Zack Eaton, Alexis Tainter, and Jake Chiarelli contributed to this story.
In the city of St. Louis, a nurse is treating young children for severe burns from a house fire. She injects them with narcotics to help heal the wound and bathes
them. She soon finds out the leading cause of burns in children is house fires because landlords were not keeping the housing up to code. Some people may have let it go, not have said a word and let this injustice continue. But this nurse has experience speaking up for rights and speaking her mind. This nurse is Mary Beth Tinker and she is more recognized for her impact on American rights than her duties in the medical field.
“She really revolutionized the way that we looked at freedom of speech and the first amendment and everything that has to do with that and what’s included in that clause,” Elisabeth Condon said.
Tinker is well known for her 1965 protest against the Vietnam War. She, along with other students, wore plain black armbands to school after their principal had banned this idea. The students were suspended but challenged the act of punishment for not allowing them to exercise their first amendment rights. The case went to the Supreme Court, who ruled in favor of the students. Even today, Tinker is fighting for first amendment and other rights. Tinker and First Amendment Attorney Mike Hiestand are moving throughout the U.S., speaking out against injustice, and working to give the wronged a voice. It’s called the Tinker Tour, and it’s currently stopped at the National High School Journalism Convention in Boston.
“It was sort of a challenge trying to figuring out what I’m supposed to do with this experience,” Tinker said. “I think you should take the experiences that you have in life, your gifts, and your talents and find some way to help young people and teenagers because kids don’t have it so good.”
On the tour, Tinker tells her story to inspire students, while Hiestand discusses the legal aspects of how people can say what’s on their mind in a manner that is protected by the first amendment. Tinker and Hiestand have been traveling the East Coast to the Midwest in an RV since September. By the time the tour ends in late November, Tinker and Hiestand will have visited 45 places, including a few places in St. Louis on Nov. 20. But before the tour officially started, she attended SSP at Webster University, where Norths publication students were able talk with her.
“When I came to SSP at Webster college it was so exciting,” Tinker said. “It was just this wonderful energy and wonderful feeling. It was sort of like this big pep rally for the first amendment and everybody there was excited as well. It was a good pre rally before the tour. We got great encouragement from the people in Missouri.”
Tinker and Hiestand attend conventions, like the JEA convention in Boston, rally’s, and other events to advocate students to speak up for what they believe in, and find out how to take action. They look forward to hearing what the students go through and developing a relationship with student journalists.
“We’ll sit down and talk with kids about what they stand up for and ask what’s important to you and often times they start out really quiet because no one’s ever asked them,” Hiestand said. “But usually there’s one student that you can just kind of see it in their eyes, that’ll stand up and say ‘I don’t like the dress code’ and the minute one of those things comes out, pretty soon all of the kids are standing up. That’s really powerful because you just feel like that’s something that doesn’t happen very often.”
These powerful moments are the reason the Tinker Tour started and why Tinker and Hiestand plan on another tour in the Spring. While they work to accomplish many things, they always have one main goal in mind.
“The goal of the Tinker Tour is to increase student voices and to encourage student voices and youth voices and to collect stories about how young people already are standing up and speaking up about their lives,” Tinker said. “I just got tired of seeing kids get cheated out of a say in the policies that affect them. Kids have to pay a price for the policies that are made by adults.”
Click Here to view a Storify on the Tinker Tour at the JEA/NSPA Convention in Boston.