Why Use Of Video At Congress Sit-In Was Watershed IT Moment

ANALYSIS: New-gen IT carried on the business of government information distribution when conventional methods failed, and the government had nothing to do with it

Back in the early ’70s, when sit-ins, demonstrations and heated gatherings of all types were often staged to protest the Vietnam War and lack of civil rights for some sectors of the population, there was a popular poem—later recorded as a song—called “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”

Two generations later, not much apparently has changed. On June 22, a federal government leader tried to ban the televising of a revolution of sorts—an important sit-in and debate over gun-control legislation—on the floor of Congress, and he succeeded for a few minutes. It took new-generation IT and social networks to show their power, come to the rescue, break the blackout and bring live news of the protest to the outside world.

This event could well be a watershed moment in the brief history of the information technology business. New-gen IT carried on the business of government information distribution when conventional methods failed, yet the government itself had nothing to do with it. People had everything to do with it.

Protest Literally on the Floor of Congress

This happened June 22 literally on the floor of Congress, where C-SPAN’s non-blinking television cameras were shut off when House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., declared a recess during a sit-in staged by House Democrats. The demonstration was held in protest to the Republican stonewalling of a vote on a firearms bill that would outlaw military-type guns from use by certain members of the general public.

National television would not capture the drama playing out in that hallowed chamber, or so Ryan thought.

The group of House Democrats, arguing for new gun-control laws, started the sit-in just before noon to insist on a vote on a gun control measure. Led by the legendary civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (pictured, center), the members of Congress sat carefully down on the House floor, intentionally recalling the stance of protest movements of the 1960s. They stayed for hours, attracting more colleagues during the remainder of the day.

After awhile, Ryan, tired of these shenanigans, called for the recess. That immediately activated a congressional rule about live television: When a recess is declared, the cameras go off and C-SPAN goes back to the studio. In this case, it’s quite relevant that a Republican Speaker of the House, whose party was getting hammered for blocking passage of the gun legislation and had the most to lose from the live coverage, was the one who had the cameras shut off.

Mobile IT to the Rescue

FacebookThis is an instance where mobile IT stepped in and did the nation a real service. Several members of Congress, using their smartphones with either the Facebook Live or the Twitter Periscope broadcast application, continued sending streaming video of the sit-in. Congressional rules do not require smartphone cameras to shut down.

The phones focused mostly on the protest leader, Lewis, who sat cross-legged on the floor in much the same manner he did 50-plus years ago when he fought for civil rights in his home state of Mississippi alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

Twenty-five hours later, on June 23, the sit-in ended. You can view video about this here. Ryan, who ultimately did not allow the vote, called the event a “publicity stunt and a fund-raising scheme.”

Ryan’s calling of a recess to shut down TV coverage of a debate that has rattled the entire nation for years backfired badly, because as soon as the Facebook Live and Twitter Periscope feeds began filling the social networks, CNN, CBS, ABC, MSNBC and other mainstream television networks picked up the video and rebroadcast it as the lead stories in their own newscasts.

By using this technology, dissident lawmakers forced continued public consideration of gun control, an issue many politicians would prefer to avoid. Viewers on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks were able to see firsthand the dogged determination of the Democrats and the tiresome, incessant blockading of the vote by the GOP.

Can IT Be Stopped? Probably Not

Is IT and its most utilized product, the Internet, like water or air? Can it be impeded, stopped in its tracks or turned off in a general sense? Probably not. Certainly on an individual basis, devices can be confiscated, thrown into the river, smashed and blown up. But IT is ubiquitous, networks continue and people continue.

In the case of Congress on June 22, 2016, the flow of important information remained unimpeded, despite one party’s political power and thanks to the non-partisan ubiquity of IT.

Originally published on eWeek.

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Photo courtesy of NPR