An eleven-year-old girl named Madison needs braces. They will cost $4,800. She knew this would be a hardship for her dad, so Madison came up with a plan to help. Her uncle had a farm and she could get mistletoe. Madison worked with her dad to chop it and package it for Christmas with a red bow. Then she went to the Portland Saturday Market, an even in downtown Portland on public property.
You can guess what happened next.
A private security guard asked Madison to stop selling because city ordinance bans commerce like that without proper approval.
“I wouldn’t think I’d have any problems because people are asking for money, people are selling stuff, this is a public place,” said Madison.
And she’s right – to a point.
In fact, we saw people protesting, hold signs, playing music, and begging all over the area on Sunday morning as well.
The Saturday Market is incredibly diverse.
You can buy whistles, order crepes and sign a marijuana petition all without walking more than ten steps.
But you can’t open a business without going through the market’s formal application process. The market sets rules for vendors which Madison agrees make sense.
Begging is different.
That’s a form of free speech, protected under the First Amendment, explains Mark Ross, spokesman for the Portland Parks Bureau, which manages the city park and rents it to the Saturday Market.
The guard, hired by the market from a private security firm, told Madison she could sell her products on city sidewalk outside the park’s boundaries or simply ask people for donations for her braces.
“I don’t want to beg! I would rather work for something than beg,” said Madison.
“It’s crazy. People can get money for pot. But I can’t get money for braces. I’m working for this! They’re just sitting down on their butts all day asking for pot.”
How does it make sense? First of all, how can begging be free speech and not selling? In both cases a person is asking for money. How does giving people who give you money a bundle of mistletoe make it cease to be speech?
But even if we allow a distinction between the two activities, how can the right to offer to exchange goods and services be less of an inalienable right than speech?
Work, production, and trade are natural requirements for human life and survival. You can live with your freedom of speech severely restricted. If you are not permitted to trade, ultimately you will not be able to live. There is simply no rational way to make one right sacrosanct while the other is ignored.
Consider the second amendment. If one shouldn’t be required to get a license to own a firearm, why is it OK to require a license to engage in exchange?
A vendor selling ceramic bowls told KATU News she wishes the rules made an exception for children.
“They should have a caveat for children trying to create options for commerce, especially this time of year,” said Sharon Steen, co-owner of Perfect Bowls. “We encourage it. We want them to grow up and be entrepreneurs.”
Perhaps Madison will grow up to be a compliant businesswoman who is always careful to pay her fees and make sure her licenses are up to day. Perhaps one day she’ll see some unlicensed competition in her neighborhood and get the satisfaction of calling the police to put them out of business.
But I hope and pray she is never domesticated like that.