By Emily Park
Illustrations by Katelyn Betz
A few days ago I was sitting in my boyfriend’s kitchen, happily chatting about our day and plans for the weekend as he made dinner, when my phone buzzed.
I picked it up and froze as I read the words in the headline from my news app notification: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87.
I don’t remember exactly what I said next, but I remember exclaiming very loudly and distressed that we—as in the United States, women, the LGBTQ+ community, people of color—were absolutely, 100 percent screwed.
Then I proceeded to have a spiraling meltdown—trust me, my boyfriend can confirm—for the rest of the evening as I downed half a bottle of premade-Bahama Mamas and my mind ran through every horrifying scenario that the death of this national treasure could cause.
First, I thought about the hypocrisy that was (and now is) most definitely about to unfold in the U.S. government.
When Justice Scalia died in February of an election year in 2016, Republicans raged on that the American people should get to decide in November who got the privilege to appoint the new Supreme Court Justice. And who ended up making that nomination? Donald Trump, not the sitting president at the time of Scalia’s passing.
The minute I heard the news about RBG, however, I had no doubt that these same Republicans would push hard to get President Trump’s nomination through the confirmation process as quickly as possible—potentially before the election that could unseat Donald Trump as president of the United States.
Second, I thought about everything that could unfold if Trump’s nomination does get confirmed before Joe Biden (hopefully) takes office in January.
Any justice that Trump would decide to appoint would most definitely land the Supreme Court firmly on the conservative side for decades to come.
That’s the thing about Supreme Court justices—when a president appoints a justice, they leave a long-lasting stamp on American democracy as whomever they appoint can serve on the bench for life.
And third, I thought about what would happen if Biden loses the election in November
and Trump gets to make the nomination anyway, serve for four more years, and potentially appoint additional Supreme Court judges. If Trump appoints RBG’s replacement, he would be the first president since Reagan to appoint three justices.
There’s a lot at stake: Roe v. Wade, gender equality, health care, climate change, DREAMers, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, the right to join a union—and that’s just skimming the surface—that a conservative Supreme Court could change for years and decades to come.
That was everything going through my head—and I’m sure the minds of many others—the night RBG passed away. But as the days have passed and my panic has mellowed, I’ve realized that the death of one woman—albeit an incredible, amazing woman with a legacy that direly needs to be upheld—cannot be the end of all hope.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg led an incredible life and helped make decisions that have made this country a better place for women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people of all different races and backgrounds, and we cannot let all of the work she put in to have been done in vain by simply concluding that we’re all but screwed.
To lose hope now, to pin all of our hopes on the idea of this one woman surviving until the end of Trump’s presidency is insane. That’s definitely not what Ruth Bader Ginsburg did. She fought. She let her opinions be known, and she took action to make the change she wanted to see in the world. Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not shy away from a fight and neither should we.
So, it’s okay if in the moment you lost all hope when you learned of RBG’s passing. It’s okay if you felt sad, or even if you still feel sad. But now that we have had a few days to let the reality sink in, there are two vital things we must do.
We must remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the woman she was, the accomplishments she made, the strides she took for women, and the legacy she left behind with fondness, admiration, and appreciation.
We must realize exactly what she meant to us, so we can prepare ourselves for part two: the fight we must take up in arms to keep her legacy shining bright. Before I get to how we can support part two, let me explain exactly what Ruth Bader Ginsburg meant to me.
I’m currently reading RBG’s memoir My Own Words—I highly recommend it by the way. From a young age, RBG approached the world with tenacity, penning editorials on current events from as early as 13-years-old in her school newspaper.
From childhood, RBG didn’t see her gender as an obstacle to her success. In a time when many women would even go as far as to hide their intellect from their male counterparts, RBG let her voice be heard. When she entered college at Cornell in 1950, she wrote a letter to the editor in the university paper dissenting the opinion of two male students who wrote a commentary on a political issue at the time.
RBG was a force of nature and an icon for women’s rights. When she entered law school at Harvard in 1956, she was one of nine women in the program who were questioned by the dean as to why they didn’t give up their seats in the program that would be better filled by men. RBG finished her degree at Columbia University and tied for the top of the class.
After experiencing gender discrimination throughout law school and her early career, RBG joined the ACLU in the1970’s and founded the Women’s Rights Project. In her time with the ACLU she argued six cases concerning gender inequality before the Supreme Court, and she won five of them. Her first case, Reed vs. Reed was a landmark victory that declared it unconstitutional for states to uphold statutes designed around the basis of sex.
When RBG entered law school in 1956, all of her accomplishments—including her 30+ years on the Supreme Court—were far from the reality of the world she lived in. But that’s the thing about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she believed in the impossible and fought for many of the rights we have today that would have been unimaginable to women who grew up in RBG’s generation.
That’s what RBG means to me—if you live in a world where what’s right seems like an alternate reality, fight for it to become the reality. Fight for the impossible, fight for what is right and what is just.
