'n Salad. They fed Seattle street performer legends, and allowed us to "loiter" and drink free tea and coffee on cold days inside. Many a winter we spent, listening to our own homegrown music, watching ferries cross the Puget Sound through drizzle on the windows. Jim Page, Artis the Spoonman, Baby Gramps, Mother Zosima, Rick Mandyke, and others performed for food and coffee, basically, while entertaining restaurant staff, other street performers, tourists, and Market workers and locals. (Morningtown also offered pizza in return for musical entertainment, but there, you just showed up and the people on shift said yes or no.)
At the Market, Morningtown could also trade pizza with Left Banks Books. Left Bank Collective was, and remains to date, one of the most successful examples of an anarchist bookstore in the country. Left Bank has long been at the heart of Seattle's protest, anarchist and alternative communities. They have provided posters, t-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, patches, books, postcards, records, and other media to Seattle's most radical fringe, as well as the leftist mainstream, for decades, to only rave reviews from the community. They are a distribution point in town for anarchist and underground publications, and their workers do not dress and act like submission is part of their job description. A relaxed worker atmosphere is still present at Left Bank, one of the rare places you can still witness the tone set at these collectives back in the 1970's. Red and Black Books Collective used to do trades with Morningtown too. They also had very radical literature, and were a hub of information for the radical feminist community.
In the University District, we would walk to Cellophane Square and trade pizza coupons for records. This also benefited the co-op, as we would later play the records on shift, of course. We would head over to the Neptune Theater and trade pizza to see movies. We could go see a show at the Fabulous Rainbow, and later drink beer and socialize at the Blue Moon, all with pizza coupons, wearing our cool radical t-shirts from Left Bank. Another cooperative leftover from this era is the Puget Consumers’ Cooperatives (PCC), or "the co-op." I was part of the Phinney Ridge Co-op in 1980. At that point, it was a small space, you had to work to be a member, and then you got all food at very little above wholesale price. We bought in bulk, supported organic and environmentally friendly businesses and consciously knew we were keeping profits from "The Man." There were many local neighborhood co-ops, such as the Central, Phinney, and Ravenna co-ops, that were central to the PCC system. The path to the current state, where you just buy a PCC card to become a member, began with the concept that if you did not want to WORK for your co-op membership, you could BUY your part and others would work more and use your fees to cover operating costs to keep food costs down. But it degraded to where you cannot volunteer for cheap food anymore at PCC Co-ops.
There was also a somewhat revolutionary medical scene evolving at this same time in Seattle. John Bastyr Naturopathic College became one of the few places in the world where you could get an accredited doctorate degree in Naturopathic Medicine (N.D.). Seattle had access to a more holistic health care system due to their presence in our community. The Fremont Women's Health Collective, working alongside the Aradia Health Collective clinic, provided low-income health care with a conscience. Fremont Women's Health Collective seemed to be a living example of the book "Our Bodies, Ourselves." Many of the people from that experiment ended up creating the Seattle Midwifery School, as well as the 45th Street Clinic. The Seattle Midwifery School was one of the first, if not the first, in the country to provide accredited midwife degrees. I had a home birth in 1984 when it was not clear if home birth was legal or not. Two midwives tended me for a 30 hour labor, and did all my prenatal and postnatal care for $300. One of these midwives was the first midwife to be licensed by the Seattle Midwifery School. They hooked me up with one of the first naturopathic pediatricians to graduate from John Basytr. He had a traditional M.D., but added an N.D.! My son has had superior naturopathic health care for 18 years from this doctor now.
I saw this era pass and thought maybe it was just something that happened once and died. But the more I look at the things Seattle is known for, such as the first Independent Media Center (IMC), one of the first midwifery schools, the first accredited naturopathic college, the list goes on and on...and when I see how well organized our underground communities, I think Seattle *could* pull off a barter economy again. And now. There is absolutely no reason that we, as Seattleites, cannot find a way to once again, rent local storefronts, and put in refrigerators and buy in bulk for ourselves, trading labor for corporate profit. PCC is no different than Safeway at this point. Seattle needs to rebirth its food co-ops. There was a time, not long ago, when Seattleites could work shifts dressed as freaks, listening to anti-authoritarian music in the workplace, while also eating healthy food, living in a decent place, thriving in local culture and entertainment, and barely participating in the mainstream “system” at all. I found I was living a completely different reality than what I saw on TV, for example. We, as a community, should not be paying, or charging each other, these high prices for birth, birth control, necessary health care, etc. Nor should we be paying Safeway (or PCC) when we could make bulk food buys and save the environment by avoiding packaging, while saving money through utilized volunteer labor. By organizing to support local and worker friendly businesses and to work out collectives and barter systems that avert money as the only means of commerce in America, we can take away the corporate hold on a little part of Seattle today.
There have been several efforts in Seattle to create community currencies.
One of them is Time Bucks, which has 630 participants in Seattle right now.
Another is SeaVU, a growing community currency that has just started up this year (2005).
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