Tinker Tour: The Power of an Armband

by Special Project of the SPLC

$50,575 pledged of $115,000 goal
Tipping Point: $50,000
Ultimate Goal: $115,000
$50,575 pledged of $115,000 goal
0 days to go
This Campaign has ended

Campaign Overview

Free speech champion Mary Beth Tinker wants to tour America to talk to students about free speech and civics education.

tinker tour logo

My Story

Hi. My name is Mary Beth Tinker. And I need a bus (or RV.)

Nearly a half-century ago, I was part of a small group of students who made history after we were suspended for wearing simple black armbands to school to mourn the loss of lives in Vietnam. At the time, I was a shy 13-year-old and history was the last thing on our minds.

But we did make history, eventually winning a landmark Supreme Court ruling in favor of First Amendment rights for students.

My mom and I at a Des Moines, Iowa, school board meeting in 1965.My Mom and I at a Des Moines, Iowa, school board meeting in 1965.

The Tinker ruling is still cited in nearly every student First Amendment case, and almost all American civics and history textbooks refer to it. In 2012, I was included in the book, 101 Changemakers: Rebels and Radicals Who Changed US History, along with such notable figures as Rosa Parks, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King (heady stuff indeed for something I did when I was just 13!)

The Bus Tour

I am now a pediatrics nurse, but I also speak frequently with students about our case and the Constitution. But civics education is in dire straights. A recent study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center shows that only one-third of Americans can name the three branches of government, and another third can’t name any. 

So, I’ve decided to do more. Along with attorney Mike Hiestand, who has helped 15,000 students, teachers and administrators navigate student speech issues over the past two decades, I’m going on the “Tinker Tour” — a bus (or RV) trip across the country to promote youth voices, free speech and a free press.

The goal of the Tinker Tour is to bring real-life civics lessons to schools and communities through my story and those of other young people. 

I made a difference with just an armband. Can you imagine what a 13 year-old today can with all of the extraordinary speech tools available? 

We look forward to reminding them — and sharing real-life stories about how students are keeping the First Amendment allive.

And, of course, we'll be blogging, Tweeting and documenting everything along the way, sharing the voices of the young people we meet and hearing what's on their minds today.

The tour started as our dream, but has quickly started to feel very real. We have already received close to 100 invitations through our Web site (tinkertourusa.org) to speak at schools and conventions during the 2013-14 school year. And we encourage you to send us an invitation to be considered for a  visit to your school or convention as well. 

A Special Project of The Student Press Law Center (Your Donations are Tax Deductible!)

We are delighted that the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization has agreed to make the tour one of Center's special projects and will collect funds under their 501(c)(3) umbrella, which will make contributions to the tour tax deductible.

Tour Endorsements

The Tinker Tour has also been endorsed by an amazing and growing list of many of the country’s leading civics education, civil rights and journalism education and journalism groups — in fact, too many to fit on this page — and I really encourage you to check them out here. (And thank all of you!)

This is an important moment in the history of our country, especially for youth, who are naturally creative and hopeful, but too often feel discouraged. They need to hear stories of young people throughout history — and today — who bring the Constitution to life and make a difference. And we need to hear from them as well. With your help, we will!


Mary Beth Tinker & Mike Hiestand

Mary Beth Tinker and Mike Hiestand of the Tinker Tour



John and Mary Beth Tinker (1965)

Mary Beth and John Tinker (c. 1968)

Show the Tinker Tour some love by flashing your best Peace Sign and submitting your photo by Instagram (#tinkertour) (all lowercase) and we'll post it to our Web site and bring it aboard the bus to be with us in spirit as we travel the country. (Kid-friendly photos, please!)

Mary Beth Tinker in front of US CapitalWJEA Shows the Tinker Tour Some LoveGlacier Place PeaceFern Valentine shows the Tinker Tour some love at WJEA

Tipping Point Goal: $50,000

Total Funding Goal: $115,000

We are asking the StartSomeGood community to help us raise $50,000. That would be enough to secure a bus or RV, pay for gas, parking, tour logistics and help Mary Beth and Mike cover their bills during a 2-month tour during the 2013-14 school year. That's our bare minimum. Given the interest we've already received and the number of invitations we expect once word really gets out, we want to raise an additional $65,000 to cover 3-4 more months on the road to include as many schools and conventions as we can. 

Donations from some of our host schools and conferences will also be used to subsidize our travel expenses to their event. (Any honorariums will be used to pay tour expenses.)