RBG Was Amazing, But Our Democracy Should Never Have Rested On Her Shoulders

by Nikkya Hargrove
Originally Published: 
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Tom Brenner/Getty

Yesterday was the Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah, which means “head of the year” in Hebrew. It was the same day that the first Jewish female justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, died. Her death came as a surprise to us all, a shock to our already weak system. We are reeling from so much already. The Trump administration in general, as well as the massive fires in the west, the pandemic crippling our entire country, and the distance learning reshaping our public school system. Enough already, 2020!

Of course, we knew she would leave this earth sometime; just not now, not when there is so much more to be done, and so many battles to be fought before this year’s election. Remember in 2016 when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked then-President Obama’s supreme court nominee because it was too close to election time? Remember that?

We cannot let Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy be marred by the political ambush President Trump will try to use against the very nation he is supposed to be leading. He will use every weapon in his arsenal (even if illegal) to pick a new Supreme Court Justice before the election in two months. But just days before her death, a time she must have known was coming, she shared with her granddaughter, Clara Spera, in a statement to NPR: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” So, my dear Democrats in the Senate, this is your time to show up and carry the torch to protect the 25+ years of blood, sweat, and grit that RBG left on the bench. Carry her legacy. It’s the least we can do. Are you up for the job, senators?

Last month, in Former President Obama’s DNC speech, he reminded us of whose shoulders our democracy should fall on. He stated, “[W]e should also expect a president to be the custodian of this democracy. We should expect that regardless of ego, ambition, or political beliefs, the president will preserve, protect and defend the freedoms and ideals that so many Americans marched for and went to jail for; fought for and died for.” This is what Ruth Bader Ginsburg did for us. She defended and protected our freedoms, as a full-time mother, a wife, a grandmother, a cancer survivor, and a lifelong warrior for justice.

For far too long, we got comfortable with letting RBG speak for us, bearing the burden of being “the voice,” relying on her to do the heavy lifting to get the job done. We have counted on her, especially after the hotly contested appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, to uphold our civil rights and continue to be a champion for gender equality.

RBG was a badass, we all know that. She was fiercely loyal to her values. A story not many know, though, is that to keep her teaching job at Rutgers Law School in 1963 and have her contract renewed, she hid her second pregnancy by wearing her mother-in-law’s clothes; her contract was renewed before her second child, James, was born. Badass, right? She knew how to play her cards without losing her integrity, her determination, her passion for the political game as it were. She knew the sacrifices she needed to make to get to where she knew she (and the country she loved) needed to go, and her dedication and grit remains unmatched. She brought us along with her in every dissent, each time she left her hospital bed to return to the bench, reassuring us that she had our backs and would continue to fight for us, even in her last words.

There is so much about our lives as women, as moms, that we take for granted — that RBG gave us. She fought against sex discrimination, held up equal rights for women, fought for equality in governmental benefits for those who served in the military, and surviving spouse benefits, and abortion rights. She became the first female professor granted tenure at Columbia University – all before becoming a supreme court justice in 1993, appointed by then-President Bill Clinton.

Over the years, the strong opinions she offered in her dissents, and the wise words she chose to share with the world, touched our lives and our communities. She was a champion of the people, always, from helping those with disabilities to live in communities instead of being forced into institutions to being a Wonder Woman battling colon cancer and still showing up to fight for us. She did not miss a day on the bench in 1999 while enduring surgeries and treatments for cancer. She had cracked ribs, and didn’t let that stop her from being on the bench. In fact, she was on the bench for 25 years before she missed her first oral argument in January 2019. She showed up, hell or high water. She showed up for us, for our democracy.

We owe her endless gratitude for her service and loyalty, but she also deserved rest and respite while she was still with us. Every time news broke of her hospitalizations or upcoming surgeries, we all held our breath. We waited for her to reassure us that she was okay, that she was coming back to work, that she would still be here for us. We literally prayed that she would make it until Trump was out of office. She had even set that goal for herself. The weight of the world–our American democracy– should never have rested on the shoulders of an 87-year-old woman, no matter how capable and heroic she is/was.

And, now what?

The “now what” is reverberating throughout so many households across America since yesterday evening, the day we lost our Wonder Woman, our GOAT, our Notorious RBG. The feminist warriors in us are bruised, but not broken. We can get back up. We must. Our democracy depends on us to carry the burdens that Ruth Bader Ginsburg so gingerly held for us, protected us from. It is now our job to honor her legacy and continue to do the work.

To do that, we must get out and vote. We must make the calls to our senators and implore them to do their jobs. We must not back down from the challenges, both political and social, which will continue to confront us as we fight for justice and equity.

Diana Saguilan, mom of two and a Mexican American woman, shares what RBG meant to her: “I admire her sense of community and how she understood the importance of her power in her role as a justice. She kept her integrity in all the cases she reviewed and gave her opinion regardless of who shared the bench with her.”

We must continue to share our opinions, even when we face pushback, no matter who we share the bench with. Though we did not sit on the same bench as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we do hold a very important seat in our democracy. Maybe with her passing, on the day of the Jewish New Year, her message to us all rests in one of her iconic quotes: “Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation” … a reminder that our democracy cannot be achieved alone, and cannot be handed over to men alone to protect us all, especially not our current president.

Rest in peace, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We asked too much of you. You are definitely Wonder Woman.

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