On November 21, Emma Sullivan, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School, was on a field trip to the Kansas state capitol with Youth in Government. Listening to Governor Sam Brownback, whose conservative politics clash with her own, Emma tweeted to her 60 followers: “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot“
Someone in Gov. Brownback’s office noticed the irreverant quip – she had not, in fact, spoken with the Governor – and reported it to Youth In Government. Pretty soon, Emma found herself, yes, called to the principal’s office. The principal scolded her and demanded that she write a letter of apology. Emma refused, the story leaked to the media, and suddenly she has 11,510 (and counting) Twitter followers and it is the Governor who is apologizing to her, saying “”My staff over-reacted to this tweet and for that I apologize. Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms.”
Certainly the story has struck a nerve, since insulting politicians is a treasured American tradition, just as having our most mortifying off-hand comments broadcast and archived on the internet is becoming one.
Here is what Emma has to say about the whole incident, via email (she also spoke to CNN about it.)
Why the decision to tweet about the Governor? Were you hoping to get his attention?
It was a decision I made while joking around with friends, I didn’t ever think that it would get Governor Brownback’s attention and that wasn’t my intention. At the same time, I knew the tweet had the possibility of being viewed by my followers but at the time, I only had 60.
What did your principal say to you when he called you into his office? Had you ever been in trouble before?
I had never been in trouble before and when I got called down to his office, I had no idea that tweet was going to be the issue. The principle did not give me a chance to explain my side or my reasoning; he strictly spoke to me for about an hour. He mentioned that this was an embarrassment for the school and the school district and it would require him to do damage control. He also said that it did not matter that it was a private twitter account because I was on a school trip.
You were asked to write the governor a formal apology. Do you plan to? Why or why not?
I will not be writing a letter of apology, it would not be sincere and it is not the way that I want to go about approaching the situation. I think that letter would only give power to Brownback and reaffirm his strict control of speech in Kansas.
Did your principal describe what, if any, disciplinary action will be taken against you?
He has not stated what actions will be taken and I hope that this will be dropped by the school administration.
What has the reaction been like for you? Negative? Many supporters?
This experience has been surreal, overwhelming and exciting. When my sister contacted the media, I wanted it to get attention but I never imagined such a large, passionate response from the public. My followers are well over 4,000 now, I was on the AOL homepage, Associated Press, and I didn’t expect any of this. The support that has come from these stories has been fantastic, about 99% of emails, tweets and fb posts have been positive. I was expecting more dissent to my story, because there are always two sides but no one has had a constructive negative criticism.
You’re a senior. What are your plans for college? Has this experience made you want to dip into politics or even law?
I’m planning to go to college next year and I applied early to the University of Arkansas but I have other schools that I will be applying to as the year progresses, I’m not sure which schools that will be though. I want to remain politically active and use this platform to voice my opinions but I still plan on a career in psychology.
If you could go back in time and knowing what you know now, would you still send the tweet?
Is there anything you would like to say to Governor now?
Listen to the people of Kansas, they have a lot to say and there are a lot of them that are unhappy with your policies. Everyone in your state deserves equal treatment and opportunity; please start acting as a representative of them. People have called Kansas a ‘lost hope’ because of your policies in terms of abortion and the arts commission and your unwillingness to support the LGBT community. Show the nation that Kansas isn’t a lost hope, your people have potential to do great things and they deserve a government that supports them.