By Tia Lynn Ivey
All across the country, Americans are mourning the loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died last week at the age of 87 after numerous battles with cancer. Ginsburg was the second woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court, appointed in 1993 by former President Bill Clinton. About 50 people gathered on the steps of the Morgan County Courthouse last Sunday night to honor the life and legacy of Justice Ginsburg, who rose to become a feminist icon and one of America’s most notorious legal minds during her trailblazing six-decade career.
Mourners came with signs and candles as the vigil orchestrators praised Ginsburg for her unwavering dedication to women’s rights and equality and justice for all. Speakers encouraged the crowd to mourn today, but get to work tomorrow, picking up the torch Ginsburg left behind in the fight for justice and equality for all. Speakers read direct quotes from Ginsburg, highlighting her unapologetic dedication to equal rights for women and other marginalized groups.
“I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks…Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception,” Ginsburg famously said. “People ask me sometime… ‘when will there be enough women on the court?’ And my answer is – when there are nine. People are shocked. But there’s been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
Attendees in the crowd could be seen holding signs that read “When there are nine,” paying homage to Ginsburg’s vision.
Another speaker quoted Ginsburg’s famous words. “Justices can continue to think and can change. I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow. Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time…I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.”
Jeanne Dufort, one of the vigil’s organizers, praised Ginsburg for her relentless pursuit of equal rights for groups regularly discriminated against: women, racial minorities, and the LGBTQ community.
“It’s hard to imagine a world without Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” said Jeanne Dufort, who spoke at Sunday night’s vigil. “If she had lived 100 years it would have been too few. In a world where women are expected to comply, she said ‘I dissent.’”
Dufort urged the attendees to keep on dissenting in Ginsburg stead.
“Tonight, we cry. But tomorrow, we rise. Say it with me – I dissent,” said Dufort.
She reminded the women in the crowd of all the rights they enjoy today because of Ginsburg’s legal accomplishments.
“Women – if you have a credit card in your own name, and your own credit history, if you have leased an apartment or bought property in your own name, if you have consented to your own medical treatment, if you played a sport in school – you can thank Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” said Dufort, who shared her own personal gratitude for Ginsburg. “I would not have been able to attend the University of Chicago on an academic/athletic scholarship without Title IX, and without RBG there would be no Title IX. When Pat and I were married in 1997, it was blessed by our church but not the state. That came later, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg played a decisive role. She was the first justice to perform a same sex wedding.”
Dufort told the story of Ginsburg work as a lawyer, achieving monumental wins for gender equality. “The 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law had long been assumed to apply only to race. As a young attorney, over time, RBG convinced the justices that it should apply to gender,” said Dufort. “Before she was on the bench, as an academic and co-founder of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, she brought seven sex discrimination cases to the Supreme Court – and won six.”
Dufort expressed gratitude for Ginsburg work and pledged to carry it on.
“For decades she stared unafraid into the faces of misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and bigotry, daring them to blink. She wrote reams and spoke volumes and did push-ups while her detractors did their best to hold us back. So because she did, I can. Because she did, I will,” said Dufort. “Thank you, Honorable Justice Ginsburg. You fought harder and longer than you should have had to, for us, and we are so grateful. Rest well; you earned it.”
Another speaker, Minister Dann Brown of Madison’s Episcopal Church of the Advent, also urged the crowd to follow in Ginsburg’s footsteps.
“May we honor RBG’s legacy by becoming a piercing light that shines into the darkened alleyways of injustice- and into the shadowy corners of inequality. May we honor her tireless work by making this light visible to every community, especially those who feel marginalized,” said Brown.
Shelia Sanders read a poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye, entitled “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep.” Sonya Hope read a “Meditation on Hope and Love in a Time of Struggle” by Alice Anacheka-Nasemann, encouraging the crowd to mourn but to continue on trying to make the world a better place. Brown closed the vigil in song: “Go now in peace, may the spirit of love surround you everywhere, everywhere you may go.”
Each speaker urged the crowd to take action to carry on Ginsburg’s legacy. Before she died, Ginsburg would often give this advice to those working for justice in the world. “Don’t be distracted by emotions like anger, envy, resentment. These just zap energy and waste time. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade,” said Ginsburg. “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”