49 Hour Sit In for 49 Pulse Victims

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photo courtesy of Wes Hodge

Following the Pulse nightclub shooting, some LGBT and other Orlando residents have taken action to demand comprehensive gun safety protections.  Wes Hodge, a long-time community member, joined several dozen, and at times upwards of 100 or more community members to launch a sit-in at the downtown Orlando office of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.  Hodge castigated Rubio saying, “he flew down here on Air Force One with President Obama, pretended to support our community, and then cannot be found when there is real work to be done,” referring to the nationally aired Orlando visit of President Obama and Vice President Biden. Hodge notes that the “organic movement” to launch a sit-in came after a number of community members began to look at long-term solutions to gun violence and violence against LGBT residents.

The 49 hour sit-in, one hour for each victim of the Pulse shooting, comes on the heels of a sit-in at the U.S. House of Representatives which garnered national attention.  The Orlando sit-in, which is bringing attention to the need of comprehensive gun reform and violent atrocities across the state and country, has been encouraging and an opportunity to show solidarity, both within the LGBT community, and with allies in the labor movement and other organizations.  The lobby of Rubio’s office included dozens of union activists, political organizers, political candidates, and other individuals who are trying to accomplish a number of safety measures, including better background screenings before guns are purchased, and a ban on large capacity gun clips.  The participants tweeted, posted on Facebook, shared personal stories about gun violence and discrimination, and sat in small groups within taped-off areas that the building managers had laid out on the floor. Another of the goals of the sit in is promote the withdrawal of the federal ban on gun research, a move which many believe is important, so policy makers can get a clear glimpse of the impact that gun violence creates in society.

Angelica “Sugg” Brown packed a sleeping bag, snacks, and other supplies for the two-day sit in, noting that she was trying to “accomplish change,” for her three children and two grandchildren.  She started the sit in at hour one, and plans to stay for the “entire time,” saying that many of her friends and her family began to, “figure out what needs to be done to be heard,” calling attention to the lack of action by Rubio and others at the federal level.  The attention and need for change does not start or stop in Washington, D.C., some sit in participants note.  “All politicians, legislators, candidates, and others must be willing to take a stand for justice,” Brown says, adding that the level of commitment from sit-in participants had not wavered through mid-day.

Brown and Hodge were but two voices in a growing crowd of participants, some of whom were arriving as word spread about the sit in, and as some individuals arrived as their work day was ending.  Mark Mitchell, Executive Director of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association and Orange Education Support Professionals Association, went back and forth between the sit in and his office duties.  At the end of his work day, he returned to show solidarity with the broad coalition of community and labor organizations making up the sit in crowd.  Mitchell had harsh words for Rubio, noting that it is past time for action.  “I agree that it is past time to call out Sen. Rubio for what he is, both an apologist for gun violence and an opponent of equality.”  Brown, too, directly criticizes Rubio, saying that, “if he really cares, he would not take money from the NRA,” as she openly questions the right of community members to own automatic weapons.

UPDATE: After the building closed at 7 PM Monday, the Orlando Police Department asked the sit in participants to vacate.  All but ten did so; those ten were subsequently taken into police custody and arrested.

Dr. Carl Howard is an Orlando teacher and union member.

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