Forty-five years ago, a small group of anti-war activists called the Street Messenger Community Project decided to engage in a radical new initiative. The year was 1971 – an exciting and turbulent time with anti-Vietnam War protests, the Media FBI office break-in, new environmental activism and the feminist movement – revolutionary change was in the air all across the country. The Media group decided to expand their activities from nonviolent protest to include community service. So what did they do? They opened a FREE STORE!
Yes, there was a Free Store in Media 45 years ago, housed in the Media Fellowship House from 1971-75! Curious to learn more about this bit of Media history, TTM interviewed Robert Smith, one of the founders of the Street Messenger Community Project, and learned some interesting things about Media history.
The group first met at the Delaware County Community College when it was located in Concordville, behind the Concordville Friends Meeting. They formed around their mutual interest in nonviolent direct action to protest the Vietnam War. Another offshoot of their activism was the creation of the Brandywine Alternative Fund, which promoted war-tax resistance. Later the group became involved with the anti-nuclear movement and concentrated its focus on peacebuilding. Today they are known as the Brandywine Peace Community with an office in Springfield, Delaware County. A Philadelphia Inquirer article dated Jan 27, 2007 quotes Bob Smith, who compares activism in the ’70s with activism today.
The Brandywine Peace Community were trailblazers in many ways. For a time, they owned a community house in Lima, behind Granite Run Mall, where they experimented in communal living. They strove to emulate the street service provided by the Catholic Workers houses in Philadelphia by housing the homeless. Bob also pointed out that the Black Panthers, remembered solely for their sometimes violent activism, demonstrated that resistance and community service went hand-in-hand – setting up breakfast programs and Free Stores in Philadelphia.
This was the inspiration behind the Street Messengers’ Free Store. It was housed in the Media Fellowship House on Jackson & Franklin Streets and was open monthly on the 2nd Saturday of each month. They accepted donations every afternoon, Monday through Saturday, but taking of items was restricted to the 2nd Saturdays, starting at 10am until everything was “freed out”. Their principles were simple:
- The Free Store is a local, from-the-community to-the-community project. It hopes to instill a spirit of community cooperation on the basis of people’s real needs.
- The Free Store is not a charity, but an alternative means to help provide basic needs. It is also a way to say that the possession of the necessities of life is not a privilege but a right.
- The Free Store is not an outlet for unloading useless materials.
- The Free Store is a way to involve people, from all segments of the community, to counter the social inequities where some people have and some people have not.
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Transition Town Media is proud and humbled to be retracing the footsteps of this visionary group of people whose ideas and sense of community service is still strong in Media today.