On Wednesday, June 22, throughout the night, and into the next morning, I witnessed something amazing: the development of a collective backbone of House of Representatives Democrats in finally speaking out and standing up by literally sitting down on the House floor in protest of the Republican opposition to common sense firearms safety legislation.
Democrats had consistently requested that the House Republican leadership bring to the floor an up-or-down vote on two pieces of legislation that the vast majority of citizens support: one to close current loopholes in the background check process for firearms purchases, and the other to prevent people who are currently on the FBI’s “No Fly List” from buying a gun.
However, following directions from their puppet masters at the National Rifle Association (NRA), House Speaker Paul “Pinocchio” Ryan and the remainder of the Republican marionettes failed to take up the proposal. Ryan ordered House C-SPAN camera and floor microphones turned off. Later, Ryan chose instead to discuss other issues, such as a Republican-sponsored severely scaled-down budgetary authorization to combat the Zika virus. Following this, Republicans snuck out of the Capitol under the cover of early-morning darkness to begin their Independence Day break.
I don’t remember ever feeling as proud of the actions taken by congressional members, led by one of my heroes, iconic civil rights leader Representative John Lewis, as I was watching the courageous Democratic activists putting their bodies on the floor for the people of this country. I can never remember before shedding tears of gratitude and esteem for elected officials in breaking the rules to fix a broken legislative system controlled by corporate greed at the expense of real people’s lives.
Maybe, just maybe, the slaughter of innocents at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was the bullet that finally broke the legislatures’ paralysis on gun safety measures. Maybe, just maybe, we have finally reached a critical mass in demanding that enough is enough!
As a longtime community activist in the student anti-war movement, and with the Gay Liberation Front, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), and Queer Nation, I know personally the risks one takes in challenging authority and power for a cause. I know how living with integrity and authenticity connected to one’s beliefs can jeopardize reaching one’s career goals, how it can isolate one from peers and family, and how it can sometimes put one’s physical and emotional safety at risk.
I also know very well the costs of not defending one’s beliefs and the resulting loss to one’s personal integrity and sense of humanity that come with failing to speak out and stand up. But I also know very well that the benefits completely outweigh the costs.
In ACT UP we worked under the guiding principle, which we placed on our signage, that Silence = Death, beneath a pink triangle that represented the symbol the Nazis forced gay prisons to wear on their clothing in the concentration camps. Originally facing point down, we inverted the pink triangle in AIDS activism literally turning the ultimate sign of oppression and persecution into an empowering emblem to counter a deadly virus within an intransigent social and political structure, which deliberately resisted mobilizing to defeat the rising plague that was killing so many.
Likewise, the deafening Silence coming from Republicans = Death to gun violence victims in the perennially rising plague that is killing so many. How much are congressional Republicans willing to pay to relinquish their personal integrity and sense of humanity by filling their pockets with the NRA’s blood money? How much are they willing to pay by failing to speak out and stand up for the people’s safety?
I wonder how they can sleep at night since they are obviously sleeping on the job.
Hopefully over the Independence Day break they will have a change of heart and a change in attitude by finally declaring their independence from the NRA.