Tinker speaks out for human rights, inspiring students


Danny Tajimaroa

Mary Beth Tinker, champion of the freedom of speech visits Carlsbad High on a nation wide tour to promote awareness of student press law for high schoolers across the country. At only age seventeen, Tinker won a supreme court case when her school district in Des Moines tried to ban her from wearing black “peace” bands surrounding the war in Vietnam.

A peace sign embroidered on an armband–hardly a conspicuous or even violent protest. But with the controversy surrounding the Vietnam War in 1965, it was denounced by the school district and escalated into the Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines. Only 17, Mary Beth Tinker won, championing the freedom of expression. Now years later, she continues to travel and share her experiences and views.

CHSTV recently collaborated with Chamber Singers, producing the theme song “Get on the Bus” for her Tinker Tour, which promotes a real-life civics education in students. In return, Tinker honored Carlsbad High on March 12 with a CHSTV interview, classroom visits and a discussion with the journalism program.

“I’m so glad to be here with everybody. I’ve had some really great conversations about various things that people are speaking up about,” Tinker said. “We’ve talked about everything from banned books to students who have spoken up about issues at clubs.”

She also spoke to sophomore Allen Weedman and junior Lauren Streicher on CHSTV, explaining why she protested against the Vietnam War and where she draws the line with the First Amendment.

“She’s the one who made free speech at our school possible, and I think it’s important to show students who they have to thank for that,” Streicher said. “She’s a really big inspiration.”

Throughout the cross-country tour, students have encouraged Tinker by sharing their own experiences in supporting human rights. Her presence alone seems to inspire a push for expression.

“Some students in Mississippi–this is really cute–started a petition saying all the kids should be able to hear me talk because they were only going to let some classes hear me,” Tinker said. “It was a victory for them.”

In the future, Tinker plans to continue not only speaking with students, but listening to them.

“There are some students in Oregon that can put students’ experiences [in standing up for their rights] all together in a book,” Tinker said. “We have a coloring book right now, which is made up of true stories of kids using their First Amendment, but as for something a little bigger, we can have students write stories themselves.”

Before this success, Tinker experienced horrible treatment when she protested using the earlier-mentioned bands. But, partly influenced by her religious upbringing and her parents’ values, she concludes that with love, she can overcome the consequences that come with speaking one’s mind.

“Because really, it is all about love. I think even civic actions are about love and looking out for everybody,” Tinker said. “That’s what I’m passing on to kids today, that there is a way of life that’s good. You meet so many interesting people, and you feel that good feeling of expressing yourself. So, it’s a way of life I found, and no, you’re not going to win always. Sometimes it’s difficult, you might be ostracized, but it’s worth it.”