It's lucky that Julie Murphy and her mom, Maria Fife, set up a lemonade stand at Portland, Oregon's Last Thursday art walk, right next to the anarchists. Because when the Multnomah County Health Department officials came through cracking down on lemonade stands and other fly-by-afternoon "food establishments" wildly flouting the rules requiring a $120 temporary restaurant license, they told Julie and Maria to stay put. Their idea: slightly alter the sign to read "free Lemonade, 50-cents --- suggested donation." As fond as anarchists are of flouting arbitrary government rules, they encouraged the crowd walking past to support Julie's stand.
A little boy across the funky Alberta Street caved, packing up after being threatened with the same $500 fine as the 7-year-old girl. As Portland's food scene has been described as very DIY and local, it's sure there were other lemonade stands also shut down that day. But Julie may have been the only one to hold her ground, until two health inspectors came back to confront the lawbreakers.
Julie started crying. "It was a very big scene," said her mom. They left, but not before trading contact information with Michael Franklin, who runs the anarchist Bottom Up Radio Network. He talked about the lemonade stand stand-off with Maria in his show, and that's when the media started covering the dust-up. (This isn't the first time a lemonade stand has been raided; only last year, we covered a similar crackdown in California.)
By the Thursday following the community event, Julie and her mom were getting a public apology from County Chairman Jeff Cogen, who issued the direction to his health inspectors to "use discretion" and said, "A lemonade stand is a classic, iconic American kid thing to do. I don't want to be in the business of shutting that down." The issue earned an entire hour's show on the local public broadcasting station's "Think Out Loud" radio program.
Surprisingly, not all callers and public officials backed the adorable little girl (who is, it should be mentioned, a resident of a Portland suburb which is not part of Multnomah County). One commenter wrote, "how cute would it have been if someone had gotten very sick from this unlicensed and un-inspected stand?" Others said this was a valuable lesson for the little girl: you have to play by the rules. Others were scandalized that the family drove in from a suburb to the inner city; still more, that she was making her lemonade with Kool-Aid packets and bottled water. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, usually known for her family-friendly stances -- she's a mother of three, herself -- said the health department officials were right to shut down the stand because the Last Thursday festival has become so big, "it's a regional event."
Portlanders were making jokes. One friend mentioned that, not only did she have an illegal lemonade-and-cookie stand in her home, but also an unlicensed daycare -- all the neighborhood kids had come over for the day. Another wondered if he'd have to surrender his driver's license information when buying a bag of lemons. Soon, the news had made national media. As the "Think Out Loud" host mentioned, the news was an opportunity for everyone to express his or her own political viewpoint, a Rorschach test, multimedia-style.
The health officials maintain that the public needs to be protected; the mom maintains she was teaching her child a valuable lesson about capitalism "and math." What everyone knows is that neither is really true. The public should be smart enough to take the risk factors under consideration when buying lemonade from a little girl (I'm sure I'm not the only one who cases the joint for nose-pickers before showing my quarters), or cookies from an illegal yard sale operation. The capitalism lessons are few, too; lemonade stands may have to contend with advertising and change-making, but most parents don't make their children front the capital. I think we all agree that kids shouldn't have to deal with government licenses or withhold FICA from the wages they pay their little brothers and sisters.
Just as in so many arenas of public life; the real dangers are in placing too much trust in big corporations (let's take Peanut Corporation of America, as an example, or perhaps BP), whose risky acts harm millions, and providing too much oversight of individuals, small communities and children, whose risky acts are performed in public on a summer afternoon, and who aren't harming anyone.
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