By Amy Jiang,
In December 1965, a shy 13-year-old Mary Beth Tinker wore a black armband to school to protest the Vietnam War.
On April 1, 2014, she stood onstage in a high school theater, asking hundreds of students from various high schools, “When have you stood up for what you believe in?”
Tinker and Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, visited Whitney High School on the Tinker Tour U.S.A., which aims to empower students to use their First Amendment rights to influence and improve their environment.
Tinker, now a pediatric nurse living in Washington, D.C., is hailed as a First Amendment hero for protesting the Vietnam War with a group of students in 1965 by wearing a black armband to public school in Des Moines, Iowa. Tinker and others were suspended for their nonviolent protest.
Backed by the ACLU, the Tinkers took the case to court, which eventually arrived in the hands of the Supreme Court. In 1969, the court ruled 7-2 in favor of Tinker, stating that “students and teachers do not shed their rights at the school gates.”
The landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District established students as persons under the Constitution and introduced a whole new world of first amendment rights for students, including freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
Tinker explained how her parents’ activism as well as media coverage of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War shaped her childhood. Her enthusiastic retelling of her journey incited singing, clapping and cheers from the audience.
LoMonte and Tinker turned to the crowd to ask what major issues they had addressed in their communities. Replies included LGBT awareness, online privacy, social media and support of breast cancer with “I Heart Boobies” wristbands.
LoMonte encouraged the students to take advantage of the freedoms afforded to them by the First Amendment and the California Education Code, which provides more rights for students than most states. “If you think the First Amendment is some dusty old relic that lives on a shelf, it doesn’t,” he said. “It’s active in your life each and every day.”
Students from Whitney High School presented Tinker with a $400 check as “freedom fuel” to aid the Tinker Tour in its mission to advocate youth voices.