Rep. John Lewis was 20 when he took his first stand. On a Tuesday in May 1960, Lewis walked into a Woolworth's and sat down at a lunch counter for whites only. Police arrested him. Lewis served jail time for attempting to order lunch.
A year to the day, Lewis took his second stand. This time, he got firebombed.
Lewis boarded a chartered bus on May 10, 1961, filled with Freedom Riders, white and black volunteers sitting together when Southern laws forbad doing that. Their driver had pulled into a small Trailways bus station in Anniston, Alabama, when they were met by local citizens -- who torched the bus. Lewis, along with everyone else, escaped through bus's windows because the white mob held the doors shut as the interior filled with acrid smoke.
Lewis came back on the next Freedom Ride. That's when he had his head cracked open. He found himself in a Birmingham Greyhound bus station, surrounded by a white mob. Lewis, then 21, survived and rode again. And again.
Fifty-five years later, Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts emailed John Lewis, now 76, and suggested they organize a sit-in of Congress. She wanted to protest Speaker Paul Ryan's commandment that no gun control legislation reach the House floor for a vote. Lewis jumped at it. She organized; he would lead.
Previously, the Republicans found time -- more than sixty times, actually -- to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. On the night that Lewis and Clark (couldn't resist) marshaled 125 Democrats for their historic sit-in, Republicans found time to vote to override Obama's veto of a bill that would enrich financial advisers. (They failed).
"No bill, no break," they shouted, meaning until Ryan allowed a vote on a bill to stop a terrorist from buying a gun, they would not break their sit-in. Reuters reported that Ryan said he would not let the House vote on the anti-terrorist bill "that would take away Constitutional rights." Such as the right to live?
While sitting representatives filled the well of the House, Ryan both recessed Congress and shut down C-SPAN's access. He pulled the plug so that Lewis, Clark and 125 members of Congress couldn't be seen on home television screens.
Banning the cameras was a mistake. "It was a telling move," wrote the Boston Globe. "Censorship is not something that politicians who are confident of the righteousness of their beliefs bother with."
Rep. Scott Peters of San Diego came to the rescue. He downloaded Periscope, an app that allowed him to broadcast from his smartphone. Someone contacted C-SPAN, and a free press being what it is, fed Peters' cellphone broadcast to its viewers.
There's nothing like suppressing something to make a person determined to read or see it. So when Ryan brought the House back from recess, the nation, Twitter, Facebook, and overseas news agencies were glued to Peters' and C-SPAN's bootleg coverage of the sit-in.
"Sometimes you have to do something out of the ordinary." Lewis dryly told The Associated Press. Ryan told CNN's Wolf Blitzer the sit-in was a "publicity stunt."
Lewis said to the House, "We have lost hundreds of thousands of innocent people to gun violence. Tiny little children. Babies, students and teachers. Mothers and fathers. Sisters and brothers. Daughters and sons. Friends and neighbors. And what has this body done?"
Ryan adjourned the House. At that moment, Rep. Ted Deutch tweeted, "From a Republican colleague of mine as he walked off the floor: 'We're going to have a drink and a cigar. Enjoy your protest.' Really." Deutch added, "Our sit-in isn't about partisan politics. The members here represent diverse Americans nationwide who want us to act."
When Ryan gaveled the House back into session at 10 p.m., Democrats shouted "No bill, no Break." Veteran political reporters in the House press gallery were both excited and stunned.
John Bresnahan, the veteran Capitol bureau chief for Politico, tweeted, "I came to Capitol Hill today and the '60s broke out," observing "a virtual carpet" of lawmakers sitting on the floor, while Rep. Don Young "was being physically restrained from trying to grab (the) mic from Dem lawmakers."
Huffington Post correspondent Matt Fuller tweeted, "The House gallery is screaming right now. I've never seen anything like this." The chief of correspondents for the McClatchy newspaper chain, Mark Seibel, called the Democrats' protest "an unprecedented day."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren walked over from the Senate with coffee and donuts. An unidentified person from California spent $324 dollars to send pizzas to the sit-in.
Rep. Adam Schiff spent his 56th birthday literally on the House floor. "Whether you agree with us or not," Schiff told CBS, "the American people want to have a vote."
The Democrats' sit-in empowered the nation. Polls show a historic majority want a bill to keep assault rifles out of the hands of a terrorist. But at 3 a.m., Speaker Ryan managed to adjourn the House until July 5 -- when the protest will begin again. At least Ryan and the GOP majority are being forced to do a lot in order to avoid doing anything about gun violence.
Lewis quoted an old saying to CBS, "Sometimes you gotta turn things upside down in order to turn them right side up." To the House, Lewis said, "It is always right to do right."
Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.