Don’t Tinker with Our Rights

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Who says history is boring? This past weekend, the three of us got to hang out with living history.

After an almost 10-hour drive, we arrived in Des Moines, Iowa Thursday morning sleepy, freezing, and with cramped legs. As Arkansans, we were understandably surprised and somewhat unready for the amount of snow.

The reason for us coming to Iowa was to meet, interview, and shadow John and Mary Beth Tinker, as well as their family. These siblings fought for student rights, making it all the way to the Supreme Court.

All sparked by them wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War; 50 years ago, the siblings won a court case protecting freedom of speech in school as long as it doesn’t undeniably disrupt classes.

Knowing that we were going to meet people in their 60’s, we didn’t expect much energy. We expected slow-paced conversations and dull stories.

We could not be more wrong about the Tinkers; these “old people” had more energy than some college students on our own campus.

During interviews, you could hear the energy in their voices. They smiled, laughed, and pointed out locations as they told us stories of their childhood.

Childhood stories of ice-skating on a frozen lake, fishing with a bow, and hitchhiking a ride in the governor’s car flowed freely.

These stories kept our attention, and we ended up asking more questions, not for the interview, but to satiate our own curiosity about them as people.

Just as we expressed curiosity in their background, they expressed interest in us; asking about our majors, college, and having learned our names by the end of the trip.

Every day, they made us feel welcome; they didn’t mind us continually taking pictures and videoing their every move throughout the day. It felt like we’d grown closer with how often they made us laugh with their jokes.

Sometimes they even felt like family, and it was like following your grandparents around, except cooler. From them offering us food and drinks, to the moment when Mary Beth bought one of us a T-shirt because of having the same birth date, different year, of course, they showed how fully they’d accepted us.

They made sure we had a way to contact them, reminding us at various moments to add them as friends on Facebook. They would also ask how they could help us because in their words: “we are the future.”

We left Des Moines with fond memories, great material for the novel, and autographed black armbands.