Whether the Democrats’ sit-in on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to protest congressional inaction on gun-control legislation was a publicity stunt or a tipping point remains to be seen. But the episode last week could serve as a teachable moment for the nation’s schoolchildren—and future voters.
The sit-in itself was a confrontational tactic, amounting to a 25-hour filibuster. But when C-SPAN’s on-floor cameras were briefly turned off, some Democratic lawmakers violated House rules and pulled out their cellphones to live-stream the ongoing protest using Twitter’s Periscope app.
Having the protest carried out in the digital language of texts and tweets is something most of the nation’s students can relate to, said Professor Emilye Crosby of SUNY-Geneseo, whose research focuses on the U.S. civil-rights movement and African American history. It also was potentially a moment illustrating that “sometimes there are things that are more important than the existing rules, in that the existing rules may not be serving people very well,” said Crosby.
Indeed, Georgia Representative John Lewis, a Democratic civil-rights pioneer and leader of the recent House sit-in, told CNN:
Sometimes you have to violate a rule of law to uphold a greater law, a moral law. We have a right to stand up, to speak up, to speak out. We have a right to sit down, or to sit-in, to engage in nonviolent protest. It is always right to do right.
Students also have be aware of the potential legal consequences—such as fines or even jail time—to their actions, Crosby said.