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The Other Sit-In

Last night, people around the US were captivated by what was happening on C-SPAN. I never thought that’s a sentence I’d say. C-SPAN wasn’t running programming as normal, however. It was broadcasting the live social media feeds of several Congresspeople, led by Representative John Lewis, who were holding a sit-in on the House floor to try and force a vote on gun control legislation in the wake of the tragic Orlando shooting.

Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Joe Crowley addressing the crowd

Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Joe Crowley addressing the crowd

Lots of people covered this story, and there is a hell of a lot to unpack here. But I don’t want to talk about the intricacies of the bills being proposed, even though I certainly don’t entirely agree with them. And I don’t want to focus on the Congresscritters who were speaking for a total of over 25 hours despite having the official cameras turned off. There’s plenty of that coverage out there on them. I don’t even want to debate the pros and cons of this particular demonstration, as, again, there are a lot of intricacies and history to unpack. Others will do a better job of that than me anyway.

Instead, I want to share the parallel protest that was happening outside the Capitol, because I don’t think it was getting the coverage it deserved.

Demonstrators at the Capitol on Wednesday night

Demonstrators at the Capitol on Wednesday night

I arrived at the Capitol around 11pm, some 12 or so hours after the sit-in and protests had begun. I’d been listening to C-SPAN on the way, so when I got there, I found that some of the Congresspeople participating in the sit-in where also coming out to speak to the protestors, saying similar things to what they were saying inside. But, I admit, my cynical side isn’t terribly interested in what they had to say.  But I did perk up when we started hearing from other voices as the VIPs drifted away and anyone who wanted to speak was invited to address the crowd from a stepstool:

  • a person who identified with their “brothers and sisters” in Orlando but who hadn’t spoken up since the incident
  • a woman of color who feared for her baby’s life every time they went outside to play
  • a young man who lived in DC and heard gunshots every week, and who continued to report incident of violence even though nothing was being done
  • a school teacher who poured her heart out to help a troubled youngster graduate high school, only to hear he’d been gunned down, robbed of being a father to his new baby
  • a college student who jumped every time the lecture hall door opened behind him in class, because of friend of his had been caught in a mass shooting

This sharing went on for hours in the dark, and it was beautiful.

 Isaac Bloom of Everytown for Gun Safety

No lights? No cameras? No Problem. Ft. Isaac Bloom of Everytown for Gun Safety

These people weren’t speaking to a camera, or even to an internet live feed. They got up and shared their stories and their passions and their hopes and their fears. Together we chanted and booed at the Representatives that left the Capitol that night without considering the legislation that many wanted to have voted on, and we cheered those who were staying up all night and holding the floor, even after the building was long closed. I briefly walked into these people’s lives, but I hope that I can amplify their stories just a bit.

There was a bit of media coverage, or at least some reporters came to visit and paid attention. I had the honor of meeting an amazing woman and activist, Lucy McBath, mother of Jordan Davis who was killed by a man with a gun basically just for being being young and black. She was in town for a conference, too, and yet spent all night organizing and protesting outside of the Capitol to honor her son’s memory and with the hope of preventing more senseless gun violence. I was honored to play the role of citizen-Skype-camerawoman so she could speak on the BBC. CNN came by while a dozen or so of us huddled under umbrellas. I don’t know how much of this made it to the screen, but people were there, all night, holding the spot and supporting the sit-in.

We were there.

I left at around 6:30am to get back to my own conference and check out of my hotel. When I returned close to 12:30, the crowd had once again swelled, and the Congresspeople participating in the sit-in were finally coming down the House steps to a cheering crowd and a ton of cameras. I have no doubt that made it to your screens, but I was just honored to be there and hear and Rep. John Lewis and his colleagues stand strong in their resolve to make a better world.

Rep. John Lewis addressing the protestors and media after the sit-in.

Rep. John Lewis addressing the protestors and media after the sit-in.

Like I said at the beginning, I don’t actually agree with all aspects of the legislation they were proposing, and I suspect I wasn’t the only one there that night with that view. In fact, we came in with so many different backgrounds and viewpoints and experiences, but all of us felt a need to be there. For some it was intensely personal. And maybe change is incredibly SLOW and FRUSTRATING, but it’s a step. And I think it’s a step in the right direction.

Thank you to Moms Demand Action for their organization and effort all night and all day. Those folks held their floor, even if it was a sidewalk, through rain and cold and lack of any cameras or even bathrooms. If they can do that, all of us can do something small to help to reduce the scourge of gun violence in our country.

Also, thanks to whoever bought us all that pizza. You rock.

protestors with sign

With thanks to these gentlemen for letting me capture this photo

All photos in this post CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Nicole Gugliucci. See more photos and video here.

