American Rhetoric: Some Thoughts on the Democratic Sit-In for Gun Legislation

House Dems Sit-In

House Democrats announce their “occupation” of the floor.

TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Congressman Mark Walker, and the Republican leadership. My apologies…NAH!

     Today, I can say that I am proud to be a Democrat, because yesterday, I witnessed my party’s leaders make history. Starting at around 11:00 A.M. EDST, several House Democrats, led by the civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, staged an unprecedented “sit-in”, effectively taking over control of the House floor. This sit-in was precipitated by the recent tragedy in Orlando, at the Pulse nightclub, where a lone gunman killed 49 members of the LGBT(QI) community, before being killed by responding officers.

     In the wake of this mass shooting, which has been referred to in the media as the “worst mass shooting in U.S. history”, as with previous tragedies such as Sandy Hook and Aurora, national discourse on firearms legislation and control has risen to fever pitch; however nothing of significance ever seems to get accomplished. It was this angst that prompted members of the House Democratic Caucus to take the extraordinary step of staging yesterday’s “sit-in.”

     John Lewis is no stranger to things like sit-ins. The 76-year-old Troy, Alabama native was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, having been one of the 13 original “Freedom Riders”, and leading the march across the Edmund Pettis bridge in Selma in 1965. If anyone in congress was up to the task of putting together something like this, it was John Lewis. According to Lewis, the sit-in was not made known to the leadership. (I’ll comment a bit more on Lewis a bit later down the page!)

     At approximately 11:00 A.M., John Lewis was recognized by the chair, took the floor of the house, and issued the following statement:

     Thus started what would eventually become a 25-hour-long protest by House Democrats, over the Republican majority’s reluctance to allow a vote on two pieces of legislation; a “No Fly, No Buy” bill, which would prevent people on the government’s “No Fly” list from purchasing firearms, and a bill to close loopholes in the background check process where it pertains to online and gun show purchases. Both of the bills that Democrats were seeking a vote on, incidentally, are bipartisan authored bills. With their intent to force the Republican majority to allow a floor vote on these bills, or be held over with no holiday break, Democrats employed the rallying cry of, “No Bill, No Break!” The Republican chair was forced to adjourn the House once the Democrats took the floor.

     One of the more significant hurdles that the Democrats had to overcome, was the absence of media coverage of the sit-in protest. This was due to the House Majority’s control of the cameras and microphones in the House chamber. The Republican leadership had these shut off when the chair adjourned the House, much to the chagrin of the Democrats. No worries, though! As it turns out, there’s an app for that! Enter “Periscope”, and social media feeds from Congressmen Eric Swalwell (D-CA 15th), Scott Peters (D-CA 52nd), and Beto O’Rourke (D-TX 16th). Because of this, C-SPAN was able to broadcast the sit-in in its entirety, albeit with the occasional video glitch due to the nature of streaming video from a smartphone.

Jim Costa

My congressman, Jim Costa (D-CA 16) speaks.

     During the day-long sit-in, several Democrats took to the podium at the front of the House chamber, rallying their fellow Dems and outlining the many reasons for both the sit-in, and the need for tighter laws on firearms purchases, with the pictures and names of the many victims of gun violence in America as both their backdrop, and constant source of motivation, along with signs reading, “Disarm Hate.”

     The Republicans, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, eventually used a parliamentary procedure to call an early recess, then left for the July 4th break in the wee hours of the morning, without even an acknowledgment of the issue. In fact, Speaker Ryan referred to the Democratic sit-in as merely a “publicity stunt.” This left the Democrats basically on their own in D.C.

     John Lewis and the House Democrats ended their sit-in at around noon on Thursday, the 23rd of June, with Congressman Lewis stating that their “struggle” was far from over, vowing to return from the holiday break and once again take up the issue. Lewis was the last one to speak. What began with Congressman Lewis, ended with Congressman Lewis, that courageous and noble gentleman from Georgia’s 5th congressional district.

     I find myself left with both a strong sense of pride in my party, and an equally strong sense of disgust at the statements and behavior of House Republicans. At various times during the Democrats’ occupation of the House floor, Republicans alternately heckled, laughed at, and yelled at the Democrats on the floor. During all of this, however, my party’s representatives maintained an overall sense of decorum and restraint. They did us proud, getting into what Congressman Lewis referred to as, “good trouble.”

     One of the more ironic things that came up during the protest, was when Southern Baptist preacher-come-Congressman Mark Walker (R-NC 6th) attempted to engage in a bit of “whitesplaining”, tweeting that;

Calling this a sit-in is a disgrace to Woolworth’s. They sat-in for rights. Dems are “sitting-in” to strip them away.

     I think that it’s a pretty “twunt” move, presuming to tell a civil rights icon about the civil rights movement, especially when the significantly younger Walker wasn’t even born until May of 1969, almost ten whole years after the Woolworth’s lunch counter protest.

     Once again, I am a proud Democrat. I’m proud of my party, proud of my congressional rep, and proud of my President. I also have my own opinions on things like the “No Fly” list, disallowing people on that list from purchasing weapons, and closing loopholes. Instead of going into that here, I’ll pen individual articles on each one, links to be found here soon! (Suffice it to say that this particular piece has indeed migrated towards the “TLDR” end of the spectrum!)

     #SickAndTiredofBeingSickAndTired #NoFlyNoBuy #CloseTheLoopholes #DisarmHate

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