Submitted on Oct 8, 2019 (submission id 171) as a Guest Column for the Bloomington Herald-Times.
Protestors initiated a petition in June that alleged that the owners of Schooner Creek Farm (SCF) are white supremacists and should be removed as a vendor from the Bloomington Farmers’ Market (BFM).
The City has acknowledged that SCF (who has been successfully participating in the market for nine years and have denied the allegations) has treated customers with respect and have followed the rules of the BFM. The City has also acknowledged that the First Amendment prohibits them from discriminating against someone because of their belief system.
Regarding the allegations of white supremacy, Laura Lane in her Aug 3, 2019 (Bloomington) Herald-Times article “Commentary: Don’t forget the First Amendment,” stated the following: “We have done our own research. We have reviewed court documents, emails, videos and recordings that so many claim is proof that the owners of Schooner Creek Farm are white supremacists. Direct evidence, it isn’t there.”
Despite the lack of proof of the allegations and lack of relevance to the BFM, the mayor has made statements perceived to be in support of the protests and broadened his criticisms of the situation. His statements have included identifying constraints posed on his administration by the Second Amendment and Indiana’s policies on gun control. The Mayor has also alleged that the policies of the current presidential administration have contributed to the controversy. Market attendance dropped from 40,000 visitors last July compared to 19,000 this year.
Although the city cannot remove SCF as a vendor, current policies may be providing a work-around on the constraints posed on the city by the First Amendment. The policy regarding protests create conditions that imply an intent to make it untenable for SCF to remain at the market. For instance, although not allowed by the BFM to “carry” protest signs, protestors can wear their signs by printing their message (Boycott Schooner Creek, Defund White Supremacy) on a t-shirt. Protestors can then roam the market with frequent passes by the SCF table. The protesters also carry a little blank sign that they call a “fan” to show their opposition to the rules.
The mayor’s leadership on this issue does provide a new opportunity for the community by allowing the BFM to serve as a rallying point for protests and boycotts on just about any topic. Protestors just need to “wear” their message. And, if a market vendor has been alleged to be in support of any issues that a protestor (s) may not like, the “message” could include an appeal to boycott this vendor to punish them for their beliefs and associations.
Consequently, the BFM can now serve as a “market” for protests. The topics would be unlimited and can start by building on current themes. This could include protests supporting the Second Amendment and Indiana’s gun policies to include concealed carry. Additional protest topics could include political support (and opposition?) to the Trump Administration, anti-abortion, planned parenthood, climate change, immigration, et.al.
The controversy at the market will likely continue to escalate and raises a few questions: Is it possible to extend the rules against protest signs to include the other ways a protest message can be conveyed? Is allowing the market to be a place for community protests – especially against vendors with a perspective and an association that someone may not like, a good thing? What are the conditions that will lead the city to disband the BFM?
The controversy with the BFM first started with the Nashville Farmers Market.
- One page fact sheet: Bloomington Farmers’ Market – Summary of Issues
- Background and timeline of the situation: Wanted: Tolerance, Understanding, Collaboration, Progress