“Real change, enduring change,
happens one step at a time.”
– Ruth Bader Ginsburg
September 18, 2021
One year ago today we lost RBG. On this anniversary, I'm asking myself what it means to honor her memory when her legacy is under assault. To answer that question, it is worth looking beyond RBG as a cultural icon and focusing on how she lived her life.
When she was 29, Ruth Bader Ginsburg traveled to Sweden to study legal procedure and encountered something unexpected: women fully engaged in the law. A quarter of the law students she met there were women. One of the judges she observed for her research was eight months pregnant. What RBG saw in Sweden opened her eyes to the possibility of change at home.
When she returned to the US, she was one of only 20 female law professors in the entire country, and she was told explicitly that she would be paid less because her husband had a good job. So she imagined a better future and set her shoulder to the work. She founded the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU, which contributed to more than 300 gender discrimination cases in its first few years. She argued six of those cases herself before the Supreme Court, winning five.
Keeping the world you envision in mind at the same time as you focus on the day to day work isn't easy. I know it is something I struggle with all the time. I find RBG's example both inspiring and daunting, and it helps me to remember that none of what she accomplished was predetermined. She could not know what each day would bring, but she faced each day with grit, determination, and even joy. She spoke up for causes she believed in, and apologized when she regretted comments she had made too hastily.
RBG was the kind of hero we need right now. She envisioned a better future despite huge obstacles. She lived her daily life in service of that vision, and was open about her shortcomings. She celebrated her victories and dealt honestly with her defeats, penning her famous dissents that charted a way forward for her cause.
So today, on the anniversary of her death, I'm thinking of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and remembering her both as a young law student and as an elder justice. I draw inspiration not just from her accomplishments, but from the fact that she could not know what she would accomplish, but chose to greet every day as an opportunity to make the world a more fair, just, and equal place.
There is so much work to be done right now – so many injustices, so much pain – and I know it is easy to feel demoralized. My hope is that we can be inspired by RBG to envision a better future and to recommit ourselves to the daily work of building toward that vision together.
Founder, Dissent Pins