Dems turn to Facebook, Twitter after cameras turned off over gun sit-in

In the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, US Democrats staged a 24-hour sit-in on the House floor using social media to get the word out after cameras were switched off.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
3 min read
Watch this: Live streaming on phones keeps Democratic sit-in on air
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Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth tweeted this image of his colleagues protesting the recent failure of several gun control bills in Congress.

Rep. John Yarmuth

The world was watching as US Democrats turned to social media to broadcast their sit-in at the House of Representatives over gun violence, after Republicans shut off cameras in the chambers.

Hundreds of Dems ended their protest on the House floor Thursday in Washington, more than 24 hours after demanding that politicians finally pass gun legislation after four bills failed to make it through the Senate in recent days. They took to live-streaming the protest via Facebook Live and Twitter's Periscope after the GOP majority recessed the House. By long-standing policy, that shut off cameras, ending the usual live feed to C-SPAN.

"When the session ends, the feed ends," said C-SPAN spokesman Howard Mortman, who added that the network is not in charge of the cameras.

After Wednesday's feed stopped, people began checking out the participating Democrats' social-media posts and video streams, and C-SPAN eventually started broadcasting the posts and streams including one from California Rep. Scott Peters' Periscope feed. The sit-in, which started late Wednesday morning, concluded midday Thursday.

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a longtime civil rights icon who helped organize the sit-in, took turns with Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut in chanting, "No bill, no break," referring to a scheduled recess for the July 4 holiday. The hashtags #NoBillNoBreak and #HoldTheFloor had been included in more than 1.4 million tweets by midday Thursday, according to Twitter.

Lewis said in a series of tweets Thursday afternoon that the fight is not over. House Democrats are seeking votes expanding background checks and banning gun sales to people who appear on the no-fly watch list.

"We must come back here on July 5th [when Congress is back in session] more determined than ever before," he tweeted. "We got in trouble. We got in the way. Good trouble. Necessary Trouble. By sitting-in, we were really standing up.

"This is not over. We have more work to do," he added. "Keep the faith and keep your eyes on the prize."

From the House floor after the sit-in, Lewis told his supporters, "Social media told the story."

At the height of the sit-in, Reps. Beto O'Rourke, of Texas, Mark Takano and Eric Swalwell, both of California, were among several politicians who live-streamed the happenings via Facebook, and thousands tuned in. Fellow Californian, Rep. Barbara Lee, who also posted videos on Facebook, told CNET News from the House floor Wednesday that "I'm glad we're taking a bold stand. This has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. It's about getting these guns out of the wrong hands and having too many guns on the streets."

The protest action, which evokes memories of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, came less than two weeks after 49 people were shot to death at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the largest mass shooting in modern US history.

Watch this: Occupy Congress: Dems hold a sit-in to force gun law vote

The politicians also used platforms such as Twitter and its Periscope live-streaming service to get their message across. By late Wednesday, tweets featuring Periscope broadcasts from Peters and Swalwell had been viewed more than 1 million times -- and counting, Twitter said.

Viewers were captivated to see what the Dems would do next -- and if the GOP would respond. The GOP majority-led House adjourned in the wee-hours Thursday and were scheduled to reconvene on July 5.

But the Dems remained, sticking with Lewis' previous cry.

"We can no longer wait," Lewis shouted Wednesday. "We can no longer be patient. So today, we come to the well of the House to dramatize the need for action. Not next month, not next year, but now -- today. Sometimes you have to do something out of the ordinary. Sometimes you have to make a way out of no way."

Lewis added, "We have been too quiet for too long. There comes a time when you have to say something. You have to make a little noise. You have to move your feet. This is the time."

House Speaker Paul Ryan later asked his more than 685,000 Twitter followers to retweet him if they think the sit-in "is nothing more than a publicity stunt," complete with the hashtag, #StopTheStunt.

President Barack Obama expressed his support for Lewis via Twitter as the Democrats vowed to stay through the night if necessary and chanted "Stay, stay, stay!"

Update, June 23 at 11:45 a.m. PT: Adds comments from Rep. Lewis after sit-in concluded Thursday.