WASHINGTON, D.C. — Mary Beth Tinker was just 13 when she spoke out against the Vietnam War by wearing a black armband to her Iowa school in 1965. When the school suspended her, she took her free speech case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. Now 61, she’s quit her part-time job as a nurse and will travel the country telling her story.
Tinker will visit her first school today in Philadelphia. After that, she’s scheduled to travel by RV to 18 states and the District of Columbia as part of what’s being called the “Tinker Tour.” She’ll log 10,000 to 15,000 miles, the equivalent of driving across the country three to five times, before her tour ends Nov. 25 in Kansas City, Mo. Along the way, she’ll stop at more than three dozen locations, most of them schools, and she plans a tour of schools in western states in the spring. Her message: Students should take action on issues important to them.
“It’s better for our whole society when kids have a voice,” Tinker said during a recent interview at her home in Washington.
The tour, which will include participating in Constitution Day celebrations Tuesday in Philadelphia and visiting her old school in Iowa, won’t mark the first time Tinker has talked to young people. After a career as a piano technician, a nurse and then a nurse organizer for the Service Employees International Union, Tinker started speaking more to students about a decade ago.
She tells young people “You, one person, can make a difference,” and “You’re important. You are someone.”
She said standing up isn’t just “practice for the future,” but something children can do today. And students have a variety of concerns, she said, whether it’s school uniforms, bans on chewing gum or, at one school she visited, the fact there wasn’t enough sand in the sandbox.