In the week since the passing of RBG, an outpouring of tributes filled with grief and pride have flooded our feeds and our conversations. Young girls have called her a superhero, elder former presidents have called her a beacon of justice, and just about everyone in between has had something to say about the woman who inadvertently and singlehandedly redefined the term “notorious.”
I had the great fortune of meeting Justice Ginsburg a few years ago, at an event hosted by the International Center for Research on Women. RBG was receiving the ICRW’s Champions for Change award, for her “unwavering commitment to ensuring that the U.S. legal system does not reinforce gender barriers but rather promotes equality for all and protects women’s health, dignity and well-being.”
I remember the entire room smiling at her, almost the entire night. RBG was as mighty in spirit as she was tiny in frame, as strong in her convictions as she was soft in the volume of her speech. She captivated us with her stoic presence, one we all knew propped up unyielding principles: that women and men were deserving of the same dignity and were rightful heirs to the same rights as one another. Her Mom once told her that “being a lady” meant to be your own person. And for RBG, that meant someone who worked tirelessly to “make life a little better for people less fortunate” than her.
Last Friday, after hearing of her death, I reflected — as many of us have — on her legacy, on what it meant for us to carry the torch she’d so valiantly carried for all of us. I thought about my work as an advocate for gender equality, for survivors of sexual violence. I thought about my daughters, and how my husband and I are raising them. And I thought about what it means to blaze trails, and work to shape a future that is more just and equitable for all.
I confess I was a bit taken by sadness and overwhelm. This is a delicate moment in the U.S. and losing a titan like RBG may mean stumbling back on so much that she fought for us to have. Then I read a wonderful article Dahlia Lithwick wrote. “America has lost a warrior,” she said, “and it’s OK to be crushed… but if you find yourself feeling hopeless and powerless, then you are emphatically doing it wrong. Because if anyone had a right to say ‘nah,’ it was the woman who couldn’t get a job or a clerkship after graduating at the top of her class. But she pushed on… and now, well, it’s time to step into her fight and get it finished. I think the Notorious RBG would have peered owlishly out at all of us tonight and asked what the heck we are waiting for. And I think we can probably honor her best by getting to it.”
As much as her death leaves us with a raw feeling of despondency, it can also ignite us by reminding us of how RBG executed on her personal promise: that even in the face of adversity or enormous discrimination herself, she pressed on. She kept on going. And that, in many ways, may end up being her most enduring legacy.
I will not let up either: by always speaking up for the less fortunate, by championing equality at every level and by raising daughters to “be ladies” like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was. That’s my #RBGpromise. I’d love to hear yours.