Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Meeting Mary Beth Tinker

This was written originally for a Quaker audience. FGC is Friends General Conference, an alliance of usually more liberal Friends. It meets once a year in the summertime for its annual gathering.

One of the good things about attending Worship in Washington, DC, is that I sometimes get to meet well-known Friends. Mary Beth Tinker was in attendance this past First Day. Her late sister is Bonnie Tinker, notable in her own right for being a tireless activist.

I met Bonnie for the first time at Meeting for Worship shortly before the Obama Inauguration. She was in town to attend the ceremony, as were so many others. Some of you may recall that Bonnie died tragically in an roadway accident during FGC's Annual Gathering only a few months later. She is still missed, in the larger Friends community, and especially in her adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon.

Mary Beth, by contrast, was one of the students in Des Moines, Iowa, who wore a black armband to school to protest the Vietnam War. She, her older brother, and a mutual friend were promptly suspended from school. The family filed suit along with the ACLU and four years later, in 1969, the case was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. The Tinkers won, in a 7-2 decision.

The legal ruling famously became known as Tinker v. Des Moines. It is still used to determine the First Amendment rights of students.

Mary Beth was gracious and humble in person. She seemed surprised that I remembered who she was, especially in context. As I told her then, I studied the case in school. I do wish that the Tinker family was more regularly recognized as Quaker. We remember the case and the sacrifice, but often do not link it back to the Religious Society of Friends. This is not unusual.

Part of my responsibilities with committee service include forming strategies for greater outreach. I'm aware of the ways that we don't publicize and vocalize who we are, at our own great loss. The Tinker family has had a hand in shaping American history, as they stayed faithful to their Quaker values. In saying this, I am not resorting to baseless hyperbole.

The Tinkers ought to be acknowledged for what they've accomplished and especially for being one of ours.

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