Prevailing in the Face of Protest and Why you Should Have a Press Pass - ITS Tactical

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Prevailing in the Face of Protest and Why you Should Have a Press Pass

By Rob Robideau

Time Magazine recently named “The Protester” as the 2011 Person of the Year because of their impact on society. Unfortunately, that impact is not always positive. Protests often result in:

  • Blocked traffic  – Protesters lock arms and purposefully block an entire street, forcing all vehicles to follow them at walking speed.
  • Closed off roads  – The local police will often barricade a section of roads in an attempt to limit the conflict in an area of protest.
  • Property damage  – This past week, I witnessed a motorcycle being thrown onto a pile of burning tires because he ignored the protesters barricades.
  • Bodily harm  – When protesters get riled up, there’s no telling where they will draw the line. They don’t think about what a rock through the windshield or a stick in the spokes means to the people in or on the vehicle.
  • Infrastructure Disruption – Broken power lines, blocked delivery vehicles and ambulances are a common  occurrence.

In January, I moved from a sleepy midwest town with population of less than 2,500 to a seething metropolis of several million in a nation with an unstable interim government and a Prime Minister that leads a political party that is still on the US terror watch list.

Protests are a way of life here. There was recently a period of seven straight days on which I encountered large groups of protesters blocking roads, chanting, waving flags, and burning torches.

Protesters have always been around, but most would agree that 2011 has had an upswing in the amount of protesting as well as the intensity. With all the publicity given to protesters, I don’t expect the protest movement to go away any time soon. I had an abrupt introduction to the local culture of protest, but I have found a few tricks that helped me function and remain safe through turbulent times.

The following observations are from my personal experience here in Nepal, but much of this can be applied anywhere in the world.  Here are a few simple tips:

Awareness Starts Before you Leave Home!

Other people may already be trying to warn you. Use the resources that are available to you.

  • Local Newspapers – A  Simple glance through the local paper can save you a lot of trouble. Many protests are announced to the press in advance for additional exposure. I prefer the dead tree edition. It’s easy to miss something on a newspaper website that might not have made it to the front page.
  • Website Listings – Try to find a website that lists upcoming protests in your local area. Web resources are generally updated more often and have events listed that the newspaper might have overlooked. There are certain websites I check every day before I leave the house. If there are certain groups that protest often in your area, it might be a good idea to get on their mailing list.
  • Google Alerts – A simple Google Alert can monitor the news for combinations of keywords like nearby city names and “protest”, “demonstration,” etc. These alerts can be delivered via email or rss as daily digest or “as-it-happens.”  Google Alerts

Protesting is About Attention!

Use that to your advantage. Protesters love the press. It can be a relatively simple proposition to get a press pass that will get you through/past protests that completely block traffic. Afterwards, ask them for a letter stating you have written for them, etc.

  • Set up a blog using a free service like Blogger or WordPress.
  • Write an “About” page or article telling people that this blog is for covering local protests or demonstrations
  • Design your own press ID using a template (Here’s an example template). Don’t lie on the pass. It’s not necessary.
  • Print it on a solid plastic card. There are tons of companies that will do this for a few bucks. (Here are a few) I had mine printed locally for  about $.80 each.
  • Throw the ID on a lanyard or in an ID armband  and stash it in the glove compartment for whenever you may need it.
  • If you have to use it, present it with authority!  It has never failed me, even under the scrutiny of armed soldiers at roadblocks.
Editor’s note: Here’s a link to the flickr badge template shown in the image above.

Look ahead in traffic!   Once traffic is stopped, it is often too late to turn around.  Traffic is already packed in around you.  Look for:

  • People making U-turns
  • A completely empty opposite lane

When traffic starts slowing, try to find out why and position yourself to get out of the traffic quickly. Don’t follow the herd!

These simple tips have helped me avoid many unsafe situations and saved me an immeasurable amount of time and effort. I hope you find them helpful!

Editor-in-Chief’s note: Please join us in welcoming Rob Robideau as a contributor on ITS Tactical. Rob runs the Personal Armament Network which produces the Personal Armament Podcast. The Personal Armament Network creates informative and entertaining articles and web shows for people who want to be prepared for every day.  

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  • Keenan

    great article! Very informative

  • Andrew

    Great to see Rob writing for ITStactical! I miss the reloading show you used to produce Rob!

  • Izzy

    Genius. I’ve been looking to make a press pass of sorts for my blog, but wasn’t aware of any companies that printed on PVC cards. Thank you for that.

