I've put out three issues of an underground political newspaper at Winter Haven, the middle school I attend. My goals in putting out these newspapers, which I call "Seeds," are twofold. I want to educate myself and other students about political, environmental, and other issues the mainstream media might not cover, or cover only with extreme bias. As a result of this, I hope to help start a political movement among students at my school. I am not completely alone in my endeavors. I have two comrades who provide moral support, help me distribute the paper, and contribute an occasional article. "Seeds" recently sparked a first amendment controversy at my school which helped me achieve one of my goals - beginning to mobilize a student movement - and also taught me a lot about organizing.
We wrote and distributed the first issue of the paper without alerting any school officials. I was worried it would be banned or regulated in a way that would hinder it before we could get it out. It turned out my fears were not unfounded. The same day my friends and I handed out the newspaper, I was called down to the principal's office. She said that for me to continue to distribute on school grounds, I needed to give her the paper ahead of time so she could review it. All she would do, she said, is make sure the content didn't include racist or homophobic slurs, personal attacks, or anything libelous or slanderous. I was initially worried about the content of the paper being changed, but I wasn't planning to put in anything of that nature so I grudgingly assented.
Student response to the first issue was limited. In hindsight, I would have done better to write about things that directly concerned students. All I wrote about was the WTO, Mumia's case, bioengineering, and a few other things. For my second issue, I didn't make the same mistake. I gave it a feature which took up 60% of the paper - how corporations advertise in schools. When I gave the principal the paper, she told me that I couldn't hand it out, I could only leave it on a table with a sign saying "take me." My natural instinct to rebel against authority immediately kicked in. My first thought was to utterly disobey the rule but, as I thought about it more, I wasn't sure how much that would accomplish. As I said earlier, one of my main goals with the newspaper was to help start a student movement. I thought it was possible I could achieve this by responding to the unfair regulations that were being imposed.
I decided to add a half sheet describing the situation. In that half sheet I called attention to a leaflet that the school had distributed which directed students to KRAFT's web site. I made the point that the school distributes advertising, yet students couldn't even hand out an educational political newspaper. The distribution went very well considering the regulations. Several people on the spur of the moment chose to help direct people to the table on which the newspapers sat. Many people read the half page I had attached and asked me questions such as "isn't that a violation of your First Amendment rights?" and told me they sympathized and thought the rule was unfair. This was very heartening.
Later that day, the principal called me down to her office. She was furious about how I had abused her trust. We argued and discussed the rules surrounding the paper, district rules, and the corporate presence in school. The discussion lasted more than an hour and a half. As a result of my questioning the rules, she agreed to give me a copy of the district rules.