The WGA East like other unions and guilds has been a supporter of the Occupy protests that have cropped up around the nation, especially in New York City. But Occupy Wall Street’s recent siege of a Manhattan set for NBC and Wolf Films’ Law & Order: SVU — a show written and produced by WGA East members and featuring a crew from other industry unions — has got the guild peeved. The set was part of an episode that centered on a crime committed at the Occupy camp site at New York’s Zuccotti Park, and protesters made their opposition to it known by “occupying” the location at midnight before the NYPD cleared them out. The city pulled the show’s filming permit and the shoot never happened. Here’s WGA East’s open letter to protesters and the police, whom it takes to task for making them strike the set.
The Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, has strongly and actively supported the Occupy Wall Street movement from its inception. Our union members and staff have participated in many OWS actions, and we have endorsed OWS’ important message that corporate greed and economic inequality are wrong.
So we were disappointed to learn that last week people associated with Occupy Wall Street disrupted the set of an episode of Law & Order: SVU, written and produced by members of the WGAE, and crewed by other entertainment industry union members. The demonstrators’ actions were as misguided and inappropriate as the City of New York’s response – revoking Law & Order’s permit for the shoot and directing the dismantling of its set. Presumably the protesters and police did not set out to achieve a common end but together they prevented the scene from being filmed and the story from being told.
Freedom of speech is freedom of speech, whether it is the OWS demonstrators’ right to peacefully assemble and protest without fear of retribution or Law & Order’s ability to film in the streets of New York and tell its stories without fear of vandalism from protesters or overreaction by the police. New York City has worked very hard to encourage television and film production, and we know it will continue to do so. Everyone who works in the industry supports this, including the Writers Guild, East.
We continue to support Occupy Wall Street’s aims and in the tradition of a city with a long history of upholding the right of free, peaceful speech for all, urge both the members of OWS and the police to treat last week’s occurrence as an isolated incident, vowing that it not be repeated. We would be happy to meet with your representatives at any time to discuss this further. Thank you for your attention.