Women working on behalf of immigrants and refugees, period equity, and more share how they want Americans to keep Justice Ginsburg’s legacy alive.
This is the second part of a two-part series focused on how to move forward after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginburg earlier this month. Read the first part here.
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a pillar of women’s rights (and pop culture icon), marked a somber and pivotal moment for the future of gender equality and civil rights in the United States.
The “Notorious RBG” filled a void for millions of women in the US—and around the world—who yearned for women political leaders courageous enough to dissent against attempts to impede on the rights of women and marginalized communities.
Only the second woman in US history to serve on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg routinely ruled in favor of reproductive rights, LGBTQ equality, and against the oppression of communities of color.
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But upon news of her death, millions of women, LGBTQ individuals, and people of color flooded social media to express their fear that her trailblazing work would be threatened. Despite Ginsburg’s dying wish to have her seat replaced after the upcoming presidential election, President Donald Trump has already named her replacement: Amy Coney Barrett is currently a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit and has voiced opposition to the Affordable Care Act, Roe v. Wade, and LGBTQ rights in the past.
While the future may seem bleak without Justice Ginsburg on the court, the fight for women’s rights and civil rights continues. COURIER spoke with women activists—pioneers in their own right—on how Ginsburg inspired them to take action and how they intend to protect her legacy.
Here’s what they have to say, in their own words. (These statements have been edited for clarity.)
Immigration and Refugee Activist
Fellow at Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS)
Wardah Khalid is a policy analyst, activist, and speaker on US foreign policy in the Middle East, refugees/immigration, and Islam in America. She currently works on Capitol Hill as an APAICS Congressional Fellow and is the Founder and Board President of Poligon Education Fund, a national civic education, and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening Muslim American engagement with Congress. She advocates for humane refugee and immigration policies with faith-based NGOs and advises members in the White House, State Department, Congress, and the United Nations.
My message is don’t give up. There are so many examples of how RBG was one woman who made such a huge difference, and she kept fighting until the very end, as long as she could. So there’s no reason why you can’t do the same in your own community, in your own circles, and your own areas of influence. Not everybody can be a Supreme Court Justice, but everybody can make a difference in their own community.
And so, my advice to women is to look at this wonderful woman as an example, as an inspiration, as a beacon of hope and try to do what you can to fight for justice, equality, fairness, [and] human rights. Every single person can make a difference. And I really hope that they take it to heart, to not give up and to keep pushing forward because if one woman could make such a change in her lifetime, think of what all of us can do together.
Executive Director, PERIOD.
PERIOD, founded in 2014 by two high school students, is a youth-run NGO advocating for female empowerment and women’s health around the world. It provides menstrual products to women and non-binary people in homeless shelters. To date, it has addressed more than 1 million periods through product distribution. It also invests in period equity education through more than 800 PERIOD chapters in nearly all 50 states and in over 50 countries.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg to me was not just an icon as we all know her, but she was someone that really fought inside the confines of the system to make incremental change.
You have to do two things at once when you want change. You have to make immediate change so that people are helped right now on the ground. That can be in the form of direct service, sometimes it’s taking to the streets—t’s making your voice known right away. But at the same time, you have to work for systemic change so that the generations after us will feel the benefits of our labor.
[Ginsburg] really believed in that slow, systemic change. Her patience was incredible. She understood that she wasn’t just working for herself; she was working for her children and grandchildren. So she’s a hero to me because most people don’t have that kind of patience. It’s easy to be disillusioned and it’s easy to give up when you see a system that isn’t working for you, and you have to remember that while it feels tremendously unjust, this is a long game.
I think of myself having a successful career, having my name on a mortgage, having my name on ownership deeds, being able to open a bank account in my name, being able to have a sense of personal worth, and that’s [largely due to] the policies that she helped solidify.
Incremental change is still happening. And if we can do two things at once, fight for today and fight for tomorrow, we’re going to be successful. So thanks, Ruth.
Democratic Nominee for State Senate in Delaware
Sarah McBride is poised to become the first transgender person elected to a state senate seat in US history. She has received coveted endorsements from former President Barack Obama and Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden, a fellow Delawarean. McBride is no stranger to making history. In 2016, she became the first transgender person to speak at a major party convention. She interned at the White House during the Obama administration and then served as the national press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign championing LGBTQ rights worldwide.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memory to me reflects the incredible story of this country. The widening circle of opportunity, our deepening understanding of the first three words in our Constitution, “We, the people.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg represents the transformation of change that once seemed so impossible that it was almost incomprehensible, not just into a possibility, but into our reality today. Her legacy, her work, her life reflects what all of us wish to leave behind: a world that’s stronger, better, kinder, and more inclusive.
How will we keep her legacy alive? How will I keep her legacy alive? Her life and her death remind us of the responsibility that each of us have to fight for a better world. The responsibility and opportunity that all of us have to bring about change, no matter the odds, no matter how impossible it may seem in our lifetime, or when we start the journey. That we have it within our power to bring about that change. And her life and her death reinforce that responsibility for each of us, to leave the world better than we found it, to fight for what we believe in, and to fight no matter the odds, no matter the obstacles that stand in our way.
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And what would I say to a young person? Right now, there are a lot of people that are scared. They’re frightened about the future of this country, about the health of our democracy, and about our ability to live our lives fully and freely. And I think anyone who’s feeling that right now, think about the odds that Ruth Bader Ginsburg faced when she was just starting her legal career or when she was in college. Think about the obstacles in her way. Think about the history that she was looking at that showed her that there was no place for a woman to have a seat at the table, for a woman to be a successful attorney, let alone a Supreme Court Justice. Think about that history that she was looking at. And despite that, despite the odds and despite the past, she found the hope and the perseverance to fight on, to forge the world that she wanted to see.
And so for anyone who’s feeling scared or hopeless right now, think about the hopelessness that so many in our past have felt. Think about the odds that so many in our past have faced, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They continued to march on, they continued to fight on, and in their perseverance and their determination and their hope and their courage, they were able to not just face those odds, but to feed them.
We have it within our power to build that world. We have it in our power to face the obstacles, the hate, the discrimination that is in our way. And we’ll win some of the fights ahead, and we’ll certainly lose some of the fights ahead. But if we keep going, if we keep fighting, the future is ours.