Taking up one of the most potent tools of the civil rights movement that he helped lead, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) led his congressional colleagues in a sit-in on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday in an effort to force a vote on gun control.
"For months, even for years, through several sessions of Congress I wondered: What would bring this body to take action?" Lewis—who became an icon of the black protest movement after leading the group SNCC and being beaten by police during the "Bloody Sunday" march in Selma, AL in 1965— said in a speech before the sit-in. "What would finally make Congress do what is right, what is just, what the people of this country have been demanding, and what is long overdue?"
Flanked by his House colleagues, Lewis, wearing a rainbow ribbon pinned to his lapel, mourned those lost to gun violence in shootings at Newtown, CT, and Orlando, FL. "Where is our soul. Where is our moral leadership? Where is our courage?" he asked, while some around him nodded. " Those who work on bipartisan solutions are pushed aside. Those who pursue common sense improvement are beaten down. Reason is criticized. Obstruction is praised."
"Give us a vote, let us vote," Lewis urged the House leadership as he banged on the rostrum. "We came here to do our job. We came here to work."
As his remarks reached their emotional peak, Lewis' colleagues began audibly agreeing with him. Murmurs of "that's right," and "yes" were heard from several representatives as Lewis explained that "there comes a time where you have to say something. Where you have to make a little noise."
"The time to act is now," Lewis concluded. "We will be silent no more."
With that, the group began its sit-in on the House floor. Lewis, who lead lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville, TN, during the civil rights era, tweeted:
"Good Trouble" is a phrase Lewis has long used to describe acts of moral courage and civil disobedience, even promising on his website that his time in office "will ensure he continues to get into good trouble for the people of the 5th Congressional District in the years to come."
Many of Rep. Lewis' congressional colleagues shared their support on Twitter, as they sat alongside him on the House floor.
Those interested in watching the sit-in live were frustrated when, turning on C-SPAN, they were met with images of Donald Trump's latest speech. C-SPAN, presumably inundated with complaints, tweeted:
According to Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) it was House Republicans who worked to ensure Rep. Lewis' sit-in would not be televised.
CSPAN was able to eventually air video from the sit-in, using footage taken on Periscope by California representative Scott Peters.
Renewed calls for tougher gun control legislation in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting have lead to increased frustration at legislative inaction on the issue. Last week, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) took to the Senate floor for a nearly 15 hour effort to call for a vote on guns—a vote which, while it did ultimately take place, was subsequently defeated.
Nevertheless, for Lewis, inaction seemed almost worse than the defeat faced by his senatorial college. "We must be headlights, not taillights," he explained. "We can't continue to stick our heads in the sand & ignore the reality of mass gun violence."