We live in the age of the sequel. If a young adult book sells big, you can bet its author will revisit the plot, and crank out at least one follow-up. Movies that catch box office fire often inspire subsequent installments. Now it appears that even quirky social awareness movements are capable of producing offspring. According to a recent news release, an old protest that might be called The Armband Uprising is finally being followed by The Battle of the Bracelet.
Back in the late ‘60’s, Mary Beth Tinker, her older brother, John, and their friend, Christopher Eckhardt, started wearing black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War. There was nothing daring or original about protesting Vietnam. In fact, it was the cool thing to do. Unfortunately, the principals of Des Moines, Iowa where these students lived decided to make a big deal of the little protest, and ended up catapulting the three students into history.
The American Civil Liberties Union, apparently having nothing better to do with its time and resources, took up the students’ cause. Soon their pictures were plastered everywhere, soberly wearing their beloved armbands as though they were prophets of a new enlightenment. The fight led to the landmark Supreme Court decision known as Tinker v. Des Moines (apparently, Chris Eckhardt was edged out of top billing somewhere along the line). The Court decreed that the protest was not disruptive, and three young people who would otherwise never have been known by anyone outside the narrow borders of their community were blown into civil rights icons.
Now, 44 years later, we’ve got the sequel. Kayla Martinez and Brianna Hawk, the latest beneficiaries of ACLU crusaders, have usurped their way into cultural fame by their insistence on wearing ‘I Heart Boobies’ bracelets to school. Supposedly, the bracelets are designed to heighten breast cancer awareness, but some have argued that they also heighten more base types of awareness.
This time, the action is in Pennsylvania where the young ladies were suspended for defying the policy of their middle school against booby-themed apparel and accessories. The somber black and white images of the Tinkers and their parents and the black armbands are replaced by splashy shots of the big, cartoonish bracelets dangling in colorful clusters on youthful wrists. And once again, obscure young people are enjoying sudden celebrity.
But a nagging question keeps popping up in my mind. Isn’t there something better to do? Yes, Vietnam was a serious issue as is breast cancer, BUT. . . Would the Tinkers have spent their own money to take their armbands to the Supreme Court? Would the booby bracelet brigade be in court now if the legal bills were being sent to their home addresses? How much of these matters is more emotional high than substantive social debate? As liberal Justice Hugo Black observed in his dissent to the Tinker decision, maybe it’s not a bad thing for students in school to “keep their minds on their own schoolwork.”