BY JOHN PITT
Clipper Guest Columnist
The Marketplace of Ideas is not usually found on a map. Instead, it is a philosophical realm found in the writings of John Milton, Thomas Jefferson, and John Stuart Mill.
It is made real when free and open public discourse is encouraged. Until recently, Northern Utah residents have found a Marketplace of Ideas in the entryway of their local grocery stores - a perfect location for the free flow of vital community information.
Kent’s Market in Clearfield and Box Elder County and Lee’s Market in North Ogden and Logan have allowed representatives of the Count My Vote petition (and earlier initiatives) to set up tables in their stores to collect signatures from willing customers.
The Count My Vote petition seeks to replace Utah’s current caucus system with open primary elections. These stores do not endorse or condemn the ballot measure, rather, they trust their customers to sign the petition...or not...based on the information made available to them at the store and elsewhere.
To their credit, many local food stores extend the same Constitutionally protected freedoms of Speech, Assembly, and Petition to their local scouts, soccer teams, civic clubs, etc. They know that being a Marketplace of Ideas, or Eagle projects, or cancer fundraisers is as important to their community as being a Marketplace of Groceries.
Regrettably, the managers of some of these stores have recently chosen to limit the free flow of information to their customers because opponents of the Count My Vote petition have taken to verbally confronting shoppers as they consider signing the petition.
Then, when the customers sign the petition anyway, the opponents have resorted to loudly advocating for boycotts of the store. This is not conjecture. Count My Vote volunteers have documented multiple occurrences of these incidents.
Count My Vote volunteers do not expect immunity from people questioning or even dismissing their ideas. In fact, they are anxious to answer questions, listen to differing viewpoints, and provide additional information. They just want to do it in a civil and professional manner that does not disrupt their hosts or their customers.
Ironically, ending discourse by engaging in confrontation, only serves to limit the same grass-roots neighborhood involvement that the opponents of Count My Vote claim to be protecting. A broad range of choices is as essential to the Marketplace of Ideas as it is to the Marketplace of Products. If a customer strongly dislikes Pepsi, then he or she can simply choose to buy Coke...unless the Pepsi haters have made such a fuss that the Marketplace has discontinued cola products all together. That may seem like a ridiculous comparison, but citizens in favor of Count My Vote (and polls show that is the majority of Utahns) now have fewer places to sign the petition thanks to the curt actions of Count My Vote opponents.
That is probably exactly what opponents of Count My Vote wanted, but sadly the policy against signature gathering will likely still be in place when they seek support for a ballot initiative of their own.
As a strong proponent of Count My Vote and Freedom of Speech, I ask you to express your gratitude for civic-minded businesses that allow signature gathering in their stores by supporting their Marketplace...of Groceries AND Ideas.
John Pitt is a member of the Bountiful City Council and Chair of the Davis Alliance for Public Education.