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Teen Girl Defiant Against GOP Governor Brownback: Here Are 5 More Stories of Badass Kids Standing Up to Right-Wingers

A high school girl insults Governor Brownback and stands up to those who would punish her. Here are other examples of America's youngest citizens speaking truth to power.
 
 
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The infamous anti-Brownback tweet which received an undue backlash from the Governor`s office.
Photo Credit: Twitter/Screenshot

 
 
 
 

This weekend, the Twittersphere exploded with the not-so-delicately-phrased hashtag "heblowsalot" directed at Kansas Governor Sam Brownback--all thanks to his disproportionate crackdown on an outspoken teenager.

You see, this tweeted insult had been coined by a Kansas teenager--applied to her Governor, who is famous beyond Kansas's borders mostly for his draconian oposition to abortions even in the cases of rape and incest, but he had irked young Emma Sullivan due to his opposition to arts funding.

Sullivan, was on a school trip, joking with her friends about the Governor, when she decided to tweet the following inside joke: “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

But apparently, unbeknownst to Sullivan, who had only 60 Twitter followers at the time, the governor's creepily over-involved staff made a "routine" search for the Governor's name on Twitter,found Sullivan's tweet, and promptly told her school's principal. 

Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said her office had forwarded a copy of Sullivan’s tweet to organizers of the school-sponsored event “so that they were aware what their students were saying in regards to the governor’s appearance.
Her principal then took it upon himself to sit her down and demand that she apologize.
 
But once the incident went public, Sullivan found herself an unlikely Twitter heroine--retweeted hundreds of times, with 8,000 new followers and the invention of the hashtag "heblowsalot" to her credit, a hashtag that went viral, attracting some of Twitter's biggest names and the widespread suggestion that Kansas residents report their governor for bullying.
 
Unfortunately for the Brownback team, once Sullivan realized how much public support she had--oh, and the legal right to use free speech to criticize him without repercussions-- she decided not to comply with her school's request and apologize. She tweeted:

emmakate988 I've decided not to write the letter but I hope this opens the door for average citizens to voice their opinion & to be heard! #goingstrong

Eventually, it was the Governor who apologized, releasing the statement, "My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that, I apologize. Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms."

 

Indeed it is, and yet Sullivan is far from the first young person to face blowback for exercising that freedom at an early age. High schoolers around the country have stood up to unfair rules, laws and discrimination for decades, and young college students are at the forefront of the Occupy movement.

 

Here are a few more examples of America's youngest citizens speaking truth to power in what is widely considered one of the most hostile of climates in the universe: the hallways and classrooms of high school.

 

Standing Up to  Say Gay:

 

Constance McMillen became an LGBT heroine during her senior year in high school for quietly insisting that she be able to go to her Mississippi prom with her girlfriend, leading her school to actually cancel the prom out of the fear that she'd attend. Later, parents organized a secret prom and didn't invite her. The story became a national scandal and as it raged McMillen spoke out, saying she felt sorry that there was no prom, but she had no regrets for sticking her ground. She got plaudits from Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes, GLAAD and even Perez Hilton for her courage.

 

Others have spoken out in local fights. Earlier this year, Tennessee students began to organize against the poisonous "Don't Say Gay" measure which would prohibit school curricula from addressing homosexuality (the bill is still making its way through the legislative process). Many of them left school for a day to rally for acceptance, love and against legislation that they felt would enable bullying, including one young man named David Gilmore. From the Tenessean:

A senior excused for the day from Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet High School, Gilmore came to convey the message that was emblazoned across his chest: "I (love) my two dads."

"I think anti-gay discrimination is completely wrong because my dad's gay, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with him," he said. "Hiding something doesn't fix it."

Gilmore is one of the students from three downtown Nashville high schools who have begun a protest campaign against a bill that would ban discussion of homosexuality in schools before the ninth grade. The effort grew over the week from a handful of students on Monday to a crowd of about 75 on Thursday.

Standing Up Against Mandatory Religion:

AlterNet contributor Greta Christina reported a story earlier this yearabout a student standing up against school-sponsored prayer. The young man ended up being totally rejected by his community due to his support for the constitution.