  • Sorry guys but I really take offense to your suggestion of creating a fake press pass to attend or avoid a protest or any other event for that matter. There are those of us in the press who aren’t left wing idiots pushing the liberal agenda. Showing up at an event with a fake id, not knowing the do’s and don’ts of dealing with protesters, law enforcement or ordinary citizens does nothing but put us working journalists a risk.
    We’ve all heard about ‘journalists’ being assaulted by police, but 9 times out of 10 the journalist being ‘assaulted’ is some idiot that runs a blog and thinks that because he has a little laminated card with PRESS on it, he should be able to do whatever he wants. WRONG! Please reconsider promoting this type of behavior out of respect for the thousands of journalists who have dedicated their lives to telling truthful stories. To me, you wearing a press badge is about insulting as a CCW permit holder wearing a badge would be to a police officer.

    • Ryan

      I agree with John. I love ITS Tactical but I am sort of shocked by this article. I’m a photographer and have covered several public demonstrations. Press passes aren’t something that you make yourself, they are something furnished by the local town or state. The outlet which you represent must file for it: it contains your name, organization and a registration number. Showing up to an event or trying to get through an event with a bogus press pass is asking for trouble. “It has never failed me, even under the scrutiny of armed soldiers at roadblocks.”- I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t take you seriously/believe your press pass if you presented me the pass pictured above.

      Should we start putting “police” decals on our cars and little blue lights to get past roadblocks next?

    • Ryan, please see my response to John. I feel you’re taking your response out of context of the article too. The Police decals and blue lights are getting a bit ridiculous. I completely agree with you on obtaining Press Passes through legitimate outlets, we just got through doing this for our SHOT Show reporting coming up.

      This article, however, is not about fooling local Law Enforcement or pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. It’s about the difference between getting home to your family in the case of situations like Rob has found himself in.

    • John, I’m not sure where you got the assumption that this was creating a fake press pass. By explaining “there’s no reason to lie” and also showing a photo of a Flickr Press Pass, the information presented is all above-board. The intent with the Press Pass is to also get through a situation where protesters might be blocking your egress or ingress, particularly overseas, as this is the perspective our contributor Rob is writing from. This isn’t to pull one over and get into a White House Press Conference. I’m also not sure how you’re gathering that we’re calling all press “left wing idiots pushing the liberal agenda,” but that would also include this media outlet here at ITS.

      Your statement “We’ve all heard about ‘journalists’ being assaulted by police, but 9 times out of 10 the journalist being ‘assaulted’ is some idiot that runs a blog and thinks that because he has a little laminated card with PRESS on it, he should be able to do whatever he wants. WRONG!” is completely uncalled for and out of context.

      The other link for the Press Pass also references Demarest v. Athol-Orange Community Television, 188 F. Supp. 82 (D.Mass. 2002): The federal district court ruled that a citizen-journalists for local community access television had the same rights as other members of the media.

      Your entitled to your opinion, but please don’t take the article out of context.

    • As a non-member-of-the-press, this article definitely came across as advocating fake press passes as a method of bypassing police security. I wouldn’t recommend it. You need to go through proper channels to get one or else you might get in more trouble and be detained even longer. Many people /are/ actually eligable for press passes. If you’re going to do it, do it right. Might as well do it right. Otherwise avoid the situation.
      A legal alternative would be clergy credentials, which can be had from the Universal Life Church. It’s recognized in most states, though I suppose it’s still susceptible to the same scrutiny as a fake press pass.

    • A “Flicker” press pass is not a valid press id, please see my response above.

    • jbayley

      What’s wrong with you people? Pay attention and try and concentrate.
      The press pass is to possibly deter an over the top mob from tearing you to peaces. That is all.

    • John,
      You make some fair points regarding keeping the Press Pass an important and relevant tool to allow you to do your job, but when you’re faced with a situation with a group of unruly protestors or a mob that is essentially doing whatever they want and imposing their will on non-participants…I’d break out a Press Pass, call it “fake” or not, any day of the week. In fact, I’m most likely breaking out more than that. You’re advocating playing by the rules for the sake of journalistic integrity with people who are not playing by the “rules” -that’s just not how the world works (ie, Egypt reporter sexually assaulted). If you’re dealing with a bunch of non-peaceful protestors and you find yourself in an imminent threat, the solution (I make no apologies for the pun) is to use whatever means you can to regain your personal security, which I (we) always have the right to do…at least in this country.

  • Tango

    Nice article I think ill be making one later today. @ John & Ryan what I got out of the article was how to avoid some sticky situation with protesters that can turn into mobs very quickly. I think the article broke down ways not get caught up in protests. That being said many protests are mobile and present dynamic situations I’ve seen many people who were unaware or distracted find them selves in a bad spot very quickly, thats where I believe the pass could help you get your self out of trouble.

