Remembering RBG, our national treasure

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The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg walks with President Barack Obama during his administration. Chief White House Photographer Pete Souza put this image out on social media to celebrate Ginsburg's last birthday in March. Pete Souza/Chief White House Photographer

There is a video circulating on the Internet in which a white Los Angeles film producer stands for three days in Harrison, Arkansas, holding a Black Lives Matter sign. Among the racial slurs, death threats and confused stares he received, was the oft-shouted line, “You’re white!” by the shocked, SHOCKED!, and angry passersby.

The viewer is left to deduce that you can’t be white and care about human beings who are not. And that is a predominant problem in America particularly where a long line of lily-white male Christians have long been determining the law for black, brown, LGBTQ+, atheists, Muslims, Jews, trans and, well, even Christians who aren’t of the same political beliefs.

It is why in June of this year, a Washington, D.C. neighborhood planted signs that read, “RBG works less than five miles from here. If you won’t wear a mask to protect your friends and family, do it to protect RBG. When the Supreme Court Justice was hospitalized in 2018, twitter was full of women and men offering to donate organs, blood, prayers, magic spells, whatever.

This national treasure, who extended equality to include all of us (women, gays, people of color, religious minorities ), was still working. And, now, more than ever, we needed her for as long as we could have her.

In a year of a deadly pandemic when the U.S. president (recently acquitted in what many democrats deemed a sham of impeachment trial) lied to the people about the virus and then plunged the economy into free fall without a plan, a black man in Minnesota was slowly murdered in broad daylight by police officers. It happened in cold blood and on video while the victim screamed out to his deceased mother. All of it took place with horrified bystanders pleading for his life.

In one afternoon, the long-reported, much discussed, absolutely denied and often covered reality about life in America for those who aren’t part of a white conservative majority, was now visible to the entire world.

Millions demanded justice in the streets. The president responded with troops, and via the U.S. Attorney General, who had tear gassed peaceful protesters outside the White House so the president and his well-heeled posse could walk through to St. John’s Church. There the president would hold a prop handed to him by his daughter and stand proudly with it in the air as if he’d found the winning object of a children’s scavenger hunt.

“It’s a Bible,” he said, then retreated back into the White House while the rest of America sorted out the WTF moment they’d witnessed on live TV.

It did not matter that the backlash to this gesture of absolute power was swift. The law-breaking, multi-bankruptcy filing, pussy-grabbing, real-estate developer, who had been repackaged for television and sold as a successful businessman, was president for one reason: to be the 24-7 sideshow so that Republicans could fill the courts with conservative judges (“more than 300” of them) with their eye on the golden prize: Supreme Court domination. And may the rest crumble.

At this point, the one thing the country can agree on is the intent and meaning behind MAGA. And the very woman largely responsible for moving America forward from the oppressive heyday the red hats are trumpeting, was still fighting, but 87 and battling cancer.

When she died on Sept. 18 of this year, the sadness was personal for so many. And the loss was significant. Her life was our life. Our lives were because of her. She believed the law was there for all of us, and  her legacy is a hard fought battle for We the People.

We wondered in our grief: “Did she leave a message for us?”

She did. Her deathbed wish was that America would have a chance to choose for itself her replacement, that the appointment wait until after the election. In her final moments she was still taking care of business, asking that the ongoing fight for equal protection under the law continue on its course.

As only the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, the first Jewish woman, and the first Jewish person since the departure of Justice Abe Fortas in 1969, Ginsburg would use the law to successfully change life for women all over America,  while fighting for LGBTQ+ , race and religious equality.

Before sitting on the Court, she’d won five out of the six cases she argued before it as director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. One of them was a sexual discrimination case involving a widower raising his child alone and denied the support widows get. Arguing sexual discrimination on behalf of a man led to changes for women, including  the Supreme Court ruling years later that struck down male-only admission at the Virginia Military Institute, and any law that denies women “full citizenship stature.” Ginsburg, then a Supreme Court Justice, wrote the court’s option. She’d argued for mental health disabilities, for a U.S. soldier who wanted to wear a yarmulke, against gender discrimination in the workplace, and always sided with equality when it came to LGBTQ+ rights.

Her pursuit for justice for all, guided by the words “tzedek, tzedek tirdof” (Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, justice you shall pursue”) hanging in her office, was as celebrated as her lace collar, large glasses, small frame and her dissents that led to legislative changes.

And, though Ginsburg very sharply dissented to the majority opinion of Shelby County v Holder, 2013, which determined a portion of the voting rights act to be unconstitutional; believed in the necessity of affirmative action; and fought for equal protection under the law, her early comments about Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest, which she later, recanted, stung (as did the lack of African American clerks, of which she said she would improve and did not).

Her death came at a time when we are already mourning U. S. Representative John Lewis (D-Georgia), a beloved living legend and Civil Rights hero whose fight for equality began marching with Martin Luther King, and continued until the end of his life, serving in Washington.

As for Ginsburg’s deathbed wish for delaying a justice confirmation until after the election? This, of course, was brushed off like a pesky mosquito by Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the other good ol’ boys (you know, the ones who vehemently argued that former President Obama’s Merrick Garland pick could not happen because it was an election year and it must be left to the people to decide). Trump would get his third Supreme Court placement.

After watching him methodically and aggressively dismantle all of Obama’s achievements, are we left to watch as Amy Coney Barrett dismantles all of RGB’s progress? Not if we vote and continue forward with lawmakers whose ideas match the people they represent. Because we still don’t want to be told what to do with our bodies, where we can and can’t work, whether we can marry or that black lives don’t matter.

Because Ruth Bader Ginsburg opened the door to equality, we are on its path.

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