We also asked some of our fellow members of Catcall to explain what RBG meant to them. Here’s what some of you told us:
“I am a woman, how has RBG NOT impacted me? I think though that what impacts me on a personal level is the Olmstead decision. That decision is absolutely life-changing for so many people. People should not be denied equality because of disability and Olmstead was a major step in the quest for equality. More info on that here. She inspires me to keep working toward justice no matter the obstacles.”
– Kay Ellis, Kansas City Activist
“RBG is the gift that keeps on giving. What we appreciated from a distance, that canny intellect and determination was just the tip of the iceberg. Digging deeper into who she was, her accomplishments, career, and message reveal true integrity, grit, and compassion, with an unerring ethical compass. She walked the walk every day and was never distracted from the true priorities. Her legacy is one that I can draw inspiration from and that I can point my children to.
She played the long game. Her example inspires me to do the same—personally, professionally, and politically—and to appreciate the journey that comes with it. If my example can inspire others, I’ll be a very happy womxn.”
– Megan Adams, founder of Firebrand Collective
“Her legacy impacts me in every single way. She is someone that has made literally every second of her life count and focus on making the world a better place for others. If I spend half as much time doing the same, I won’t be anywhere close to where she was. As a minority in many ways, I feel like she is someone that I can look to and draw inspiration and motivation from.
She inspires me to keep going—to stay motivated and do whatever it takes. She gave 100 percent in everything she championed, and that’s what I want to give to myself and others. Justice matters and it’s important that other people know it matters too.”
– Ishani Doshi, Illinois-based public health professional
“RBG was a source of inspiration to so many, and her rest is earned. She deserved better than the demands placed on her by generations of American feminists. She worked her whole life for us, let’s make sure it’s not for nothing. She deserves nothing but our best in the fight moving forward.”
– Aubrey Young, founder of Babe Collective
“I first read a Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissent in a media law course I took in college. As a journalism student, we were focusing on the first amendment and the fourth estate, which is the freedom of the press, and Ruth’s writing had me stunned. Her fiery words—in case after case—taught me this that semester: To back down from your beliefs is unacceptable. Stand proud, stand loud in what you believe in, even if your opinion is in the minority. I hope to continue to take that with me into this world we’re in that is without RBG. And I hope you do too.”
– Kelcie McKenney, Editor-in-Chief of Catcall
We’d love to add more responses. Tell us what RBG meant to you at email@example.com.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for the impossible, and to uphold her legacy, we must fight to uphold her victories, and pursue new ones as well—even if now those things seem almost unattainable under the circumstances of the Trump Administration.
Since my initial despair has waned, and my will to fight has bounded forward, I’ve been researching things I (and, you, too!) can do to keep RBG’s legacy alive:
The first place we need to start is making it loud and clear we do not want the Senate to approve Trump’s nomination until after the election.
Based on the Republican’s arguments in 2016, if Biden wins the election, he should get to make the nomination. While it seems difficult to keep that from happening, we must not sit idle. There are some actions we can take, and they include:
Call, email, tweet at, message, ect., your senators, and let them know how you wish them to proceed. You can call 1-888-521-6658 to be directed to your senator’s office. Or you can visit this website for the phone numbers, email addresses, and social media pages of your representatives.
This can help with the first one too. Vote like your life and liberty depends on it (because it does). This not only applies to the presidential election in November (although that’s a big one) but the elections of your senators, representatives, and state and local offices that are just as important to upholding the ideals instilled by RBG’s legacy. You can check your voting status here.
Support organizations that fight for the same rights RBG fought for:
Assist the Resistance – You can buy really neat apparel from this site, and each month they donate a portion of sales to a different non-profit. Right now they’re raising money for Planned Parenthood in honor of RBG.
Like the annual Women’s march.
And if Trump’s nomination does happen to get through, keep on contacting your representatives.
The Supreme Court is a big deal, and they make a lot of important decisions, but your representatives make the laws that ultimately get enacted so keep on making your voice be heard. Keep an eye on, especially, what legislation your local and state representatives are passing.
It’s time to pick up the torch Ruth Bader Ginsburg left behind, and start the fight to keep her legacy alive.
Emily Park is a Kansas City-based journalist, passionate about giving a voice to those who don’t always have one. From news to features to business-to-business reporting, she’s done it all. (Features are her favorite though.) In her free time you can find Emily playing games, reading, streaming, or hanging out with her furry babies, Sutton the dog and Salem the cat.
Katelyn Betz is an artist from Kansas City. She got her degree in Graphic Design from Missouri State University, and loves to paint, shoot photos, and make comics. A lot of her work is open to playing with a traditional feminine design style, in a world where feminine things aren’t taken seriously. Katelyn believes that all art has a place; even if it is “girly,” and that being “girly” in the art world is dope—even if a couple of old guys don’t think so.