Picketing a Business

I get lots of e-mail and calls from listeners and viewers who believe they have been ripped off by a business, and the officials of that business refuse to talk to them. They want to get the company’s attention. These consumers ask me for information about picketing the place of business to inform other prospective customers about how they believe they were ripped off, plus they believe this will get the attention of the merchant.

I have seen many consumers get the attention of company officials after they picketed the company’s place of business on a Saturday or Sunday. It’s very difficult for a merchant to do business when other consumers are standing outside with signs that say, “You took advantage of me.”

These angry consumers normally say: “it’s a free country can’t I picket them?” Yes Virginia, the USA is a Free Country and you can picket as long as you do it legally, which of course is non violent.

Here are the basic rules that normally apply in states of the USA. First notify your local police and city or county attorney that you plan to picket the business and ask them for the rules in your community. Tell them the times you plan to be there. The first thing the business owner will do when you start your picket is to call the police. Since you contacted the police the watch-commander or shift supervisor will already know that a “peaceful” picket is on the schedule for that time of day at that business. This planning is very important.

Here are some of the basic rules:
1) You can picket on public property but not on private property without permission.
2) You cannot block entrances to the business and you cannot harass customers entering or leaving the business.
3) Your picket signs cannot be libelous. Just state your complaint, stick to the truth, and do not call the business people a bunch of crooks. Example: “This dealer sold me a car that stalls-out,” could be used on your sign or handout document, but you could not have a sign that says, “this dealer is a crook because he sold me a car he knows will not run.” Some consumers who protest at car lots simply use a large picture of a lemon on their new car. (A picture is worth many demonstrators)
4) Have a brief handout that states your problem, again do not libel the business.
5) Do not get into a major argument with employees or customers, if they force one, simply walk away.
6) If the police ask you to leave because of a fear of violence, then leave! Do NOT get arrested.
7) Have someone with a video camera to record what happens. This normally will control any violence against you or anyone.

It is best to have a half dozen or more consumers take part in your picket, that way it doesn’t look like just one disgruntled old man or woman. In the USA picketing is a consumer’s right to express his or her thoughts about the business practices of a merchant or company. Remember I am not an attorney and different communities have different regulations. Always check with your local police, city or county attorney’s office. If you want source material, read the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

One of my viewers who took this advice and picketed a car dealer that he says sold him a lemon vehicle was arrested because his sign called the sales people at the dealership a “bunch of crooks.” The police took him in for libeling the dealer. But the judge he appeared before told him he would not be charged and if he changed his sign to state only the facts in his complaint he would not be arrested again. Of course he was reminded to stay on the public sidewalk and not block the entrances to the dealership. The next weekend he was back with his “legal” picket signs. It only took about two hours and the sales manager called him in and they worked out a deal. See it does work.

If you are a merchant, who thinks consumers are unfairly picketing you, then you have rights too. Ask the protesters to leave your private property and not block the entrance to your place of business. You can call the police to keep order and enforce the private property rules. It is a good idea for the merchant to have his own handout to give to his customers about the facts in the consumer dispute. In this handout do not libel the picketers, just explain your point of view in the dispute.

I worked for a TV station in Houston, Texas, and one day the station was picketed by a group of viewers over a dispute about TV programming. It was a hot Houston day and the station brought the protesters cold drinks and program officials came out to talk with them. At noon the station officials ordered sandwiches for lunch to be served to all the picketers. No police were called, and the station let the protesters walk under the shaded area of the covered front entrance to the station.

The sandwiches were so good that some of the news people went out and talked with the protesters and had lunch with them. Did the CBS TV programming change? NO, but the protesters went away feeling they had had their say. They told those “so & so” TV officials “what was what” about those terrible TV shows, between bites of sandwiches. One protester said, “These guys are not so bad.” By the way one of the shows they were upset about, I too thought it was crap, and later it was dropped. So perhaps they did have some impute.

Note: If you want the media to show up, always serve food. One of the photographers I worked with a Fox TV had a sticker on his camera that said, “I’m with the media, where’s the Food! Sports teams always have food at their “Press Day.” They always have the event lead into the noon hour and mention to the media that there will be lunch served. Some TV and radio reporters used to go to the LA Dodger Games not to cover them just to an early dinner. Now I never did that, well maybe once or twice.

Filed February 2003