Georgia congressman John Lewis deployed a strategy from his days as a civil rights activist and the viral nature of social media to stage a dramatic sit-in Wednesday on the House floor with his fellow Democrats to force a vote on gun control.
"Sometimes you have to do something out of the ordinary, sometimes you have to make a way out of no way," said Lewis, one of the last living icons of civil disobedience during the civil rights movement. "There comes a time when you have to say something, when you have to make a little noise, when you have to move your feet. This is the time. Now is the time to get in the way. The time to act is now. We will be silent no more."
Lewis and roughly 40 fellow House Democrats recited the Pledge of Allegiance as a couple dozen visitors in the gallery looked on and vowed "to occupy the floor of the House until there is action."
Other Democrats began chanting: "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired!" and "No bill, no break!"
"We will be sitting-in until the House is allowed an opportunity to vote," Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said in a statement. "This is an issue that ought to transcend party — it's about saving lives and keeping our communities safe."
Rep. Keith Ellison posted on Facebook that he learned about the sit-in when a staffer handed him a note that read: "Your Mom called and wants you on the floor!"
"Couldn't say no," the Minnesota Democrat wrote. "Don't worry, mom. I'm there."
Lewis later told NBC News that "sometimes you are moved by history."
It is unusual for members to disrupt the functioning of the House to this degree.
If members do not leave the floor and no compromise is reached, it is largely up to Speaker Paul Ryan to decide whether to use the authority of the House to seek to clear the floor and/or sanction members, or to keep the House in recess and wait out the issue.
The protest is not being televised because the House has not formally gaveled into session.
So Rep. Scott Peters, D-California, has been using the video streaming app, Periscope, to share footage of the sit-in. C-Span has been broadcasting Peters' video feed.
The protest is not being televised because the House has not formally gaveled into session. House members took to social media to lodge their protests using the hashtags #NoBillNoBreak, #NOMORESILENCE and #goodtrouble.
@repjohnlewis: We are one people, one family, one America. We must come together to fight the senseless plague of gun violence.
@RepJohnLarson: They can turn off the cameras but they can't keep us quiet. #NoMoreSilence. We want a vote on gun reforms
@RepJohnYarmuth: I'm on the House floor with @repjohnlewis & Dems staging a sit-in to demand action on commonsense gun legislation
Outside, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made sure the rest of the country knew about what was going on inside the chamber with a hastily-arranged press conference on the Capitol steps .
"Once again we are fighting an uphill fight to bring legislation to the floor," Pelosi said. "We truly believe that if there was a vote, we would win the vote."
The merging of old school protest movement tactics such as sit-ins and speeches and new school social media protests helped ensure that the House Democrats' revolution on gun policy reform was indeed televised.
The move led by Lewis, who was jailed and repeatedly beaten back in the 1960s when he helped lead the battle for equal rights for African-Americans, took the Republican leadership by surprise.
And it came after Lewis wrote House Speaker Paul Ryan a letter demanding that he keep the House in session instead of going into recess so there could more debate on gun control legislation in the wake of the Orlando massacre.
"As the worst mass shooting in our nation's history has underscored, our country cannot afford to stand by while this Congress continues to be paralyzed by politics," Lewis wrote.
The House sit-in came on the heels of a dramatic showdown over gun policy Monday in the Senate.
Four gun policy measures failed to pass the 60-vote threshold to move forward in the Senate on Monday in a dramatic showdown over gun policy. The votes came in the wake of the deadly shooting spree in a gay nightclub in Orlando — the nation's worst mass shooting in modern history — and a subsequent 15-hour filibuster by Senate Democrats who demanded action on gun control.
The four amendments — two filed by Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and two other, less restrictive measures filed by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and John Cornyn, R-Texas — addressed background checks of prospective gun buyers and the sale of guns and explosives to people on terrorist watch lists.
Murphy, who led last week's 15-hour filibuster by Senate Democrats who demanded action on gun control applauded the House's moves.
@ChrisMurphyCT: Just watched House Republicans shut down House as @HouseDemocrats began to sit down on floor to say #NoBillNoBreak. Amazing.
So did former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama who in a Tweet thanked Lewis for "leading on gun violence where we need it most." Vice President Joe Biden called Lewis " the keeper of the nation's conscience at times of challenge and controversy."
As the day wore on, the gallery seats began to fill as curious onlookers watched the impassioned speeches. Care packages with snacks and letters from supporters began pouring in for the lawmakers.
Democratic Senators such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, joined their House colleagues as did former members of Congress. The lawmakers, some of them wiping away tears, shared stories of constituents killed as a result of gun violence.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.