Most Iowa natives know Mary Beth Tinker for her role in the 1969 Supreme Court case that gave students in the public schools First Amendment rights to engage in political protest.
Nearly a half century after she and others won that case, Tinker brought her Tinker Tour to Simpson College, where she told nearly 200 students at the Constitution Day event about the importance of using their First Amendment rights to be activists for social change.
Tinker said the world today looks much like the one in which she famously donned a black armband as a 13-year-old more than 50 years ago. All the violent protests, racial discrimination and corruption happening now were going on when Tinker was younger.
“A seventh grader came up to me and asked me she doesn’t like turning on the news because someone is always being killed or the violent protests are happening,” Tinker said. “I simply told her, what could you do about it? There is always something we can do about the situation.”
When Tinker put on a black armband at a Des Moines school in 1965 in support of victims on both sides in the Vietnam War, she said it was a way to spread peace and love.
But Tinker was suspended from her school for violating a school policy that was created specifically to keep her and others from wearing the armbands as a form of political protest.
Tinker and others appealed that suspension to the U.S. Supreme Court and won, but she says today that the case was less about winning and more about taking action — even if it conveys an opinion with which few or even any agree.
“I’ve been really fascinated with the ‘young’ brain—they tend to have levels of dopamine in which persuades them to take action on what they care about,” Tinker said. “We need kids to stand up for what they believe in and take the necessary action for change to occur.”
Many Simpson students took to the message from Tinker’s speech — that we should never be afraid to showcase our emotions and actions to what we believe in, even if our views are unpopular.
Learn more about Tinker by visiting tinkertourusa.org, following @tinkertour on Twitter or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.