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.
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.
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.
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.
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.