Historic Sit-In by Democrats in House Chamber: What Does It All Mean?

Print Share on LinkedIn More

June 23, 2016; CNN Politics

Yesterday morning, frustrated with an inability to get gun legislation introduced, much less passed, in the U.S. House of Representatives in the wake of the biggest mass shooting in this country’s history, and inspired by a speech by civil rights activist and U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), Democrats, chanting “no bill, no break,” declared they would sit-in on the House floor. By noon, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) ordered the cameras in the chamber to be turned off, which in past years would have meant that the action would no longer be viewable by the public—but this is, after all, the 21st century. So C-SPAN, which usually broadcasts from those cameras, simply switched over to livestream from the social media accounts of two participating legislators, despite standing House rules in place since at least 2009 prohibiting the practice.

Then, in the dark of night, House Republicans tried adjourning for a recess that would last through July 5th, but Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), continued to sit in.

A police officer told the Democrats that they will be conducting a daily security sweep. “I’d ask that you clear the floor while that happens,” the officer said.

Pelosi responded, “That’s not going to happen,” and the security check then took place, involving five agents and a dog as the House Democratic leader continued speaking, undeterred.

Pelosi said the sit-in would continue “until hell freezes over.” The hashtag #NoBillNoBreak began to trend and attracted all manner of support from the White House, celebrities, and the public. People began to amass outside in support.

“Just because they have left, it doesn’t mean we have to take ‘no’ as an answer,” Pelosi said.

“Democrats can continue to talk, but the reality is that they have no endgame strategy,” Ryan’s spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, said in a statement. “The Senate has already defeated the measure they’re calling for. The House is focused on eliminating terrorists, not constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. And no stunts on the floor will change that.”

Meanwhile, Ryan also dismissed the sit-in effort as a “publicity stunt,” apparently forgetting that such stunts have been part of many very successful social change processes.

This is not the first sit-in in the House in recent memory; an action by House Republicans in August 2008 to push for a vote on offshore drilling elicited an adjournment from Pelosi, and a handful of House GOP members remained as the lights and microphones and cameras were switched off.

CNN reports that:

Democratic brass, who have struggled mightily to find support for gun control measures, streamed through the House chamber throughout the day. More than 100 House Democrats took part in the sit-in and a steady stream of Senate Democrats walked across the Capitol to join in the protest.

As Wasserman Schultz recounted reading the resignation letter from former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), who was wounded in a shooting in 2011, from the same House lectern four years ago, she began tearing up.

“No more Auroras, no more Orlandos!” she shouted, to a standing ovation. Pelosi, who led Hillary Clinton into a meeting with congressional Democrats just hours before the sit-in began, stood and applauded with the other Democratic congressmen and senators gathered in the chamber.

As the sit-in gathered momentum, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CA), a prominent gun control advocate following the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012, walked over and joined the sit-in. The lawmaker led a nearly 15-hour filibuster in the Senate last week asking lawmakers to vote on gun reform. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) also joined the group.

What will happen if Republican leaders turn off the lights in the chamber, someone asked Illinois Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky. She replied, “It will be dark.”—Ruth McCambridge

  • donna

    Too little, too late. Too many bodies. Where have they been? Sitting on the floor for a few hours is great campaigning for the election a few weeks away. Where have they been? We are dying out here.

    I don’t think that if Bernie had not started to scream “enough is enough,” the Democrats would have ever opened their mouths on behalf of the American people. When it comes to our interest, they lost their voice. I am not convinced that they have found it now. I am not convinced that enough of our politicians care. I appears to be a stunt.

    Don’t show me another failure. The Democrats have become known for, “we tried but they won’t let us.” When it comes to getting something that they want, they will let nothing stop them. Obama is pushing like heck to get TPP passed, when the American people have made it clear they don’t want TPP. American people wanted an unemployment insurance extension but all we got was more tax cuts for the wealthy. Those “super” delegates, whose states overwhelming chose Bernie as their nominee, completely ignored the wishes of their constitutes. Hillary Clinton will be the nominee because that is what THEY want. NOTHING can get in their way of what THEY want. But now when it comes to common sense gun laws, those mean ole Republicans won’t let them pass the laws WE need.

    I look at the faces in those pictures and I don’t see someone fighting for me. I see corrupt politicians who care more about corporate interest than they care about human life. I wish that they would prove me wrong. I wish they would succeed at something the American people actually want.