I have not yet fully processed the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I first heard the news from my friend Julie, who texted my friend Megan and I, and said “RNG died,” I imagine in a quick frenzy typo. Ah, RNG! At least it’s not our beloved Ruth. I thought, “Who is RNG?” while simultaneously googling “Ruth Bader Ginsburg death”, knowing what I did not want to admit.
CNN Reports: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died at 87.
I could not process this information. I still cannot process this information. A good part of me hopes to never process this information. If I hold on to the little bit of hope that I had, will these truths remain untrue?
BREAKING NEWS: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died from Pancreatic Cancer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, my personal hero, warrior, ultimate defender of human rights, is gone.
She is gone.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a woman I have looked up to for many years of my adult life. I have always been the loud, righteous, opinionated, sassy, short one of my friends. I will make friends with the kids who don’t fit in, I will move mountains to defend anyone who is being discriminated against, I will maybe cut you along the way if you prohibit my progress of protecting those who could benefit from privileged protection. Small in stature, loud in demeanor. Women like me needed women like Ruth.
I sat on my couch and clutched my heart. Snot ran down my face to the point it clogged my nose, like a high school hopeless romantic who just got dumped by the, “But Mom, I love him!” boy of her dreams. There is no other way to describe that moment other than earth-shattering heartbreak. I texted my friends, “What are we going to do?” “We are screwed” “What now?” and shared our virtually distanced sadness across the nation, all from the comforts of our homes. We all expected the death of Ruth at some point; she was 87 years old, she had pancreatic cancer, she has been in the news several times over the last few years in regard to her health verses in regard to what she has done for justice. But I believe while yes, we were mourning her death, we were all, what may have been perceived as irrationally, upset because we knew what was coming next. I subconsciously knew I had that night to mourn, and I’d have to wake up in the morning ready to fight.
In my moments of sorrow that night, I thought of what Ruth meant to me personally. I am a survivor of sexual assault and am unfortunately all too familiar with the archaic process of attempting to seek justice via the United States court system. The justice system has inarguably left me more traumatized than the incident itself, and the details of that story I will have to save for my memoir someday. Several times throughout the process, I have begged to the open sky, to whatever god is out there, for my case to fall into the lap of someone like Ruth’s. I have a note saved in my iPhone “What would Ruth do?” where I quote ignorant things people of authority have said to me, and tried to imagine how Ruth would have spoken to me instead, or even better, how she would have answered them.
I thought of all of the women who ran for office during the United States primary election in 2018, and how the night before the election I watched RBG and sobbed uncontrollably. I remember my sister, who is a doctor, telling me about the documentary and stating how lazy she feels when she compares herself to Ruth. I remember being on my flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia last year on a backpacking trip, and seeing that the RBG documentary was available on the flight. Of course, I watched it, again.
I woke up the day after her death, and immediately decided to go to Washington DC. I wanted to give her something back, to mourn her passing at the place she had the opportunity to influence my life as much as she did. I was fortunate to find out there was a vigil being held in her honor that night at the Supreme Court, giving my impulsive trip a more solid explanation, but to me, the purpose remained the same. I wanted to look at the Supreme Court, cry in mourning, and ask the building, “What would Ruth do?” fully expecting an answer.
I flew out of Rochester, NY, my first flight during the Covid-19 pandemic, and was through security in five minutes. There were no food services open at the airport, and masks were mandated while in the airport, though I saw a few people have them pulled beneath their nose. The flight was half-empty and before I knew it, I had landed at IAD. I decided to take an Uber to my hotel and had the honor of my driver sharing his story with me: he was living in America as a native of Afghanistan, where he received a Master’s in Biology, but due to the war on terror, had to denounce his Afghanistan citizenship in order to become a “legal” American, meaning he has not seen his family in over ten years. We shared our love for music, and he played me a song he wrote about a girl he had to leave behind in Afghanistan. He explained to me he does not believe material things matter, because everything belongs to God, and nothing goes with you. My mind was taken off of my sadness through the connection of a stranger, learning about a new person’s life, actively listening to their subtle struggles and fears, despite wearing a smile. I realize I had not only felt robbed of the death of someone I admired, but I had been robbed of a passion of mine over these past few months: traveling, getting lost in conversation with someone I will most likely never meet again, empathy, human compassion. This short Uber ride alone confirmed that I had made the right decision with my impulsive decision to head to DC.
