“The time to act is now. We will be silent no more. The time for silence is over,” said Democratic representative John Lewis in an emphatic speech that commenced the sit-in on the Congressional floor that would last for the next 25 hours. After the House quickly voted against background checks for gun purchases and then moved on to other issues, the Democrats decided to take a stand in an effort to make gun control measures a bigger priority for Congress. Despite vocal opposition from the Republican House and orders from both Speaker Paul Ryan and his stand-in Representative Ted Poe to stop the protest, Democratic representatives took the floor and kept it.
For 25 hours, using the hashtag #NoBillNoBreak and broadcasting live via Twitter’s Periscope app, House Democrats forced forward the issue of gun control, even after Congress was officially adjourned and C-SPAN cameras were off. Democrats cited some of the deadliest mass shootings in recent history, including those in Newtown, Conn; San Bernardino, Calif.; Charleston, S.C.; and, most prominently, Orlando, Fla. to talk about the effects of gun violence.
In the first hour of the sit-in, Democrats fought for the ability to vote on two bills related to gun control before having to move on to other topics: one bill involved including background checks for gun show and internet firearm sales, and the other was about banning weapon sales to suspected terrorists. In the following hours, participants paid their respects to the victims of gun violence and made moving speeches including passages from Walt Whitman’s “O, Captain! My Captain!”. Democratic supporters like Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren also arrived at Congress to join the sit-in and express their solidarity. As the hours stretched, the protesters began to feel the first pangs of hunger and exhaustion, and they were met with overwhelming donations from advocates who sent pizza, donuts, and even buffet trays full of food to Congress to feed the Democrats.
Despite the staggering support House Democrats received, they were still at a loss when, at 1:15 PM on Thursday, June 23rd, almost 26 hours after they first started before noon the day before, Congress was called into recess until after they vote on unrelated bills, including one related to the Zika virus, after the Fourth of July weekend.
Undeterred by this interruption, many House Democrats remain optimistic. Rep. John Lewis, the initiator of the protest, ended the sit-in saying that this “is a struggle, but we’re going to win this struggle.” According to NPR, he will return on July 5th “more determined than ever before” to push for reforms regarding gun control.