Democrats said their 26-hour sit-in on the House floor was meant to force votes on two gun control measures, but as they made clear themselves Thursday, the real vote they're targeting is the one on Nov. 8 — Election Day.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, noting that the proposals have already failed in committee, said he had no intention of bringing the measures to the floor for votes. And with Republicans outnumbering Democrats 247 to 188, Democrats know they would almost certainly lose, anyway.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, a hero of the civil rights movement who was the chief spokesman for the revolt, acknowledged as much, saying Thursday afternoon: "It's not a struggle that lasts for one day, one week, one month, one year."
"We're going to organize. We're going to mobilize," Lewis said. And at a news conference on the Capitol steps, he declared: "No one no one can afford to stay home on Election Day. We've got to get out there and turn our country around."
Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, told MSNBC-TV that the event represented "the Congress and Democrats, but also, quite frankly, the American people, saying, 'We've had enough with inaction.'
"And so, this was a way for Democrats to elevate the conversation, to highlight the issue, and really, to get Republicans to do something about this," Castro said.
Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-New York, echoed Castro, telling reporters that the sit-in showed that Democrats are eager to fight back.
"I would suggest a fire has been lit across our nation," Crowley said. "It's a new day in Washington. It's a new way to fight, as well."
Crowley's reference to "a new way to fight" highlighted how Democrats were able to get around Ryan's attempts to tamp down public attention.
Ryan had recessed the House — which shut down the cameras C-SPAN uses to broadcast congressional proceedings. But Democrats streamed the sit-in live on social media, even during a brief period when Ryan reconvened the chamber — in violation of House rules prohibiting the use of cameras on the floor.
C-SPAN, which is independent but doesn't control the cameras on the House floor, broadcast the live internet streams, instead.
"Republicans turned off the microphones. We raised our voices," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said Thursday at her weekly news conference.
If the goal was to reach voters, Democrats succeeded: Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga spread their message to their combined 104 million followers on Twitter, where the hashtag #NoBillNoBreak became a trending topic both Wednesday and Thursday.
Republicans were rankled that Democrats used the sit-in as an election tool as much as, if not more than, a legislative one. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the party organ that raises money for Democratic candidates — live-tweeted the event, and it blanketed competitive congressional districts with emails hailing Lewis and asking for donations from $1 to $250.
"If this is not a political stunt, then why are they trying to raise money off of this?" Ryan asked. "The reason I call this a stunt is because they know this isn't going anywhere."
The sit-in raises the stakes for Ryan. As speaker, he had the authority to keep the House in session and then to order the sergeant-at-arms to clear the floor. But when Ryan agreed to become speaker, one of his promises was to loosen Republicans' iron-clad restrictions on the legislative process.
Instead, Democrats were allowed to take over the House for more than day as millions of people watch on streaming services.
"They turned off the cameras. We went to Periscope," Pelosi said. "They tried to shut down the discussion, and what resulted was a discussion heard 'round the world."
The showdown also puts C-SPAN in uncharted territory.
There have been previous protests like this one. In 1995, Democrats staged a sit-in after then-Speaker Newt Gingrich abruptly adjourned the House before lawmakers could reach an agreement with President Bill Clinton on a budget to keep the government open.
And in 2008, it was Republicans who seized the floor, essentially holding unofficial House sessions for a month after Pelosi, then the speaker, adjourned without allowing a vote on a Republican-backed measure to allow more oil and gas drilling.
Neither protest was seen on C-SPAN. But now there's Periscope and Facebook Live — and C-SPAN jumped on the opportunity to broadcast those streams to "show what is happening in Congress," which Howard Mortman, the network's director of communications, told Politico is its job, after all.
Mortman noted that Congress doesn't run C-SPAN, which is an independent creation of the cable TV industry. But Congress does control the cameras in its chambers, raising the question of whether the network could face some sort of retribution along with the Democrats.
That might not be known until July 5, when the House is scheduled to reconvene.
"We're reviewing everything right now as to what happened and how to bring order to this chaos," Ryan said at a news conference.