I shop at the Farmers Market which is held every Sunday at the India Community Center. I shop there because I can buy healthy organic produce and ask farmers what pesticides and chemicals if any they use on their crops. I choose only the produce I can trust from farmers that I have confidence in.
I was delighted to see a booth with literature about labeling GMOs present at the Farmers Market, even if it was tucked away in a corner where there was very little foot traffic. In balance, I understand that they did not have to pay for their booth.
There was a "Free Speech Area" sign posted by the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association on the pro-labeling information booth.
While I respect the fact that the market is being held on property owned by the ICC, the Farmers Market is open to the public and is of service to the community at large. Despite being in the post 9/11 era, I was under the assumption that having access to literature and opinions about an issue did not warrant the designation of an exclusive area for "free speech". I found the sign highly, highly offensive.
I emailed a question to both the ICC and the PCFMA about their policies, if any, on free speech. The PCFMA responded. If I understand the PCFM policy, then what they really wish to communicate might be better expressed through a disclaimer such as the one below, paraphrasing the response I received from Allen Moy, Assistant Director of the PCFMA.
Model Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of PCFMA. Our policy is that we do not take a position on electoral issues but when and where possible, we try to make a space available to those who would to communicate with their neighbors about those issues.
An additional notation could be added stating that the ICC has graciously allowed the PCFMA to use its grounds to host the Farmers Market.
Clearly, the Farmers Market is designed to provide access to farm fresh produce and to encourage direct interaction between farmers and consumers. It also serves as a casual social event where neighbors can bring their babies in strollers and enjoy live music while they shop.
While I do not espouse changing the basic nature of the Market to become a weekly forum for political debates, I believe that for the ICC and the PCFMA to declare an designated (aka restricted) area for "free speech" implies that the free speech guaranteed by the Constitution and Bill of Rights ONLY applies by permission and is restricted in one small area.
I am concerned that designing and using a "Free Speech Area" sign is an over-reaction at best and at worst, a heavy handed and fear based fall back concession to attorneys, insurers and bureaucrats who would avoid the smallest potential for an open and thoughtful discussion without permits and restrictions even if it means agreeing to participate in eviscerating the First Amendment guarantee to free speech.
I recall that with the passage of the Patriot Act, it was argued that the FORCE of an argument, in other words, the logic and persuasion of the words themselves, might be considered against someone who is exercising free speech. The problem being that the persuasive argument was pointing out the flaws in what passed for law under the unconstitutional Patriot Act. Speaking truth to power is often met with psychological intimidation and the threat of physical consequences. Free speech zones are an extension of that threat.
Since passage of the 2012 NDAA, persons who speak openly in keeping with their rights, can still be held as suspect and detained indefinitely. Drones have been approved for the purpose of surveillance of people in the United States and small drones have been designed to have the appearance of hummingbirds, making surveillance in neighborhoods even easier. What we say and where we say it, where we congregate and with whom are all under scrutiny. We live in a very strange time. This is no time to pretend that protecting free speech in a small and limited area is remotely the same as respecting constitutionally guaranteed free speech.
It is my hope that the PCFMA and the ICC will change the signage posted at the Farmers Market to a disclaimer and drop the use of the "Free Speech Area" sign.