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50 years later: Tinker case resonates with students

Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2019 @ 3:21 PM

Mary Beth Tinker, an American free speech activist known for her role in the 1969 Tinker versus Des Moines Independent School District Supreme Court case, which ruled schools could not punish students for wearing black armbands in school in support of a truce in the Vietnam War, visited Oakwood High School on Wednesday.
CONTRIBUTED
Mary Beth Tinker, an American free speech activist known for her role in the 1969 Tinker versus Des Moines Independent School District Supreme Court case, which ruled schools could not punish students for wearing black armbands in school in support of a truce in the Vietnam War, visited Oakwood High School on Wednesday.(CONTRIBUTED)

Mary Beth Tinker, an American free speech activist known for her role in the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District Supreme Court case, told Oakwood High School students 50 years later that case resonates in today’s society.

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The 1969 Supreme Court case held that Warren Harding Junior High School could not punish Tinker for wearing a black armband in school in support of a truce in the Vietnam War.

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In 1965, Tinker then, 13, was part of a group of students at the Des Moines, Iowa, public high school who refused to follow a school administrator’s warnings against wearing black armbands to school.

For Tinker, the black armband is a powerful symbol that represents mourning and turning unjust realities into something better, she told a group of Oakwood students on Wednesday.

Government and journalism students filed into the high school auditorium to hear from the woman who was one of the students at the center of the landmark case.

Tinker said that the 50th anniversary of the case still resonates regarding how to deal with controversial things with respect for others.

“Without controversy, we don’t have democracy and we don’t have education,” she said. “Young people so much through our history and today are making are democratic ideals real. Freedom and justice for all — and yes kids are the future but they are also the present.”

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She added that social media is a good tool for the youth to help move progressive ideals to the masses.

“It is a tool like anything else — you can use it or abuse it. I like the way students are using it to further their own interests to stop so much gun violence, to help Mother Earth to clean up all of the issues that affect them. I am a nurse and I see how young people pick up the pieces of policies that they do not have a say in.”

Tinker said she just saw a figure released from the Pentagon that said the U.S. has spent on average $250 million a day on wars in the last 16 years.

“This is money that is not going to schools, teachers, the environment, or young people and it is not right,” Tinker said. “And I’m glad that young people are speaking up.”

Sammy Caruso, an Oakwood High School senior, who has been a local activist in his efforts to organize local student led anti gun-violence rallies, reached out to Tinker after learning she would be in Ohio this week. Caruso worked with school leaders to quickly set up her visit.

“She was down in Miami yesterday and Hamilton today. I emailed her and asked her, ‘if you are this close can you make a stop by Oakwood?’” he said. “It all worked out and she gave an excellent presentation behind the case and the precedent it set and how it is affecting us now and how students can get involved now to stay on top of issues.”

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Caruso joined fellow Oakwood student, Sam Nicholaisen, at Tinker’s speech. Nicholaisen survived a suicide attempt in 2015 and is now a part of a movement called Hope Squads that go to schools to speak on behalf of suicide awareness.

“Youth are really a driving force for change,” he said following Tinker’s speech.

Caruso noted, “since Sam and I are both 18, this is the first election that we will be able to vote in. And I think so many of the issues that Ms. Tinker was talking about is going to be affecting us — we have a duty to go to the voting booth. We are the change that pushes everything forward.”

His statement brought a smile to Tinker’s face.

“Here’s to the First Amendment. It is for young people, too,” she said.