  • Mark

    I love this site, but when I read the piece above my reaction was similar to that of John and Ryan. I didn’t comment immediately, because I realized the author is not “exactly” suggesting impersonating a journalist for the purpose of fooling anyone, but he is walking a very fine line. Frankly, when he talks about flashing his “press card” at military checkpoints I think he crosses that line. For journalists, even former ones like me, this issue of some agencies or anyone for that matter, using press credentials as cover is a very sensitive one. Before you think of a press card as a free pass, I suggest you do a search on “journalist shot at checkpoint” and see how many hits you get. You might find the film of ABC’s Bill Stewart being shot point blank in Nicaragua in ’79. Press credentials have also not protected journalists from being assaulted while reporting on protests during the “Arab Spring.”

    Anyway, keep up the great work. I’m sure we can all disagree without being disagreeable. I think its great the topic came up.

  • shadowman85

    You know Time doesn’t always get it right. They named Hitler Man of the Year in 1938.,9171,760539,00.html

    • don Roberto

      Actually, Time got it exactly right. Their “Man of the Year” carries no stamp of approval, but simply denotes who, in their estimation, was the most influential individual.

  • I have no problem with sincere “citizen journalists” who are ethical, and learn the journalism etiquette. Problem is that many bloggers and such have no idea that there is a code of ethics for journalists or how to work with other members of the media, with officials or with law enforcement. Over my 25 years of being a journalist I have seen “citizen journalists” (I really hate that term by the way) screw up great relations built on trust and understanding with fire and emergency personnel. I’ve seen CJ’s cause near riots for breaking a police line because they thought the yellow tape didn’t apply to them, and I’ve seen CJ’s get arrested and sometimes physically restrained by police and assaulted by protesters. All because they thought that the little plastic card with PRESS on it somehow gave them magical powers that allowed them to do whatever they pleased. I can say the exact same thing about real journalists who just felt they were above the law.

    I didn’t mean my post to be an attack. But you need to realize that suggesting something like that will inspire some folks who have no business to show up at the scene of a violent protest, serious emergency situation, or man-made/natural disaster. It truly does put us working journalists at serious, sometimes physical risk.

    My suggestion would be that if you, or any other blogger/CJ seriously wants to report the news, join one of the professional organizations and get your credentials through them, AFTER, you read and learn the code of ethics. I, as a news photographer, am a member of the National Press Photographers Association. The NPPA is very serious about ethics and standing up for journalists who are unjustly attacked, arrested etc. It adds a huge amount of credibility.

    • Frank

      The protest towards creating a “fake” press pass is absolutely ridiculous. The purpose of the pass described in the article is to get you out and get to safety. Its about survival. I’m sure people won’t agree with my rationale, but I will do absolutely everything to preserve my safety and the safety of my family. That includes “lying” with a fake press pass to get them out of a dangerous situation. The fact that the original press poster made a distinction between “official” press and bloggers shows complete lack of understanding regarding journalism and freedom associated with that right. How dare you decide who is and who is not entitled to that freedom or imply that you have special rights because of your occupation. Well I have news for you pal. I will lie through my teeth, steal, kill and ultimately die when it comes to preserving my own. Suck it up, you are nothing special.

    • Allen

      I totally agree. The blog was about getting out of a very bad situation. It is just something to put in your toolkit. Thats it. The article did not say he was getting free dinners, or special treatment, or a spot on the nightly news, he onlt said get out of a mob and get to safety. I agree with Frank, I’ll do whatever it takes to get out alive. And if making a cheesy ID card does it, well thats a dollar well spent. See you journalist think you deserve to be GOD because you are such, and get to carry a pretty ID card that gets you all the girls, but honestly go cry to someone else. Prevailing in the face of protest. Thats all this was about.I guess I shouldnt use my AR because Colt designed it. Or use my GPS because magellan didnt authorize it. Or carry my gear in a Rucksack because Alice hasnt given her permission (thats a joke gents, laugh). All in all. I’m making one, no several, today.

  • The Dude

    The people getting thoroughly bent out of shape over this sound like they have never been abroad. The rules of life in America just don’t always apply.

    I was passing through a toll booth in Bangkok when a police officer, trolling for foreigners, stopped me. He asked to see my license, so I gave him what I had- my state driver’s license. First he said I needed and international driver’s license. I politely told him mine was good internationally. He then said I needed a special permit and it would cost 2000 Baht (Thai dollars) at the police station, or 1000 Baht now. I told him to help us get to the police station. He gave up and waved me through.

