A day on the picket line begins with considering the heat. It’s August. I live in the Valley. Even in the best of times, even in a merely “normal hot” summer and not a “climate change is breaking daily temperature records across the globe” summer, it would be quite hot, and spending hours outside in direct sunlight during the middle of the day would be the kind of thing I would work hard to avoid. But because there is a strike going on and I need to picket, staying home is not an option. And so I consider the heat and how best to protect myself.
The Writers Guild is on strike and has been for months. On August 9, we officially reached one hundred days. The Screen Actors Guild has been by our side for the past month, having joined the strike during the hot weather and staying while it gets even hotter. The toll on each of us is specific, personal. It varies depending on our economic circumstances, our health, where we are in our careers, whether we have children or pets or relatives we care for—and if any of them feel like walking in circles with us in the noonday sun.
At times, the challenge that has been hardest for me has been the weird alienation that comes from not doing a job that I love, or the anxieties around what lies on the other side of this for myself and for our whole industry. Sometimes it’s insecurity borne of hearing other writers chat about the novels they are writing in their newfound free time or the spec scripts that they can’t wait to unleash. But today, I am mostly thinking about getting dressed.
After three months, I’ve hit on my ideal picket ensemble, a look that I like call “amateur zookeeper.” I wear long, loose pants, a Writers Guild strike t-shirt, with a pale-blue SPF 50 button-down on top. To this I add a giant straw hat, sunglasses, thin gloves (both for sun protection and sign grippage), a fanny pack for my ID, keys, and Writers Guild card, and bright turquoise walking shoes.
It keeps me cool in the literal sense—and only in the literal sense.
I grab my water bottle (a staff gift from a show years ago, now so banged up with wear and tear that the show’s name has worn off) and head out the door. From where I live, I can walk or bike to Disney or take the bus to Universal. If I’m meeting a friend—the picket catch-up is the new “cup of coffee or maybe a hike”—I’ll drive or take the subway to Amazon or Netflix or Paramount.
Some days—with a great conversation with friends, delicious snacks baked by our intrepid strike captains or dropped off in a box from Jay Leno, a fiery and inspirational speech or two—it’s genuinely fun, a delightful, transportive experience. Most days it’s fine: not the exercise I’d seek out, maybe, but if you keep your headphones out of your ears (and most people do), there’s always someone interesting to talk to. Some days, it’s less than fine. All days it’s hot.
And, when conversation lags, there’s time to consider big questions. For one, why are we doing this? Well, that one I know the answer to: the disruptions of the streaming model make it much harder for writers to earn the living they used to, and more disruptions are on the way. We’re striking for the same reason that we struck over VHS technology and the advent of the internet—because large companies will always use technological advances to harm workers unless someone stops them. Because we’ve watched other good, creative jobs get gobbled up by hedge funds and monopolies and we don’t want to be next. Because we’ve seen that you don’t get what you don’t fight for.