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US Democrats end marathon gun control sit-in
By Daniel WOOLLS, Gregory FEIFER
Washington (AFP) June 23, 2016

Leader of US Congress sit-in is veteran black activist
Washington (AFP) June 23, 2016 - The leader of the Democratic sit-in at Congress to push for tougher gun control laws is a veteran African-American activist who has protested with the best of them.

Representative John Lewis, 76, walked with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the historic March on Washington in August 1963 in which King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Lewis also spoke at that huge rally spilling out from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Aged just 23, he was the youngest speaker that day.

The son of Alabama sharecroppers, Lewis is now the last remaining living speaker from that rally.

It is considered a defining moment in the movement to end racism against America's blacks -- who today bear a disproportionate share of the toll of the country's epidemic of gun violence.

"We have turned deaf ears to the blood of the innocent & the concern of our nation. We will use nonviolence to fight gun violence & inaction," Lewis tweeted as the sit-in by several dozen Democratic representatives got under way Tuesday.

They acted after the speaker of the House Paul Ryan refused to allow votes on two bills demanded by Democrats to make it harder for people to buy guns.

During his work in the civil rights movement, Lewis took part in so-called Freedom Rides -- challenges to segregated facilities at bus terminals in the South.

On March 7, 1965, he led a march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama that ended in an attack by state troopers on the protesters that later became known as "Bloody Sunday."

After Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, Lewis said: "When we were organizing voter-registration drives, going on the Freedom Rides, sitting in, coming here to Washington for the first time, getting arrested, going to jail, being beaten, I never thought -- I never dreamed -- of the possibility that an African American would one day be elected president of the United States."

Lewis was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1986 as a delegate from Georgia and has held his seat ever since.

The political news website Politico hails Lewis as "one of the most courageous persons the civil rights movement ever produced."

Lewis has received numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the sole John F. Kennedy "Profile in Courage Award" for Lifetime Achievement.

Democratic lawmakers pushing for tougher US gun control laws after the Orlando nightclub massacre ended a stunning 24-hour sit-in at Congress on Thursday.

But they vowed to return with renewed vigor when the legislature comes back from a two-week recess on July 5, and said they had mustered much popular support for their cause in a country with an epidemic of gun violence.

"We are going to leave here. We are going out down the steps to greet the people outside. American people are with us and people around the world are with us," sit-in leader John Lewis, a longtime congressman and veteran of the civil rights movement who marched with Martin Luther King, told reporters.

"We must never give up or give in. We must keep the faith and we must come back here on July 5 more determined than ever before," Lewis said, flanked by lawmakers including House minority leader Nancy Pelosi.

The scenes from the floor of the House of Representatives, where the protest began on Wednesday, were unprecedented in recent history.

Dozens of Democrats disrupted the chamber's proceedings after Republican House speaker Paul Ryan refused to allow votes on two bills demanded by Democrats.

One would expand background checks and the other would prevent people on government watch lists and no-fly lists from buying guns.

Lewis and dozens of colleagues sat down on the carpeted floor in the well of the chamber.

Fifteen hours after the sit-in began, Ryan adjourned the House for two weeks in response to the protest and Republicans left the building for their Fourth of July recess.

Before that, he called for votes on unrelated issues as he sought a return to order as Democrats shouted "No bill, no break!," referring to the Congress's two-week vacation.

Dozens of Democrats spent the night in the chamber, and after a strategy meeting at midday Thursday, they decided to end the protest -- at least for now.

During the sit-in, they made impassioned pleas for lawmakers to do something about gun violence in America.

"The time for silence and patience is long gone," Lewis said.

"Do we have raw courage to make at least a down payment on ending gun violence in America?" he added.

Democratic House whip Steny Hoyer accused Republicans of having "left in the dead of night with business unfinished."

"The fight will continue when the House comes back in session," he added.

- 'How many have to die?' -

The congressional disobedience reflects the escalating political confrontation during an extraordinary presidential campaign, with Democrats urging tougher gun control measures -- even if such legislation has virtually no chance of passing.

US lawmakers, mainly Democrats, have introduced several bills in recent years aimed at reducing gun violence, including legislation to expand background checks, but none have passed Congress.

"Who has to be shot, and how many have to die before we do anything?" asked congresswoman Robin Kelly.

The sit-in, which quickly grew to about 100 members, drew attention from the White House.

"Thank you John Lewis for leading on gun violence where we need it most," President Barack Obama posted on Twitter.

Democratic White House hopeful Hillary Clinton also chimed in after C-SPAN, which broadcasts congressional sessions, was forced to turn off its cameras after Republicans forced a recess.

"House Republicans may have cut the cameras, but they can't cut off our voices," Clinton said in a tweet.

"We have to act on gun violence."

Democrats enacted a creative workaround, broadcasting live video from Periscope and Facebook that was carried by C-SPAN.

It was the first time the public broadcaster aired live social media footage from the House floor -- where taking pictures and video is prohibited.

The footage revealed extraordinary scenes.

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, a former US Army helicopter pilot who was wounded and lost both legs in Iraq, sat with her colleagues on the carpet, with her prosthetics removed and her wheelchair empty beside her.

Pelosi joined the insurgents on Wednesday, then led several lawmakers and gun violence survivors and relatives outside onto the Capitol steps, where protesters sang the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome."

The Senate rejected four gun control amendments earlier this week, although a handful of lawmakers are pushing a bipartisan compromise bill aimed at preventing terror suspects and people on no-fly lists and FBI watchlists from buying firearms.



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Previous Report
US House Democrats stage sit-in to demand action on guns
Washington (AFP) June 22, 2016
US Democrats staged a rare sit-in Wednesday in the House of Representatives, demanding that the Republican-led body vote on gun-control legislation following the Orlando nightclub massacre. "We have to occupy the floor of the House until there is action," Democratic Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon who marched with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr in the 1960s, said before he and do ... read more

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