A peaceful sit-in outside of Sen. Marco Rubio’s office left UCF alumna Ida Vishkaee Eskamani, and nine others, in jail on Monday.
Using the hashtag #SitInForThe49, more than 70 people sat outside of Sen. Rubio’s office on Monday to protest his lack of action regarding gun laws.
The sit-in was organized by was organized by Anna Vishkaee Eskamani, a UCF Ph.D. student and alumna, and her sister Ida Vishkaee Eskamani, a UCF alumna, and others. The protest started around noon on Monday.
“Today, residents of Orlando began a #SitInForThe49 to demand action of Sen. Marco Rubio and all elected officials who have contributed to the discrimination and violence that plagues our communities and nation,” Anna Vishkaee Eskamani said in a Facebook post. “As we approach one month since the massacre at Pulse nightclub and continue to be plagued with violence, it is clear that our elected leaders have failed us. In honor of the lives lost here in Orlando, and all victims of institutional discrimination and rampant gun violence, we are staging a 49-hour sit-in to demand action from Sen. Marco Rubio and all local, state and federal officials.
“We demand a comprehensive platform to address gun safety, equality and community violence and urge you to join in Orlando or stage your own sit in.”
The Orlando Police Department explained on its Twitter that 10 arrests were made for “trespass after warning, a misdemeanor.” Frederick Velez, the organizer of Latino Outreach for Organize Now, was one of the protesters who was arrested. Anna Vishkaee Eskamani said she and her sister both knew the risk of arrest was high, but it was one they were willing to take.
“[Forty-nine] lives were lost at Pulse one month ago and four people die each hour to gun violence,” she said. “Change will not come with a quick burst of energy — it will come with a consistent persistence for something greater than ourselves.”
OPD tweeted it was “[g]rateful to peaceful protesters who understand we have a job to do.” In an earlier tweet, OPD stated it had no issue with peaceful protesters but that the Downtown Orlando building was technically private property and that the owners wanted the protesters removed.
According to the OPD Twitter, all protesters were welcome while the building was open, but OPD would remove anyone who stayed behind to protest after the building closed at 7 p.m.
Anna Vishkaee Eskamani said that though the building closed, the protesters continued to rally outside the building until around 8 p.m.
“Sen. Rubio claims he is ‘deeply impacted’ by last month’s Pulse Nightclub Shooting, yet he continues to terrorize Orlando’s LGBTQ+ communities of color by adhering to a platform of so-called ‘conservative values’ which discriminates, dehumanizes and denies access to the American dream,” Anna Vishkaee Eskamani said in a press release on Monday. “Opportunist political leaders have offered meaningless platitudes and political pandering in response to unspeakable violence. At best, politicians propose ‘No Fly No Buy’ legislation that employs racial profiling and fails to address the most urgent needs of marginalized communities. We demand a comprehensive platform to address gun safety, equality, and community violence.”
Sen. Rubio is a staunch advocate of gun rights and has opposed adding restrictions on gun ownership, including an expansion of background checks, on several occassions.
“My position on guns is pretty clear,” Sen. Rubio said in a 2013 CNN interview. “I believe law-abiding people have a fundamental constitutional right to bear arms. And I believe criminals and dangerous people should not have access to guns. There are laws that protect those two things — but many of these [additional] gun laws are ineffective.”
All 10 of the protesters who were arrested Monday were released around 5 a.m. Tuesday morning. Ida Vishkaee Eskamani’s lawyer recommended she not speak about the specifics of her experience in jail. Velez said that he was treated fairly during his time in jail, but was shocked to see police with assault rifles when he was escorted from the building.
“I did think it was a little bit ironic when we were escorted through the back [of the building] there were policemen with assault rifles, which was the thing we were trying to protest,” he said. “... We had told them we were going to be peacefully arrested if there is such a thing. And just seeing the policemen out there, three of them, with assault rifles just like, I couldn’t get past that.”
Ida Vishkaee Eskamani said that being released close to the time that news of Pulse had broken last month was an extremely moving moment and recommitted the group to honoring those lives through action.
“We spent about 10 hours in jail,” she said. “I want to note that the 10 folks who were arrested represented so many intersections of this movement, included black, latino, white, queer, straight, youth and seniors as well as victims of gun violence, discrimination and police brutality.”
She said that she and the other protesters were completely dedicated to completing the 49-hour sit-in, but when that couldn't happen, they were willing to accept the consequences.
“The line has been drawn,” she said. “You either stand with us to end gun violence and discrimination in all forms or you're against us. It’s our duty to turn up the heat. In the meantime, we're urging everybody to please call and tweet Sen. Marco Rubio, tell him you support the sit-in for the 49 and demand he work to end gun violence and discrimination.
“We ask folks to stay tuned because this is just the beginning.”
Sen. Rubio has not responded to the Future’s request for comment.
The event has three platforms that it's dedicated to including gun safety, equality and community violence.
#SitInForThe49 hopes to get lawmakers to refuse financial contributions from the NRA, implement universal background checks and make it a crime to knowingly import, sell, manufacture, transfer or possess a semi-automatic assault weapon or large capacity ammunition-feeding device.
This story was originally published on July 18, 2016.
Alissa Smith is the News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @thealissasmith or email her at AlissaS@centralfloridafuture.com.