Protesting and Your Job: What You Need to Know

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past, oh, year and a half, you know the U.S. has just undergone one of, if not the most, contentious presidential elections in modern times. Whether you lean left, lean right, or find yourself sitting squarely in the middle of the political spectrum, we can all agree the social climate has been relatively charged before, during, and after the inauguration of our current president. And when I say “relatively charged,” I think I’m being generous. We all have our opinions, sometimes even ones of dissent—that, I believe, is part of a healthy democracy. However, we also have our work. What happens when the two collide in this increasingly social world? Let’s take a hard look at what you need to know about protesting and your job.

Lewis Wallace: A Case Study

Until recently, Lewis Wallace was the only transgender reporter for Marketplace, a news radio station produced by American Public Media (APM). For context, know Marketplace describes itself as “the only national daily news program originating from the West Coast . . . noted for its timely, relevant and accessible coverage of business economics and personal finance.” As a journalist there, Wallace wrote hard-hitting stories about subjects like dishonest lending practices, the growth of the private prison system, and more. He reports he was also encouraged to maintain a personal blog and be active on Twitter to “build his personal brand.”

Ok, straightforward enough. You have a digital journalist working for a digital media company, and said digital journalist keeps up his own presence on other digital outlets—nothing out of the ordinary.

That is, until he got fired 10 days into the Trump administration for violating a Marketplace neutrality policy by making a personal post on his blog about “being a transgender journalist exploring what it means to do truthful, ethical journalism with a moral compass in this very complex time.” There’s more to it than that, and you can read all about his personal view on his feud with Marketplace here. You won’t be the only one: It’s been shared more than 2,000 times and counting.

I’m not taking sides because it’s not my place—or, more to my point, perhaps it’s not the place. With one action, Wallace went from reporting the news to becoming the news. His story was featured on outlets like Slate and Alternet, raising more questions about how to navigate the murky waters between our opinions and our jobs than it actually answered.

The Takeaway

Wallace’s story is just one of many. Numerous employers have made clear their policies on employee political activity, especially those whose professions are steeped in neutrality. The Editor-in-Chief of the San Francisco Chronicle, for example, barred newsroom employees from participating in the Women’s March on Washington held in January.

Here is the bottom line: Protesting or practicing activism is your right, but you must go into those activities knowing they may very well conflict with your job. Be sure to keep your eyes open, know the rules, and make those choices carefully.

What do you think is a healthy relationship between protesting, activism, and your career? Is such a thing even possible? I know you have opinions about this. Tell me in the comments, and let’s talk.


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