Huffpost Entertainment

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Robert J. Elisberg Headshot

Writers Guild Strike Primer: Part 4, Picketing Etiquette

Posted: Updated:

With the first week of picketing movie studios and TV networks at its end, a few realities become clear:

1. People who have chosen for their profession to sit all day at a keyboard aren't physically designed for marching around in circles for four hours at a time.

2. Cars honking at you any other time of the year would be infuriating, but when you're picketing, a honk of support is one of the world's more beautiful sounds, akin to the wistful song of a lark on a dew-dripped summer's morn. (That last part about the lark wasn't necessary, but when you're a writer on strike, you have to keep in practice.)

3. After four hours of walking in circles, the sight of someone delivering 20 boxes of pizzas is enough to make you believe that there not only is a heaven, but it includes free delivery.

4. It's absolutely wonderful that actors from SAG have joined writers in the picket line -- not just for their support, but because the physical appearance of the line immediately goes up twentyfold.

5. Being solitary creatures, when you put hundreds of writers together for hours with nothing to do while walking in circles but talk, what happens is that they begin to analyze the contract offer and what's at stake in even greater detail, and get angrier and more supportive with each step.

6. Everyone you meet outside of the WGA has an opinion on who's right -- and not one of them has read a line of the contract offer.

It's this latter point which occupies much of a striking writer's life: dealing with concerned relatives, inquisitive friends, opinionated passersby, comments on blogs and articles, quotes and more.

And so, that brings up the quintessential striker's question:

How to Respond?

There are only so many hours in a day, and you have to save your energy for walking in circles. You can't dash off a letter every time you read a crusty statement from Nick Counter, chief negotiator for the AMPTP. You can't reply every single time the John Ridleys of the landscape make yet another inaccurate or churlish pot-shot. (Hey, anyone who quotes Ayn Rand as a convincing argument for anything sane has sent his credibility off to day care.) You can't send an email to every online comment that doesn't have a clue what it's ranting about. And you can't convince the world, one stranger at a time, why the Writers Guild is noble and true and good and honorable, and the companies are one step above Dick Cheney.

So, what do you do?

You take a deep breath and don't do anything.

It doesn't matter.

Really. It doesn't matter.

There's truly no need to convince anyone that they're wrong. Oh, sure, you'd prefer that everyone understand that the Writers Guild is noble and true and good and honorable. But if 24% of Americans still think George Bush is doing a good job, what chance do you think you have of disabusing someone who thinks that getting paid zero for distributing their work online is a swell payment option?

You can't convince the unconvincible, so don't try. Not just for the waste of effort, but because it doesn't matter.

As numbing as it is to read Nick Counter sputter and finger-point, you must remember a reality: Nick Counter is spokesman of the AMPTP and therefore has only two functions when speaking to the press: 1) to try to make the AMPTP look good, and 2) to scare the other side so they'll hopefully splinter.

You must understand: when he opens his mouth to the press, he's a PR flack. (I say this as a former PR flack.) You can't worry about what Nick Counter says to the press. Not just for the waste of effort, but because -- it doesn't matter.

Responding to online comments may be the biggest waste of all. These are people who haven't read any of the offered contract and literally have no idea what they're talking about. Who in their right mind would listen to someone giving life advice on what contract to sign without reading that contract themselves first?? Keep in mind, that's how the U.S. Senate got us involved in Iraq.

So, don't try to convince anyone online. It doesn't matter. Boy, howdy, it really doesn't matter.

And as invigorating as it may be when you engage someone one-on-one and triumphantly convince them that the Writers Guild is noble and true and good and honorable, what you have accomplished is that you have just convinced one person. Only 3.3 billion to go and you've got a majority.

And even if you have a majority... doesn't matter.


The only thing that matters -- The Only Thing That Matters -- is whether the companies who make up the AMPTP want to sit down at the table and negotiate a fair settlement with the Writers Guild.

It's nice to keep people informed, because information is important. And interesting. And entertaining. But ultimately, this isn't Current Events 101, a debate society or traveling circus. It's a contract negotiation between employers and employees. Period.

That's all that matters.

While public pressure can sometimes have an impact, as long as one side feels it's too harmful to their membership, they won't settle. Ever. When both sides see conditions are in their best interest, then they'll settle.

That's all that matters.

But until then, if anyone wants to bring pizza, that's always appreciated.

Read more about the strike on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.