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Media gets schooled on the label 'protester'

Zoe Blunt believes news people are too quick to slap the label of “protester” on anyone who goes public with their opposition to the 2010 Olympics – and the effect can be too simplistic or sensationalist.

“We're people in the community with jobs and occupations, just like everyone else,” says Blunt, who is a journalist and environmental activist with Vancouver Island Community Forest Action Network.

So, in an attempt to be helpful, today she emailed a couple dozen editors in B.C. her own “Anti-Olympic Style Guide.” Here it is:

Anti-Olympic Style Guide

“Protester” is a word that’s over-used and generic. Better reporting identifies a person by his or her occupation, location, age, and so on. For example: “Zoe Blunt, a Victoria writer and Olympic critic …” We’re people in the community with jobs and occupations, just like everyone else. There’s no reason to deviate from the standard way any person in the street would be identified.

Below are some words and phrases that may be more accurate and descriptive than “protester.”











Independent journalist

Community leader

Indigenous activist

Free speech supporter

Social justice advocate

Anti-poverty campaigner

Human rights watchdog

Similarly, “protest” lacks detail and may not apply to the action on the ground. These words and phrases may be more accurate and descriptive.

Campaign, educational campaign, letter-writing campaign, street outreach campaign, corporate campaign, etc.; Rally March Action Demonstration Picket, information picket or picket line Festival Teach-in Gathering Guerrilla theatre Street party Flashmob Sit-down strike Walkout Banner-Hang Civil Disobedience Blockade

Is it a blockade? If the road is blocked and no traffic can get through, it is a blockade. If traffic is being allowed through, it is an information picket or a checkpoint.

Don’t assume the group has a “leader.” Grassroots organizations often are consensus-based and effectively leaderless. Some street actions are spontaneous. When in doubt, it is best to use a label that does not presume an individual has authority over the group.




Media contact


Legal liaison


Blunt told The Hook she began preparing the guide last winter after being described as a “professional protester” by Sun Olympics reporter Jeff Lee in his blog.

She complained at the time to Lee and Sun managing editor Kirk LaPointe that the term “professional protester” is “insulting, misleading, and untrue” because it suggests “that social justice advocates are not sincere in their beliefs, that they are interested in protesting rather than creating change, that they are paid to protest, that they are doing the bidding of others, that they are ‘anti-everything people,’ and they are unthinking reactionaries.”

Lee blogged in response that the label is apt for “You and others who routinely turn out at anti-Olympic rallies and speak at events and engage in a very public agenda” but that he didn’t intend “professional protester” to be pejorative.

Blunt finally crafted her guide and sent it around today, she said, after becoming frustrated with the way the CBC was boiling down its description of UBC neuroscience professor, author and Olympics critic Chris Shaw to one word: “protester.”

David Beers is editor of The Tyee.

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