So when embarking on a journey like the Tinker Tour you plan and prepare as much as you can. But you also go in knowing that some of the biggest, most important and/or memorable moments will be those that come out of nowhere.
As you might guess from the title of today’s entry, it didn’t take long.
Brother #3 doesn’t get out much. He enjoys his work, loves his friends, appreciates and excels in the small, simple joys of life, but doesn’t often venture too far from home. But he does dream. And one of his dreams had always been to take a road trip across the country with his best friend John.
Unfortunately, earlier this summer John unexpectedly died.
So when one of my dreams — the Tinker Tour — actually came to life, the chance to help #3 realize a version of his — all while being a huge help in delivering Gabby the Tinker Tour bus to the Liberty Bell — began to take shape. So rather than beeline across the country, we planned a few short side trips.
That’s how I ended up waiting outside the visitor’s center theater at Mount Rushmore — actually staring up at the four Big Guys — waiting for the next orientation film to start, when my cell phone rang.
It was MB. (Yes, I now call Mary Beth Tinker — the plaintiff in the landmark First Amendment case I’ve been reading and talking about for about half my life, and whose picture is in my daughter’s high school history book, “MB.” Crazy things, dreams.)
She had just read the second of my Captain’s Logs posts.
We thought it would be nice to build some buzz for the kickoff of our tour in Philadelphia by my posting a bit about my journey east. One of the quirky things I saw on Day 2 was a Montana billboard along the interstate touting an annual “Testicle Festival.” That seemed to fit the “quirky” requirements pretty well so I included it. (You can see it here.)
MB agreed it was quirky, but didn’t think it belonged on the Tinker Tour blog. So she’d deleted it.
Yep. Here I was staring at freakin’ Mount Rushmore of all things, a First Amendment lawyer having arrived in the Tinker Tour bus plastered with the words “free speech” and “free press” and on my way to the Liberty Bell to kick off a national tour on those topics -- and I’m censored by Ms. Free Speech herself, Mary Beth Tinker.
(I wonder where you apply to have new examples added to the dictionary definition of “irony.”)
Yes, I was peeved. I hung up the phone that day wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into.
Today, it cracks me up.
For the record, we sorted things out. While I work almost exclusively with high school and college students, MB’s audience tends to be younger kids. Lots of elementary and middle school students. She works with groups like History Day, which also focus on a younger audience, and she was concerned how a billboard with the words “testicle” would fly among such groups. Fair enough. (My wife also sided with MB, which helped put out my fire.) We had also agreed — early on — that we'd both have a say (and a veto -- because the flip side of free speech is the right not to speak) in determining what went out under the "Tinker Tour" name.
What turned things around for me the most, though, was realizing how the moment gave me the opportunity to, as they say, walk my talk.
One of the big themes I’m hoping to talk about on the Tinker Tour is that the fight for student free speech has changed. While going to court to wage the occasional First Amendment battle will still be important, it’s no longer the only option. in 2013, technology has, in many ways, made some types of censorship irrelevant. Or at least much less powerful than it would have been In the past. While a principal’s decision in 1990 to censor a story from the student newspaper meant that story was pretty much dead, unless the student chose to fight the thing with the school board and/or in court, that’s no longer the case.
There are so many other opportunities and avenues for expression — besides the official student newspaper — that students (and lawyers like me) now must decide what makes the most sense: waging an extended legal battle over a censored story or simply finding another place or another way to have their voice heard.
Maybe the time has come to love the First Amendment — by using the new speech opportunities that exist — rather than immediately choosing to fight for it. Because if the last couple decades are any indication, fighting for student speech rights in court hasn’t worked out very well. With but a few key exceptions, judges have tended to whittle away at the protections established by Mary Beth’s 1969 case. Standing up for those rights remains essential, but now feels like a moment where we also have the opportunity to speak more and perhaps fight less.
So, with MB's blessing, I’ll continue to look for billboards touting “Testicle Festivals” and post information — maybe with more of a PG-13 feel — of the other quirky, interesting people and things I run into on the Tinker Tour. I’ll just do it here.
Our first night aboard the TT Bus went well — thanks to both #2 and I remembering our ear plugs. (You can read the first day Captain's Log here.) #3 snores — but only sometimes, so you can’t even take comfort in the rhythm of it — like a rhino whose half-way eaten a wild boar. But he’s the only professional driver amongst the three of us, so we’re keeping him on.
We spent pretty much the entire day making our way across humongous state of Montana. A couple hours after leaving Missoula we crossed the Continental Divide. #2 explained to #3 that one of the things that means is that all of the water you see on the West side of the Divide eventually makes its way to the Pacific. Water on the East drains to the east and the Gulf of Mexico. This isn’t a scientific or nature blog, so don’t use #2’s information to pass a test or anything without checking it out yourself — but it sounded fine to me.
Lots of interesting sites on the way.
But the bulk of the day was spent in Big Sky Country. Big Sky Country they call it because once you hit the flat, eastern part of the state, you can stand outside and see nothing but sky from the horizon up 360-degrees around you. It’s impressive.
A few years back, Patty, the girls and I took Amtrak from Seattle to visit her sister in Minneapolis via the northern Empire Builder route, which passes through the middle of Big Sky Country. One of the more memorable evenings of my life was when we were in the dining car when the train had to stop in the middle of nowhere for about an hour to let a westbound train use our track. While there, an incredible thunderstorm enveloped us and for a while we were treated to a 360-degree lightning storm while we enjoyed an elegant meal, complete with fine china and white tablecloths.
Today, the fine china was replaced with turkey sandwiches and chips on paper plates, but it was still a great day. Still, like too much of anything, it can get a bit monotonous so #2 took on the role of NFL announcer, reading us play-by-play updates from Week 1’s games.
It’s something. Part of today’s trip tracked the route taken by Lewis and Clark as they headed west, just barely 200 years ago. Munching on our sandwiches, grabbing a drink from our on-board refrigerator and tracking NFL games in real-time aboard our hot pink RV…one can only imagine what Lewis, Meriwether, William and Sacagawea would make of the Tinker Tour. Rock on.
Mike Hiestand is the founder of Zenger Consulting. He is currently Senior Legal Counsel with the Student Press Law Center. He was the staff attorney for the nonprofit Center, located just outside Washington, D.C., between 1991-2003 and worked as the Center’s sole consulting attorney until 2012. He continues to assist student media via the Center's legal hotline and works with the SPLC on special projects affecting the student press community. Over the years, he has provided media law and First Amendment help to nearly 18,000 high school and college student journalists and their advisers.