OPERATION TIGER CLAW -- DEBRIEFING
My name is Bryan Henderson and I am an 18 year old senior attending Princeton Senior High School. Better known as Templar_Crusader on the PW forum, I am the proud leader of the small but growing PHS chapter of ProtestWarrior. Operation Tiger Claw was my first attempt at leading a protest against the apathy and leftism running rampant at my school. It all started on Friday, May 14th with a small act of conservative pride. My socialist history teacher was on another kick about how articulate Noam Chomsky was, when I finally reached my limit.
I went to the computer in the back of the room and printed out ten ProtestWarrior signs (81⁄2x11) and put them up around the room.The class loved it, and my teacher for all her socialist spirit and authority was dumbstruck and confused against the group will.
The next day she told me another teacher in the building had commented that he didn't approve of the messages on my signs. It seems that this leftist didn't like the threat I posed to the virtual monopoly on political expression he and the rest of the teachers had at our school - a public school that my parents are taxed to fund. Deciding to advance my campaign a bit further, I printed another ten signs which, while he was making some phone calls in his office, somehow worked their way onto the walls of his classroom.
At the end of the day, my fellow PW chapter members and I felt it was time to fight back and strike at the public education indoctrination machine that seemed to be running out of control. Our school desperately needed some ideological balance, so we decided that the next day we would up the ante and place 500 signs in the halls of the school.
I got to a quick start the next morning nd just when we posted about 200 of our 500 signs, we heard a rustling around the corner. Upon investigating the noise, we found a fellow student tearing the signs from the wall and ripping them into shreds. We made no attempt to stop her, but she quickly abandoned her pursuit when I removed my camera from my backpack. Apparently, her being conscious of her own hypocrisy was not enough to prevent her from forcibly suppressing our dissenting point-of-view. But facing the prospect that others might be made aware of her hypocrisy, and it's cut-and-run. Typical.
Replacing the fallen signs we ran into a teacher who didn't find the signs appropriate, objecting to their pro-war message. She then told me that if I was responsible for placing them I would have to take them down. After I refused, her true colors came shining through. Abandoning her pacifist ways she summarily began to tear down the signs from the wall. My fellow ProtestWarriors and I sat back and photographed the action.
Since I was the "ring leader" (as if we were some sort of street gang), I was escorted to the office while the remaining signs were confiscated. However, the fight did not end there. I voiced my opposition to the removal and destruction of the signs I had paid to make and spent time posting. My arguments finally fell on receptive ears, those of the vice principal. She believed I should be allowed to put them up, but noted that I would need the principal's authorization to repost the signs. A meeting was scheduled for the following morning with the principal. I was right, and I was confident that I would walk away from the meeting triumphant.
The next morning came but the principal was a no-show. Instead, he sent his subordinate to deal with me.
She started the meeting by telling me that I could not post any signs.
She said the "End the Arab Occupation of Jewish Land" sign
would offend the Arab students. I pointed out that the sign wasn't
anti-Arab it was anti-occupation. She yielded the point, but maintained
I could not place the signs.
Being well-prepared for the meeting, I presented to her a dossier I had compiled the night before from the ACLU website: documents detailing Tinker vs. Des Moines, and several other cases dealing with students' rights to self expression.
After I mentioned the phrase "legal action", there was a noticeable difference in the tone of the meeting. She promptly excused herself from the room, documents in hand. She didn't return for 20 minutes.
When she reappeared she told me the principal would meet with me tomorrow to discuss the matter. She also added that she thought I should be allowed to repost them, and not only that but she agreed with the message and thought free speech was censored too much at our school!
My preparedness and perseverance was paying off and I felt great. But I wasn't prepared for what was to happen the following day, where I would come face to face with leftist hate.
The next day I sat across the table from the principal. Our scheduled meeting had begun. He had reviewed the documentation I had provided to him from the ACLU website, but he still wasn't sure if my rights extended to posters. We talked about it for about half an hour and he really seemed to be coming around.
He stated that signs unaffiliated with the school would not be allowed to be posted. Anticipating this line of reasoning, I produced for him pictures I had taken the day before of many signs not affiliated with the school posted all over the walls. Included among them a picture of a movie poster for "Alamo", with which I asked him if the school was affiliated with Touchstone Pictures?
We talked it over for a little while longer until he agreed with my interpretation of Tinker vs. Des Moines. He said that if he decided not to let me tack posters to the wall I would definitely be allowed to hand them out as leaflets.
He was running out of time and had to leave for another meeting, so we scheduled to finish discussing the issue later that day.
I returned to class, confident I would be allowed to exercise my right to free speech and repost the signs. One girl, the same one who ripped down my signs earlier, got wind that I might be allowed to put the signs back up. Apparently, this prompted her to pay a visit to protestwarrior.com where she printed out the signs she objected to. She then distributed them to several Muslim students, and I heard her loudly explain to them how I was a racist, how awful the signs were, etc.
The time came to meet with the principal again. I made my way over to his office only to find several angry students waiting for me. They called me a racist and said that I had no right to post such horrible signs. They even told me that I was going to get my ass kicked.