Nicole

Nicole

Nicole is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at a small liberal arts college. Her home on the internet can be found at One Astronomer's Noise.

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9 Comments

  1. June 23, 2016 at 5:36 pm —

    Dat picture. No love for Yazidis or Shias killed by the same people responsible for Orlando. (Unless some people here are still truthing on that.)

    TBH, this is difficult. Everything in my personal experience makes me think these people are…incredibly naïve. Like, one woman I know prevented her own rape with a gun. And of course, Indians have no legal recourse because of Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, so, being armed is literally the only defense we have. And I am in no way convinced that all the racists, gangsters, and terrorists would stick to legal channels; hell, Reagan was pro-gun control in order to empower racist terrorists.

    The fact that John Lewis was there is the lulziest part of the whole thing. I mean, he’s no stranger to self-contradiction (having said the Clintons were civil rights leaders while having previously said he first met Bill in 1991). But, um, I refer you to Charles Cobb Jr’s This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed. Because, seriously, there was no significant difference between white reaction to armed resistance and white reaction to nonviolent resistance.

    • June 25, 2016 at 3:46 am —

      Thank you for your comment, Jon! Though I do disagree, I appreciate your point of view. It did remind me, however, of another story told that night by a woman who was raped at gunpoint. There are heart wrenching stories on BOTH sides, which is why I think we really need to take a hard look at the data surrounding gun violence. And key to that, of course, is lifting the ban on research by the CDC. I so super hope they can get that done, at least.

      • June 25, 2016 at 5:56 pm —

        I actually don’t agree with the ban. I do, however, feel that we should remember why it was placed there.

        It came from an infamous study that conflated suicides, accidents, and deliberate homicide (including justifiable homicide, i.e. defense of self and others) into ‘gun violence’. (And of course, this naturally implies that being killed by other means is…not so bad?)

        The guy should’ve been Wakefielded and that should’ve been the end of it.

        • June 25, 2016 at 11:06 pm —

          Which ban would you be talking about? A ban on assault style rifles? Because that is the only ban I see anyone suggesting. (And when I say no one I mean no one with any credibility.)

          What this is mostly about is expanding background checks. I agree that using the no-fly list as a way to do that is a bad idea because the no-fly list is a historical trash fire, but expanding background checks is an overall good thing.

          I see no one proposing an outright ban on firearms. It is a strawman that the right have used as it’s Boogeyman for years, I’m surprised to see you using it.

          Expanded background checks, limits on clip size, restrictions on military style assault weapons, requiring training, registration, and insurance on guns, and removing existing loopholes are all common sense proposals that the NRA will not even allow to be spoken.

          No one is suggesting that long guns used for hunting and protection in the country is a problem. No one is suggesting that these proposals would be 100% effective. And no one is suggesting that there wouldn’t be a discriminatory aspect to the implementation of any proposals because of course there would, there is with everything.

          The truth is we are overrun with firearms and it needs to be brought under control. That can happen in as smart and fair a way as possible or it will happen when far too many tragedies finally force the public to banish the NRA to being the gun-safety advocacy group it was meant to be instead of the industry cheerleader is has become.

          • June 26, 2016 at 4:11 pm

            I meant the ban on studies about it. It was…an overreaction to one fraudulent study.

          • June 27, 2016 at 12:55 am

            OK, then that makes sense and I actually agree. Sorry I thought you were talking about a ban on guns.

    • June 25, 2016 at 11:24 pm —

      And another question, Jon. What exactly does your first paragraph here mean?

      Are you suggesting that ISIS is respesible for Orlando and that anyone denying that (despite the lack of proof) is a “truther”? There is no proof that ISIS was behind the attack and that is saying a lot considering they will take credit for just about anything. The attack targeted the LGBT community (and specifically the Latinx LGBT community) and suggesting that is was instead an ISIS operation is beyond disrespectful.

      If you have some proof that this was instead ISIS I would love to see it.

      • June 26, 2016 at 4:11 pm —

        “A lack of evidence”? You mean like this?

        And yes, it was less than a day before I saw people on Facebook claiming “false flag”.

        But I’m seeing all kinds of wacky conspiracy theories on Facebook about it. Because white liberals tend to be orientalists who project American history on the rest of the world.

        • June 27, 2016 at 1:03 am —

          Yes, a lack of evidence that ISIS was involved not that he claimed allegiance to ISIS.

          I can go out and do something and say it is in the name of The Red Cross but unless they put their stamp on what I do they are not involved.

          There are people saying all kinds of incorrect things about what happened at Pulse that night, and unfortunately quit a bit of it sounds an awful lot like saber rattling with no direct ties. We didn’t think it was fair when George W Bush did it, why should we look the other way when Hillary does it?

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