A chamber where you often hear, “Will the gentleman yield?” and contemptuous rivals call each other “my good friend” erupted two weeks ago when my Democratic colleagues and I staged a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives. After the C-SPAN cameras were turned off, three of my colleagues live streamed through Periscope and Facebook Live. I’m told I made broadcast history by being the first live interview from the House floor via FaceTime on CNN. Take that, Nixon-Kennedy debate.
How did we get from “the gentlelady’s time has expired” to singing “We Shall Overcome”?
First, and most of all, was the bitterness we felt for another moment of silence to mark another mass shooting. After the June 2015 shooting in Charleston, Democrats’ frustration with silent prayer versus meaningful action simmered. During these moments, more and more Democrats would drift from the House floor to the adjacent cloakroom, indignant that the Republican plan to prevent more loss of life to gun violence was more silence. After Orlando, that frustration overflowed. I heard it in the cloakroom, in the Members-Only elevators, and at Democratic Caucus meetings.
Second, the Tea Party can thank itself. Its candidates came to Congress starting in 2010, intent on tearing down institutions. They shut down the government, seethed at compromise.