The signs they objected to were:
1. "End the Arab Occupation of Jewish Land"
2. "Saddam only killed his own people it was none of our business"
3. "America, how can we concentrate on pushing the Jews into the sea while you rage your RACIST war against our people?"
4. "Protect Islamic Property Rights against Western Imperialism... Say No to War!"
I kept it cool, and asked what about each sign offended them. Sign
one was offensive because it was "racist". I explained it
wasn't racist because it didn't say anything derogatory about Arabs,
it was simply anti-occupation.
They moved on to sign two which they claimed was horrible because it showed Saddam standing on a pile of dead bodies. I explained that Saddam was brutal and killed thousands of his own people and raged an ethnic war against the Kurds. Hearing this they moved on to sign three.
This sign is a problem because they felt it portrayed all Arabs as "Jew haters". I explained that the sign commented on two specific groups, Saddam's regime and the P.L.O. who indeed do hate Jews and wage war against them. They called me a racist and move on to sign four.
Sign four is racist because it says "Islam" and has a woman in chains. By this point I was struggling to stay calm. I explained to them that Islam is not an ethnicity, it is a religious philosophy, and that the sign is speaking out against the oppression of women. "Not all women in Muslim countries are treated like this" a girl responded. "But many are" I said.
Just as I could see I was breaking through to them an angry woman
in her thirties came up to me. She called me a racist, yelling and
screaming as she really got in my face. I didn't know who she was,
but that didn't matter -- I stood strong. I calmly asked what she
objected to, and she ripped the signs out of the hands of a student
standing by her. She began the same rant I had just heard from the
students: how I was a racist, etc. She then claimed that I wouldn't
dare put up a sign about black or Jews, and if I ever did I would
get my ass kicked (it sure does feel good to know that everyone is
concerned for my safety). I explained point by point why I disagreed.
She told me I knew nothing about Islam, because I am not Muslim and
On the sign saying "End the Arab Occupation of Jewish Land" she said "what if instead of Arab it said nigger!" I told her that wouldn't make sense because black people aren't occupying Jewish land, and that Arab was not a racial slur.
About this point in the conversation my principal came out of the office and told me to go inside. He told the woman that she had no right to yell at a student in such a manner. He asked her to leave, but it turned out she was a student's mother. And after I rebutted the principal on one of his points, he called her to rejoin the fray.
The principal then pulled me into his office, and I assumed he would tell me his decision is that no signs would go up. Instead he said he still had to think about the issue and expressed concern that a parent would behave in such a manner. As I told him about the veiled threat she had made to me, she burst through the door where we were standing. She regained her composure and then claimed that she was just passing through to another office. But she stopped short to tell me she thought I needed an education on Islam, to which I replied that I would be happy to sit down with her to discuss it. She left and didn't say anything else about it.
I left the principal's office only to find an angry mob forming in the hallway. The students were holding up the signs and began to call me a racist and yelled about how awful I was.
Taking photos as I walked I headed directly for the group. As I explained my point of view many of the students trailed off, satisfied I was either not a racist or not worth worrying about. Those who stayed offered nothing but anger and rhetoric. I calmly went point by point with them, but their anger would not be abated.
One boy told me I had no right to express political views in school, to which I told him about Tinker vs. des Moines and how the Supreme Court said I did. His retort: "f*** the Supreme Court, I don't give a sh** what they say, I am the f***ing court around here!" He then demanded that I stop taking his picture.
Not wanting to give up my ground I continued to debate, but they could only throw back clichéd generalizations and insults.
Finally another vice principal fearing for my safety escorted me away to the office. I was told we would meet again on Monday, and that since I didn't have anymore classes that day, for my own safety I should go on home and not talk to anyone else.
During the meeting on the following Monday I was asked to name my fellow ProtestWarriors and those who supported me. I refused, not wanting to drag anyone else into the firestorm.
A few days went by with no sign of a verdict from the principal. Actually, it was a nice break from the chaos and it gave me time to reflect over all that was happening. I have to admit being called a racist, a bastard, and being threatened hurt. I had seen first-hand just how angry and blind the left could be. The school year's end was fast approaching and I began to doubt I would be allowed to repost the signs - perhaps freedom of speech would not prevail over political correctness at my school.
I was also busy trying to calm my family down. My father fully supports me, but my grandparents were afraid for my safety. The threats that were made have really worried them, but I couldn't see this escalating to real violence.
On Friday I called the ACLU and filed an official written complaint,
wondering if they would respond. I thought it would be great to see
them defending my right to post "THE A.C.L.U. We don't hate religion,
we just hate Christianity" signs.
On Saturday, upon returning home after a long day of fishing (I had never been fishing in a river boat before, it was great!), I sat down at the computer. The girl who ripped down my signs happened to be on and I began to discuss with her the ongoing fight to repost the signs.
She told me the signs didn't express a political point of view, only an "anti-Arab sentiment" and explained that she didn't want to see any repercussions from the signs on the Arab community.
