Has There Been A Sit-In In Congress Before? This Protest Has Some History Behind It
On the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, a sit-in was being led by the long-serving Congressman representing Georgia's 5th Congressional District, Rep. John Lewis. Lewis, along with over 100 of his colleagues, broke protocol in order to make a moral objection to the state of gun control legislation in America. But has there ever been a sit-in in Congress before? A few, but nothing on this scale.
According to reporting from Amber Phillips at The Washington Post, House Democrats took to the floor in 1995 to protest a recess at a rare Saturday session of the House designed to solve the problem of the federal government shutdown. Even though a vast majority of the House voted against adjournment — 361 to 32 — GOP leadership lead by Newt Gingrich moved to adjourn the body and take a recess.
That is when Democrats started chanting "Work, work, work" on the floor of the House. Even though television cameras had been turned off, Rep. Harold Ford, Sr. went up to the press gallery to turn the microphones back on, to make sure that there was a record of the proceedings. Democrats stayed on the floor for two hours as they made speeches explaining the importance of keeping the government's doors open — especially on the 800,000 some federal workers that were affected by the shutdown.
House Republicans also have taken to the floor — and have been intentionally out of order — in 2008 in response to $4/gallon gas prices. They occupied the floor throughout the August recess period in order to force a vote on expansion of offshore oil drilling. House Democrats, worried about how the sit-in could affect the campaign of then Sen. Barack Obama, according to the Washington Post, allowed the appropriations bill to pass, and omitted the rider which had banned offshore drilling for nearly four decades.
So, while Rep. Lewis and the rest of the Democrats aren't conducting the first ever sit-in in Congress (though it's certainly been the longest), they certainly are making a strong moral stand about the overwhelmingly urgent need for stricter gun control measures to be enacted at the federal level. Lewis, the former chairperson of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, is certainly no stranger to staging effective non-violent forms of protest. How long he, and his colleagues, will remain on the floor in defiance of Speaker Ryan, remains to be seen.