Whaon Fowler, an atheist student at Bastrop High School in Louisiana, was about to graduate. His public school was planning to have a prayer as part of the graduation ceremony: as they traditionally did, as so many public schools around the country do every year. But Fowler -- knowing that government-sponsored prayer in the public schools is unconstitutional and legally forbidden -- contacted the school superintendent to let him know that he opposed the prayer, and would be contacting the ACLU if it happened. The school -- at first, anyway -- agreed, and canceled the prayer.

Then Fowler's name, and his role in this incident, was leaked. As a direct result:

1) Fowler has been hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community.

2) One of Fowler's teachers has publicly demeaned him.

3) Fowler has been physically threatened. Students have threatened to "jump him" at graduation practice, and he has received multiple threats of bodily harm, and even death threats.

4) Fowler's parents have cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and thrown his belongings onto the front porch.

Oh, and by the way? They went ahead and had the graduation prayer anyway.

Just this fall another young woman, Jessica Alquist, 16, joined the fight over a huge prayer banner in her high school auditorium addressed to "Our Heavenly Father." The ACLU had already  been contacted by a parent and was preparing a suit, and Alquist spoke up in favor of dropping the banner. But when the school board voted to keep the banner aloft, Alquist and allowed them to file suit on her behalf becoming a poster girl for atheists. She chronicled the entire thing at her blog, including the treatment she received after "coming out" as an atheist: 

At the first meeting, I spoke in front of the sub-committee and about ten or fifteen residents.  I presented myself as an atheist, aware that the word was taboo, but unaware of just how much. When I said this, I heard a small gasp along with a bit of whispering.  As I sat down after speaking, one of the accepting, non-judgmental Christians in the room mumbled “that little witch!” under her breath. 

Standing Up for Sex Ed:

Abstinence-only philosophies, parental controversies and budget cuts combined mean very few American high school students get good, comprehensive sex education--and we have a teen pregnancy and STD crisis to show for it.

And for many students, this is unacceptable. Activist, organizer and writer Shelby Knox made a name for herself several years ago when, a a high schooler,  she stood up against abstinence-only education in Lubbock, Texas, spawning aPBS film and a Dixie Chicks song.

Students campaigning for their own right to know the facts has continued. Recently, students in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighbrhood began lobbying the city council for sex ed in their own schools and condom distribution.

Students even made a film to promote their cause and a young woman, Sheila Ramirez, spoke in front of the City Council to urge them to act. Hopefully, like Knox, this will only be the beginning of her activism. Watch a trailer for the extremely raw and honest film these students made below:

 

Unions, Teachers and More

Last winter, thousands of Wisconsin students walked out in solidarity with their teachers. The Nation reported on the phenomenon just as the protests were heating up:

Even before the protests hit the state's capital, about a hundred high school students in Stoughton, Wisconsin, a city about 20 miles outside of Madison, walked out of class Monday morning to protest the governor's proposal. And today, nearly 800 Madison East High School students also walked out to join the demonstration.

During the height of the national controversy over Scott Walker's union-busting bill, one young man named Jacob Fiskel even infamously spoke to Fox News's Greta Van Susteren and made an eloquent case for raising taxes on the rich and wealthy corporations, explaining that hurting teachers' rights would hurt students quality of life.

His segment is below, via The Young Turks.

 Dress Codes, Immigration, Bullying and More

These cases are barely even the tip of the iceberg: high school students across America stand up for everything from the rights of workers at their schools to restrictive dress codes and other policies like a spate of recent horrible immigration laws as well as bullying from non public-officials.

All these stories about outspoken teens are hope-affirming, as is the quote that Brownback-dissing Emma Sullivan's mother gave to Politico about her daughter's tweet heard round the Nation:

Sullivan’s mother, Julie, said she isn’t angry with her daughter, even though she thinks she “could have chosen different words.”..."I raised my kids to be independent, to be strong, to be free thinkers."

“If she wants to tweet her opinion about Gov. Brownback, I say for her to go for it and I stand totally behind her.”

 

 

Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in Jezebel.com and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her at sarahmseltzer.com.
 
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