Rep. John Lewis' Sit-In Is Reminiscent Of His Civil Rights Era Activism
On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, led his like-minded colleagues in a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives. Lewis and his supporters sat in protest of congressional inaction on gun control. Although sit-ins are rather foreign to the House floor, Wednesday's demonstration was nothing new for its leader, as Lewis led many civil rights era sit-ins in the 1960s.
At 76 years old, Lewis is one of the few well-known civil rights leaders still living. Born and raised in Alabama, Lewis attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1960s. While there, he became deeply involved in the local civil rights movement, organizing sit-ins at lunch counters and joining the Freedom Riders. During his activism, he was arrested and jailed several times, according to an interview he gave in 2011 with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
From 1963 until 1966, Lewis served as the president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). With the SNCC, he played a role in the famous marches in Alabama cities like Selma and Montgomery. What's more, Lewis also participated in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Washington — and he even spoke just before King's historic "I have a dream" speech. On Wednesday, the parallels between Lewis' previous work with the civil rights movement and his current work with House Democrats were obvious.
As NBC reported on Wednesday, the sit-in that Lewis organized on the House floor was probably the calmest non-violent protest he's been a part of during his long history with demonstration. Although non-violent in nature, the protests of the civil rights era often led to violent clashes with opposition groups and police. Wednesday's demonstration, on the other hand, consisted of Dunkin' Donuts and appearances by presidential candidates.
Still, the sit-in was entirely reminiscent of those 1960s demonstrations. The cause might have been different, but Lewis' action to organize the sit-in shows that he's still very much a thought leader in political circles. Although Lewis is familiar with sit-ins, the House of Representatives is largely not.
Although the Senate has filibusters — and, indeed, it just had one last week — the House has a rules committee that mostly prevents filibuster-like takeovers. As a result, protests like Wednesday's sit-in are very rare in the House. In 1995, Democrats held the floor for about two hours, and in 2008, Republicans held the floor during a recess period. In neither of those instances did the members of Congress take to actually sitting on the floor of the House. That seems to be a symbolic move added by Lewis — a fitting touch, given his previous experiences.