I arrived at my hotel, changed into a black lacey dress and wore the pearls I wore to court for my own testimony. I walked to the Supreme Court, arriving thirty minutes early to the vigil, and to my surprise, it was not as busy as I had imagined it to be. I conversed with some people holding signs, “Honor RBG’s Wish,” “When There are Nine,” “Women’s Rights are Human’s Rights,” along with lists of all she had accomplished and all of the cases she fought for. The media started to fill in, and by the time the vigil began, it was packed. It started with an a cappella group singing, and the tears started to flood already. I had no clue what I was in for; I assumed a nice honoring of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy. However, just as I had suspected the night prior, I only really had Friday night to mourn, and Saturday, the fight would have to begin. Several people spoke, primarily women from grassroots organizations, including Everytown for Gun Safety, ACLU, United We Dream, to name a few. There were also several rabbis to honor Ruth’s Jewish heritage. To my surprise, another personal hero of mine was there: Elizabeth Warren. Kirsten Gillibrand from New York also made a speech, and said something, despite as freezing as my hands were, I felt I needed to jot down in the notes section of my iPhone:
“We currently have a president who seems to hate half of America.”
While, admittedly, I understand why the vigil had to take a political stance, I was upset that the United States is at such a fragile state, that we cannot even properly mourn a legend and icon for human rights. Instead, we are already clawing at each other’s throats, because Republicans want to push through a new Supreme Court justice, and Democrats want to wait until after the election. It’s the classic hypocrisy that comes with politics. Republicans used this rhetoric against Barack Obama when he tried to appoint a new justice back in 2016. For those who are unfamiliar, Barack Obama tried to appoint Merrick Garland when Antonin Scalia passed away, but it fell within a year of the election. Lindsey Graham, one of the most divisive senators our nation is unfortunate to have in office, who publicly scolded Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when she testified against her sexual assaulter Brett Kavanaugh in front of the Senate, said back in 2016, “Use my words against me; we should not appoint a new Justice to the Supreme Court during an election year.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg died forty-five days before the 2020 Presidential Election, and yet, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and other slimy snake-like republicans have prioritized pushing through Amy Coney Barron as our new justice. It is a disgrace to the American people, and it is an extreme dishonor and disrespect to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I will not get into the details of why Amy Coney Barron is so awful, and instead, continue to honor Ruth, as I, even a month later, continue to struggle with accepting that she has passed, but I feel it is important to bring these details to the surface, as it wholly shaped my experience in DC.
I decided to stay in Washington DC for a few extra days, in an attempt to love my country again. I visited The White House and had a nice chuckle when I saw a man sitting out front with anti-Trump flags, saying, “I have been sitting here since January 20th, 2017, but I will leave on January 20th, 2021.” I visited Arlington Cemetery, and found Ruth’s husband’s grave, Marty. I visited all of the war memorials, where I was constantly reminded, “FREEDOM IS NOT FREE,” with an astronomical number of American lives who have been lost at war. I felt conflicted about it. Here were these beautiful, elaborate monuments, with a good amount of US dollars dumped in to create them, but there are currently 37,000 homeless War Veterans, and 13.5% of vets have PTSD. So, while honoring them is an absolute essential, and I thank them for defending our nation, I wonder what else is being done for them aside from building a monument. I am hoping it’s a lot more.
The night before I left, it was announced that Breonna Taylor’s murderers would not be charged directly for her death, but instead, for the bullets that entered the walls, or the ones that missed her body. I joined a protest out front of the White House in her honor. I listened to different black women take the megaphone, express their frustration, share details of what they feel and go through every single day, and how this act of not holding these killers accountable confirmed their beliefs that this country does not care about them. As a white woman, I have natural privilege above those of color, but Breonna Taylor’s gender plays a key role into the violence America condones against women, especially when it comes to obtaining justice. I had to ask myself: how do you fall in love with your country again, when you are not meant to be part of the narrative?
I am still struggling with accepting everything that is currently going on in my country. Ignorance is bliss, but you also cannot pour from an empty cup. After I left Washington DC, I have had to take some time away from the news, only tuning in to read the essentials, as to not give myself constant panic and anxiety. As I mentioned, I want to focus on honoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and I think if she could tell us one thing if she were still here today, it would be to get out there and vote. As Rabbi Schneur Zalman once said, “A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”
Kaitlyn spent one week in Washington DC.
Originally from New York, Kaitlyn was a musician/bartender before she left it all behind to embark on a solo round-the-world backpacking trip. She is passionate about preserving the environment, learning about gender equality throughout the world, eating anything that’s placed in front of her, saying hi to every animal she meets, and jumping off of cliffs into pretty blue waters.