WASHINGTON — Something’s happening here in the People’s House. What’s going down seems exactly clear: a stage of our democracy, men and women players speaking unscripted lines that could wait no more.
Amid the historic House uprising on gun violence, civil rights hero John Lewis, 76, and Joseph P. Kennedy III, 35, walked shoulder to shoulder at the sit-in. They made a burst of stardust, past and present, South and North, black and white. Lewis, the only man alive who spoke at the March on Washington, led congressional Democrats to seize the floor and shut down the majority state of play.
House voices became a chorus of anger aimed at Republicans for resisting two votes to tamp down gun violence after the ghastly Orlando, Florida, crime scene of 100 casualties. House Democrats demanded the same votes the Senate took Monday after a 15-hour filibuster led by a lanky Connecticut Yankee, Sen. Christopher Murphy. A freshman senator, he faced the fire of the Senate doing nothing after the Newtown school shooting in his state. The Senate votes failed, but Democrats were elated to move the stone, aka Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
Creating universal background checks for gun buyers and prohibiting those on the FBI’s terrorist watch list are the measures Democrats are pressing for.
We will be silent no more. Give us a vote! No more victims! I’ll get a sleeping bag and stay all night! This microphone belongs to the American people! There are no Republicans in this chamber.
No pun intended.
The June sun and strawberry moon over the Capitol made Senate Democrats envy the hundred House members having the time of their lives speaking, singing, chanting, praying, shedding tears and demanding votes on gun violence from Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose high chair sat empty.
The unresponsive Wisconsinite was in the doghouse, for “hiding” and being “bought” by the rigid gun lobby. “Mr. Speaker, where the hell are you?”
In a rare show of party cohesion, at least 30 senators, including Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., came over to sit down (in seats) and listen — but not speak. House members, freed from tight time constraints placed on them, showed off passion and brio — though the absent Ryan had ordered the floor microphones and cameras turned off. The acoustics of the large chamber, for the State of the Union, were better than I knew.
The uproarious House sit-in, sequel to the genteel Senate filibuster on gun violence, was a more diverse mix. Nonviolent revolution was in the air. Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, whose father was the mayor of Baltimore, displayed political finesse as if playing the part of salon hostess. I gazed down from the press gallery full of scribes, spellbound from old to young — like Luke Russert of NBC News.
No kidding, it felt like the ’60s revived, especially as an aging Black Panther emerged.
Rep. Bobby Rush of Chicago stood up and spoke like a preacher. Never more proud in 23 years in Congress, he said to the sea of Democratic lawmakers. Rush, a radical in his younger days, is also the only politician ever to have defeated Barack Obama (in a House race.)
I gazed at some favorite characters in the crowd. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland sat with a school friend, the liberal Rep. Chris Van Hollen, likely to succeed her in the 2016 cycle. They took a selfie together with Rep. Donna Edwards, whom Van Hollen just defeated in a bitter primary contest. Healing and reconciliation.
Lewis, revered on both sides in Congress, speaks of the “Beloved Community” and a “Spirit of History” from time to time. That’s here and now, you and me, sitting down and standing up — in an arc of progress for all.
In “Walking with the Wind,” Lewis concludes his 1998 memoir: “As a nation, if we care for the Beloved Community, we must move our feet, our hands, our hearts, our resources, to build and not to tear down.”
At the end of the day, Lewis writes, “we are one people, one family, one house — the American house.”
The Bard could not have written the lines better.
Photo: A photo shot and tweeted from the floor of the House by U.S. House Rep. John Yarmuth shows Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Rep. Joe Courtney (L) and Rep. John Lewis (C) staging a sit-in on the House floor “to demand action on common sense gun legislation” on Capitol Hill in Washington, United States, June 22, 2016. REUTERS/U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth/Handout