A JWI Intern shares her experience at the House Democrats' Sit-in
by Amy Singer
When I started my summer internship at JWI, I expected to work on programming, not advocacy. I had no idea how much exposure I would have to Congress! During my first week, however, I delivered letters to all 535 offices of Congress, urging members to act on bills that would close dangerous loopholes that allow convicted stalkers and abusers to buy a gun. Intimate partner violence, an issue already far too prevalent in our society, is being exacerbated by easy access to guns. Gun reform bills have been proposed to Congress, however these issues have largely been at a standstill recently and are not being brought to a vote.
Some representatives and senators are working very hard to make reform happen. Last week, after Senator Chris Murphy’s (D-CT) almost fifteen-hour-long filibuster, the Senate finally agreed to vote on four bills related to gun reform. I was impressed with our lawmakers’ dedication to issues they are so passionate about, yet also upset that when the time came to vote, the Senate failed to pass a single bill.
I was sitting at work Wednesday afternoon when I heard that Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) had organized a Democratic sit-in late that morning and the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had called the House to recess shortly afterwards. Since the House was in recess, the cameras and microphones were shut down, leaving the press—and public—in the dark.
I WAS IMPRESSED WITH OUR LAWMAKERS’ DEDICATION TO ISSUES THEY ARE SO PASSIONATE ABOUT.
Eliminating gun violence is one aspect of JWI’s commitment to supporting and advocating for women and their safety, so everyone at the office was very curious about what was going on in the chambers. I wanted to see the action firsthand and was thrilled when I was asked to go to the Hill and represent JWI.
During our two hour wait, spirits were high among the interns, tourists and the professionals who had left work to be a part of this historic moment. When I finally took my seat in the Gallery, I was surprised to see Rep. Lewis and approximately thirty other representatives literally sitting on the floor. About thirty more representatives were sitting in seats, taking many pictures for Twitter and videos for Periscope, which proved extremely useful for C-SPAN and its viewers at home. Throughout the day, senators stopped by to show their support for their colleagues.
EVERY FEW MINUTES A “NO BILL, NO BREAK” CHANT ERUPTED THROUGHOUT THE CHAMBER.
Even with the microphones turned off, each representative made his or her opinion heard loud and clear. They shared how happy and proud they were to be a part of the sit-in, a forum for open and honest conversation. They were adamant in their calls to action and in making important stories heard. They reiterated how they had been elected to serve the U.S. House of Representatives and that they must fulfill their role by honoring the desires of the American people, 90 percent of whom are in favor of gun reform. They looked up at us in the Gallery and directly into the cell phone cameras, addressing the American public and promising to not give up until they were granted the vote. They looked at House Speaker Paul Ryan’s empty chair and yelled, “Speaker, where are you?” Every few minutes a “No Bill, No Break” chant erupted throughout the chamber. It was powerful to experience that collective energy, and to witness their refusal to accept silence or inaction.
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) spoke about how the day was a tipping point. She recalled how after the Columbine shooting in 1999, she thought the federal government would take action to curb gun violence. She thought, again, that after Congresswoman Gabby Giffords had been shot by a constituent, that her own colleagues would have realized that enough was enough. She demanded that now, after so many more shootings, the laws must change. Neither she, nor the others participating in the sit-in, would relent until they were granted a vote.
Efforts that had once been unimaginable, have now become an integral part of the American identity. Although it may seem out of reach, gun reform must also be added to this list.
Rep. José Menéndez (D-TX) remembered standing outside of the Supreme Court last June, anticipating the decision to legalize gay marriage. He recalled the crowd being so silent you could hear a pin drop. Upon the release of the decision, the silence was broken by young people singing the National Anthem, demonstrating how proud they were to be American. He emphasized that so many issues, like legalizing gay marriage or passing the Affordable Care Act, efforts that had once been unimaginable, have now become an integral part of the American identity. Although it may seem out of reach, gun reform must also be added to this list.
One congressman asked the crowd, “When was the last time you sat cross-legged on the floor?” He compared the representatives—in a positive way—to preschoolers, unhindered in their passion and care for others. He emphasized the importance of standing up for what you believe in and encouraged his colleagues to proceed like young children and to act with unbridled passion.
Even though the sit-in ended a little after noon on Thursday and the Speaker had decided that the House would be on recess until July 5, I feel confident that the energy generated from the sit-in will continue. As the representatives walked down the steps of the Capitol Building and spoke to the crowd, they announced that the sit-in was not just a “moment,” but the beginning of a “movement.” And I, for one, stand with them.
"An Incredible Experience"
by Lexi Neaman, YWLN Member
I had the opportunity to join Moms Demand Action at the protest outside the Capitol on Wednesday. I have to admit, I'm not usually one to join in as an "activist," but it was such an incredible experience, filled with the most contagious energy. So many people stood up in front of the large crowd to share their story of how guns impacted their lives, their families, and why this is fight is so important. It might have been 90 degrees, but I had chills the whole time.
The most amazing part was watching all of the Democratic representatives join us and give their pep talk to the ever-growing crowd. Their impassioned cries fired up the group each and every time. Working for Twitter in D.C., I love to see how the platform plays a role in political discourse, and last night was no exception. From tweeting members of Congress to Periscoping on the House Floor, it was not only amazing to see the night unfold, but to also be a part of it.