    So did I disgrace the international community by using my license that way? Please keep in mind I was being shaken down for a bribe by an official! You do what you have to do when the situation demands it.

    Geeezus, t’s not like he’s using the thing so he can get access to Reuters’s cafeteria

  • TheOmni

    The idea of a “fake press pass” just seems weird to me. The press should not be regulated for a variety of important reasons, so it doesn’t make sense that you can have a press pass that is fake.

    And this seems like a good idea, but it’s a bit focused on dealing with protesters, who appear to be the significantly less dangerous group likely to be involved in a protest.

  • Patrick

    Some of you may need to go back to school and take some reading comprehension classes. This article does not imply that the fake press pass should be used whenever one feels like it. It is stating that it is another tool to use to get yourself out of dangerous situation. The author advocates avoiding the situation all together, but discusses creating a fake press pass in order to get through a crowd or roadblock and remove yourself from the dangerous or escalating situation in the event that you are unable to avoid it.

    The key sentence is “If you have to use it, present it with authority!”
    “Have to” implies that other possible options have been exhausted, or are not presenting themselves. Therefore, one would use the fake press pass as somewhat of a last resort.

    The article does not say that people should go around pretending to be press beyond the need to remove oneself from a bad situation.

    Great article! This is what makes ITS so great, and why the company has grown so relatively quickly due to out-of-the-box thinking and creative solutions to all types of threats.

  • graf

    I totally understand this article.
    If you follow the video reports of some protests/riots, there are TONS of people with cameras.
    Sometimes there are three passer-by with DSLR for every protester.

    And, at least in my country, those people have less problem with moving around protests – because they are less likely to cause problems with expensive equipment in their hand 🙂
    Get yourself a press pass (which in fact means nothing, as far as I know, because it is not a legal ID), and you can avoid problems when situation is getting hot. Of course it will work just in the beginning when police forces allow people to split between protesters and passers-by.

  • Justin

    I see a lot of people getting in a hissy over non-traditional people having press passes. But I have a feeling the people who are getting upset about this are people who think that they are better than other people for some reason and enjoy hording the power of this card. Not that a press card really holds much power even. I don’t know tons about it but I think pres cards may only help get in or out of a public area that is otherwise being restricted by the police. It’s not like you are going to get far with it at a private event where press had to organize with the event coordinators ahead of time in order to get special clearance….and in any case. I think itt’s pretty hypocritical of people who no doubt shout “freedom of press” at breakfast would deny anyone else the opportunity to observe anything anywhere…

  • Prime226

    A press pass is a brilliant idea. I really dig these types of articles.

  • Stephen Douglass

    I rather like this idea, especially where showing my professional credentials may in fact escalate an already bad situation (and also can be used in pretexting). A quick look around some of the sites I use for different things NICS Law Enforcement Supply has a range of press passes in pvc, vinyl, plastic, and heavy paper. You can use their shop and supply your information, or simply have them ship it to you blank; with the exception of the pvc. That is done in-house only.

    Side note: If you are blogging or using the intel around you to get the word out for what ever reason, you are press in a quasi form. You may or may not be covered by the Shield Act. Foreknowledge goes a long way.

  • RealityCheck213

    @John Pavoncello The 4th Estate has failed us. If you’re a journalist, there’s a good chance that you’re NOT honest, you DON’T follow journalistic standards and integrity, and YOU are part of the problem with the rise of “Citizen Journalists” that you so dislike. 

    And shouldn’t you be writing about Trump’s hair or small hands 24/7? Or promoting another Iraq War before we find out there isn’t any WMDs? I’ve worked with you media hacks for 30 years and have yet to find one person that isn’t some wacko liberal advocacy journalist trying to slander white people, men, Christians, capitalism, the military, Republicans, etc.
    You want to continue building good relationships with city workers? Then tell all your buddies at NPR, NYT, BuzzFeed, HuffPost, Chicago Trib, LA Times, Seattle Times, San Fran Chronicle, Rolling Stone, Slate, Salon, MSNBC, CNN, ABC News, etc. to stop painting ALL cops as violent bigots. We know the difference between criminals and cops. Do you?
    The media is the most destructive element of our society. Everything awful about our culture the media exacerbates for profit (ad revenue). I’d prefer state-owned media to corporate shills any day. At least we can acknowledge the bias as propaganda. But yay for more Kim Kardashian stories!
    Citizen Journalists > Traditional Media

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