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.