I then asked her if anyone had been yelling at the Arab students, calling them names, insulting them, or destroying their property. Of course she had to admit that no one at school had done anything remotely anti-Arab due to my signs. I then pointed out to her that the only yelling, name-calling, insulting, and destroying of property was being perpetrated by the Arab community and the local school leftists in reaction to the signs. Floundering, she brought up some anti-Arab comments made after 9-11, but I couldn't help thinking that was quite awhile before my signs were posted.
She then stated that while she could see that I had strong political convictions and that a small group of students would understand the signs, most of them were "rednecks" that wouldn't get the meaning and would only laugh at the mocking of Arabs. Does the hypocrisy ever end? "Rednecks?" A sign can't have the word "Arab", which isn't a racial slur, but she can say "rednecks"?
Her response: "It isn't a racial slur, it's honesty!" Even
though they both start with 'h' and end in 'y', "hypocrisy"
does not equal "honesty". In fact, hypocrisy is a form of
The following Tuesday, the principal finally handed down his verdict. Unfortunately, he decided to "err on the side of caution" and would not allow me to post my signs. He said that the Iraqi war and the other issues in the signs do not directly affect the school or its students. But he did allow me to distribute them at lunch to any and all students who were interested.
I would also be allowed to distribute a pamphlet on student constitutional rights, and how to fight the censorship of free speech, as well as an article about my dealings with the school's administration during Operation Tiger Claw.
Then the ACLU contacted me letting me know that they are currently reviewing the facts of the case and deciding if they wish to offer me aid in pursuing any legal action. Even if they decide to support me, I am not sure if I will take any legal action. I did ask the principal for a citizen's appeal form which allows me to appeal his decision to the school district's superintendent.
Even though Operation Tiger Claw was a failure (as the signs were never reposted), it was an incredibly illuminating experience. To those of you who might find yourselves in similar situations, here is what I learned in dealing with those who would try to suppress political expression:
1. Be aware of your rights
By informing yourself about your rights you can make it hard for
those in opposition to lie to you.
I reviewed my school's policy manual (this can take you a while) as well as the county's online database, and found no policy regarding the censorship of signs expressing a student's political views. To quote the old Sun Tzu adage, "know your enemy and know yourself you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles". You need to make sure you are not breaking any rules as you don't want to give your opposition a legitimate reason to block your efforts.
I also made myself aware of my constitutional rights. I always carry a pocket copy of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence with me for reference (copies of this pocket reference can be purchased from the CATO Institute by calling 800-767-1241 for a cost of $1).
The ACLU while a traditionally liberal organization is also a great reference. Their website www.aclu.org has a wealth of material available free of charge on the issues of student rights to self expression and free speech.
2. Keep it cool
Nothing unnerves the left like an opponent who rises above petty attacks and stays focused on the issues.
The PW protest guidelines are a great reference and can be found at protestwarrior.
By simply being calm and focusing on the issues you will gain ground and win the respect of those who are watching. Letting your enemy look foolish diminishes their support base and demoralizes them.
3. Be ANNOYING
Make it clear that you are in it for the long haul and that even if you don't win today, you will be right back tomorrow to keep at it. Insist on scheduling meetings with those in power, since an easy way for them to avoid you is to claim you had no appointment.
Don't let them blow you off. If you were scheduled to meet with the head honcho, don't settle for subordinates. Tell them you would be happy to wait for the person in charge. A war won by attrition is still a victory, so don't be afraid to wait it out and wear your opponent down.
I had many meetings with my principal, vice principals, and teachers, and after a few times they got the message that they weren't going to be able to just pass me off and shut me up. I am currently appealing the decision, and soon I will be attending a local university. So I have four more years to fight this battle.
4. Don't make it easy on your enemy
My principal tried to get me to name names. He tried to get me to
do the research on the issue for him. Don't fall into this trap. Giving
your enemy aid is the same as giving him ammo. 5. Know your stuff
Make sure you have your facts straight and know a lot about the cause your fighting for. If you're unprepared your enemy will try and trick you and twist your words around. Be ready to retaliate back with facts.
If you believe in operation Tiger Claw's purpose I would encourage
you to write or e-mail my principal Todd Browning:
Todd Browning, Principal
Princeton Senior High School
1321 Stafford Drive
Princeton, WV 24740
There is no such thing as separation of speech and state. You as a student have the right to express your personal and political beliefs in school (see Tinker vs. Des Moines). The Supreme Court has upheld this decision on many occasions, protecting student rights. Your administration does not need to like what you're saying, but as long as it doesn't create a material and substantial disruption in the classroom, you can say it. And the disruption has to actually be created -- fear of disruption is not grounds for censorship.
So keep fighting the good fight, even if it isn't the popular thing to do. You might feel alone in your struggle, but you are not, and there are many others like you out there fighting to be heard.
I encourage any students out there to hold your own Operation Tiger Claw, or similar protest. And don't ever let the light of free speech be extinguished by the shadow of political correctness.