Flooding the Assembly


The bus left from Old Town in the early morning hours.  At about 5 am, as the bus turned onto I-95 South to Richmond, Abby Spangler warned her died-in-the-wool advocates they had a firestorm ahead of them, and the odds were against them.

Spangler, the 42-year-old founder of Protest Easy Guns, led hundreds of advocates from City Hall to the State Capitol Monday to encourage lawmakers participating to make changes to gun laws in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre that claimed 32 victims.

Four buses converged on the capital, originating in Alexandria, Norfolk, Charlottesville and Blacksburg, transporting hundreds of activists to the General Assembly.  One bus was led from Blacksburg by Omar Samaha, a 24-year-old Virginia Tech grad who is brother to Reema Samaha, an 18-year-old Virginia Tech freshman and one of the students killed during the shooting rampage. Their sister, Randa, a nursing student at the University of Virginia, led another bus from Charlottesville.

Protest Easy Guns and other gun-control advocates, including survivors Virginia Tech shootings, flooded Senate committee meeting to support a bill that would require background checks at gun-show sales. 

We…in our black and Virginia Tech remembrance ribbons swamped the Senate hearing room, filled the seats and circled the entire room standing, Spangler said.  Everywhere they could see, the senators saw our protesters who had come from around the state.

It was particularly powerful to be standing with the students, she recalled. And when the University of Virginia protesters marched in one by one to support the Hokies, stuffing the room and all of the standing room so there was no standing room left, I about lost it.

The group participated in a lie-in outside the Capitol afterwards, in which participants lie down to represent the 32 Virginia Tech victims.

Therapy out of ribbons
Spangler created a website, ProtestEasyGuns.com, which provides a lie-in kit that allows one to download protest documents,  to contact friends and organize a protest in her own city.  Spangler describes it as a true social movement, a Hail Mary pass to the American people.  The Hail Mary pass has been received via email and word of mouth by leaders in 13 states and Washington, D.C. for a total of 35 lie-ins.  Participants have included children, teenagers and grandmothers, one of whom was in a wheelchair.  

A group of 32 people, quietly lying down on the pavement in a circle dressed in black, are the common elements that tie these cities protests together.  Spangler said that as the protests move from city to city, its like a baton at a relay race passed from one protest to the next. 

The baton sometimes takes the form of a box of burnt orange and maroon ribbons, the colors of Virginia Tech, traveling from protest to protest. 

Tina Gehring makes the ribbons by hand.  Gehring, also of Alexandria, decided to make the orange and maroon necklace ribbons to honor the victims of April 16. It was important to me that Virginia Techs colors always be a part of each of the lie-ins and that they be prominent, she said,  something she felt could only be accomplished if they were bigger than the small lapel ribbons other movements use.