Crossing the picket line
How Dec 8, 2021 went as a journalism student on Columbia's campus
Columbia University’s student union, with over 3,000 workers, has been on strike for about a month now, second time this year. Their demands? Better wages and a contract, among other things.
On Wednesday, Dec 8, the union called for a university-wide shutdown and called for students to join the picket line and not go to class — both on campus and virtually. The union also encouraged professors to cancel classes in solidarity for their cause.
On the evening of Tuesday, Dec 7, my social media chatter was full of messages — some polite, some aggressive — suggesting and asking people to not go to campus, to do classes over Zoom if you really must.
On the morning of Dec 8, I woke up, made breakfast as usual, packed my lunch as usual and I walked to campus. I crossed the picket line. For my 10 a.m. class, three of us showed up physically. The rest 18 attended virtually. At 1 p.m. when I was leaving campus post class, two of the bigger exits were blocked off. Protesters were physically stopping people from leaving campus — as is the norm with picket lines, I learned today.
I was directed by a picket captain in a green vest to head out of a smaller exit, where too, there were protesters. The air was chillier than usual, both metaphorically and literally.
I wanted to write about why I chose to cross the picket line. At the heart of it is because I’m a student here who cannot afford to miss out on the classroom experience. I’m here to learn and I will not compromise on that other than of course, for emergencies.
But on a bigger note, I’m a journalist. There’s growing debate and favor for advocacy journalism. It’s a spectrum in the industry. There are traditionalists (including myself) who believe in not showing your political or social biases and opinions publicly. I will always choose to tell the story of a protest, not participate. I will never donate to advocacy-funds.
On the other side of the spectrum are those who advocate for the freedom to be able to protest, petition and show up for the causes they care about. Is one better than the other, I’m in no position to determine.
NPR recently updated its ethics policy to ok it for journalists to participate in protests — a move widely discussed and debated by the industry.
[New NPR Ethics Policy: It's OK For Journalists To Demonstrate (Sometimes)]
I debated many aspects of this decision. And, I would be lying if I said sleeping in and just not walking to campus wasn’t tempting, but here’s the line for me. Does it matter if I’m not covering the story? Yes and no. In my books all issues intersect, now or in the future. Could a sports beat reporter march for gender equality? On the surface, it seems harmless to do. But, what about stories that intersect both the beats? (Equal pay for sports players for instance).
The problem with crossing the picket (a physical act of going against protesters’ wish) is that it’s seen as being against the cause. Messaging on social media framing the situation as — Don’t go if you support unions, shutdown campus if you believe in workers’ rights — is oblivious to the gray areas, to those of us who just don’t want to associate with the situation and go about their day as usual.
The whole situation reminded me of a piece I’d read early on in the semester: Complicating the Narrative
[TLDR: There’s not just two sides to anything. Highlights the need for journalists to be cognizant of the gray areas]
Here’s some other resources that I think might help shine some light on this:
That is all for now! There is no straightforward right or wrong answer to any of this, but it’s important to have these conversations, something I found amiss. If you have any questions, concerns or would just like to chat about this, or anything else, drop me a message! I can also be reached via email at: email@example.com
Until next week!