I heard the protesters before I saw them. A few voices bellowed chants through their megaphones. It wasn’t until I was a few yards away from the White House that I could see there was not one group, as I had expected, but two groups of demonstrators, and they had engaged in a massive shouting match.
The protesters led by ANSWER Coalition, a national anti-war group, waved yellow signs that said “Stop bombing Libya!” as they shouted, “They say more war! We say no more!”
The other side, made up of people from several Libyan groups, chanted with equal force, “Supporting a killer makes you a killer!”
Tourists who there to snap photos of themselves in front of the White House gathered around to watch the spectacle. Some posed for pictures with the protesters as their background.
Having never covered a protest before, let alone a counter-protest over an issue as controversial as U.S. and NATO intervention in Libya, I tentatively joined the journalists who were already milling about in the space between the two groups. It’s one thing to stand on the sidelines taking pictures of incredibly impassioned demonstrators and quite another to be in the crosshairs with your camera a foot away from protesters’ faces. It’s even trickier to figure out how to interrupt protesters mid-chant to ask for their information.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m definitely one to avoid confrontation at any cost, so literally standing in the middle of it was the height of fish-out-of-water experience. The bottom line is that it comes with the territory in journalism. No amount of social awkwardness is worth indulging if it means ending up with a one-sided story or incomplete information.
In the end, getting over the tension in the situation wasn’t so difficult. It turned out to be as simple as walking up to the guy in the face paint and saying, “Excuse me, I’m from the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire.”