Some of my friends outside the US may be wondering what happened with the sit-in by the Democratic members of the House of Representatives, trying to force a vote on gun control legislation.
The sit-in continued for 24 hours. Overnight, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the Republicans appeared on three separate occasions to call the House into session and hold votes on unrelated issues. The Democrats voted but still held the floor.
At the end of the third occasion, Speaker Ryan gaveled the House into recess for the Independence Day observance, which was not supposed to begin for another week.
The Democrats who were sitting in and their supporters, who followed the sit-in through social media because Congress’s cameras only run during session, some of whom gathered outside the Capitol building in support, had been asking that there be no recess until a vote on gun issues was held.
Instead, the Republicans chose to leave town early.
The Democrats vow that when the recess is over, they will renew their efforts to bring gun legislation to a vote. It’s possible another sit-in will be involved.
If the Senate votes for a bipartisan bill that grew out of Senator Murphy’s action there last week, there will be additional pressure on the House to vote, too.
Regardless of the next steps, the sit-in itself was a powerful stand on principle. The leadership of Rep. John Lewis, one of the few remaining national activists from the civil rights battles of the 1960’s, was inspiring, as was the witness of Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, who approached Rep. Lewis about taking action on this issue.
There were many powerful speeches from House members. Some spoke of shooting victims from their states or districts. Some related much more personal stories. Rep. Marcia Fudge spoke of losing her only brother to gun violence. Rep. Debbie Dingell spoke of enduring an abusive childhood, which involved being threatened with a gun. Part of her speech appears in the middle of this video, which itself summarizes the sit-in.
One particularly evocative moment was when the Democrats sang “We Shall Overcome” – familiar as an anthem of the civil rights era – while holding up signs bearing the names of victims of gun violence.
The representative from my district is a Republican who is retiring at the end of his term. When the recess is over, I would like him to speak on the floor of the House about the victims of the American Civic Association shooting, which occurred in his district, and to vote for the common sense gun laws that the vast majority of American voters support.
Perhaps the fact that he does not have to face re-election will give him the courage to work in a bipartisan way to pass legislation that our country desperately needs for our safety and security.
We can hope.