Last Saturday, we came together in our grief, fear, and shock to honor the legendary Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We gathered outside the Federal Building in Utica and lit candles and told stories about how her life’s work made this country more just, and it’s people freer, and how she changed all our lives so much for the better.
Sarah Marris-Swann and her husband, Anthony, held up a homemade banner that read, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time. Vote”
“This is a really pivotal time for our county and for democracy,” Sarah told me. “We have to speak up and not be silent.”
“I was just hoping we wouldn’t have to worry about this until after November,” Anthony said, echoing the weariness and bewilderment I felt. “But I am also grateful for her work.”
I am grateful too.
When I was in 11th grade, President Ronald Reagan's Supreme Court in the Bowers vs. Hardwick decision ruled that gays could be put in jail for having sex with a person of the same gender. It took 17 years, and new Associate Justices on the court, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to right that wrong with the Lawrence vs. Texas decision.
It took 12 more years to end millennia of oppression and bigotry and finally extend marriage rights to all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was instrumental in making that happen.
In fact, it was because of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and President Obama's other appointees that I was able to marry Jim Hale on July 5th. In her wake, we know we will have to join the fight against those already seeking to snatch back the rights and dignity she gave people like us. That's the story I shared and the pain I felt and still feel.
“I feel physically ill,” Stacy Hughes said. “There is such a heaviness in my heart. I feel such a physical pain for what is to come. The Republicans want us to lay down. We can’t; we need to follow her path. Ruth was a trailblazer with style and grace.”
We remembered her as that trailblazer and as the brave woman who seemed to live on solely to defend decency and democracy from her seat on the court.
Cars drove by Broad Street laying on their horns. A few shouted, “Black Lives Matter!” mistaking the intent of our protest, though we all agreed with the sentiment. We were all masked, and there was a cool breeze. The traffic was loud.
It was hard to hear everyone and to make out who said what, but we all shared her dying wish. It is now our mission and our only hope. But the crowd articulated their fears as women, as racial and ethnic minorities, as LGBT people, as allies for members of marginalized communities. We are all in the gravest of danger, and we know it.
Hannah and Kelly were two participants who were afraid to give their last names.
“It is devastating,” Hannah said. “I needed to show support for [people whose rights are jeopardized] and gratitude for Justice Ginsburg.”
“Without Justice Ginsburg, we are concerned about the groups who have historically been marginalized-including women,” Kelly added. “We wanted to put out into the world that we are thankful for everything she did for us.”
As the group moved closer to one another, the candles encircled us in a warm glow that seemed to sanctify and bless our determination to turn our despair and anger into action.
“We have such upheaval now that when I saw that she died, I said, ‘Oh God, another blow to us…” Lucretia Hunt told me after it was over. She is in her nineties and still a Democratic committee member. “But we have to survive.”
Lucretia looked around at the crowd, beginning to blow out their candles and slip back in the darkness.
“This is a tribute to somebody great,” she said.
“Her rest is earned,” the actress Kerry Washington tweeted. “It is our turn to fight.”
It has always been our fight. If we are to have a future, her legacy is the framework for the only future worth having if you are a woman or a minority-especially if you are gay. I have to fight. Everything is at stake; women’s reproductive freedom, Marriage Equality, holding back the creep of religious ideology into government, a free and fair election in November.
“This is not a time for despair, but action if we want to achieve a return to respect and decency in our government.”
I don’t know who said that, but I want to take action. If you do too, get in touch with me. There must be some way to save this country before a chilly October wind blows out the last candles and last hope with it.
Ron Klopfanstein is online at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and Twitter.com/RonKlopfanstein. He is interested in ideas for saving the human rights Ruth Bader Ginsburg brought to millions of people in her lifetime.