Ginsberg’s Daring Legacy – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

The announcement of the passing of Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg came during the online services celebrating the Jewish New Year. I could see an old friend on Zoom just put her head in her hands and stay there. I’d seen the announcement a few minutes before services started at sunset so I’d had a brief moment to digest the news. I immediately texted my cousin. We both identify with the description of Ginsberg as “Elder Badass”, having fought our own life-long battles for women. She texted back, “Nooooo!”. Our grief was immediate and we could already hear rumblings of imminent battle.

Jewish tradition holds that someone who dies as the New Year begins is among the most righteous. The Divine holds death back for these souls until the year’s last moment because they’re so needed, driven by the biblical obligation, “Justice, Justice, shall you pursue”.

Ginsberg’s lifetime pursuit began in the 1950s when law firms could blatantly discriminate against women. I know the feeling. After graduating college decades ago, I job-searched at an employment agency. Standing in the office doorway, I saw two conference tables, each full of folks filling out employment forms. At one table, the men wearing suits and ties glanced at me with dismissive disdain. The all-female table was a typing test extravaganza. The women looked up at me with rueful smiles.

I headed for an empty seat among the men, but the receptionist grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the women’s table. I politely refused to comply and shook her hand off. She strong-armed me again and when I refused to comply, threatened to call the police. I’d been on the fence about the first Women’s Liberation March down 5th Avenue, but now, I raced to catch up with the noisy crowd.

The fight of gender equity has gone on forever. We dared to fight for the right to vote, run for office, get hired, for equal pay, and to serve on the Supreme Court. Ginsberg was only the second woman Chief Justice and was an outspoken advocate for women.

Some think there’s been a major cultural shift in our culture. Donald Trump plans to appoint a woman to replace Ginsberg and Joe Biden chose a woman running mate. I’m delighted to see women recognized, but every-day heroines may still be passed over.

I’m thinking of my Aunt Polly who recently passed away in her nineties. She’d been a social worker in the 1950s, dealing with domestic violence. In her eighties, she became an arts dealer and a census taker, supporting her family. We need the Pollys of the world, the Elder BadAsses whose activism can change lives.

Trump heard the loud response to his denigrating Ginsberg’s dying wishes and is choosing a woman to dampen the noise. But I dare him to nominate a woman like Ginsberg or Aunt Polly who personify the perseverance of women pursuing justice and quality of life. Replacing Ginsberg shouldn’t be a political hack job inspired by a 1950’s mindset.

With COVID-19, women need advocates more than ever. According to a United Nation brief, “…women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs …They have less access to social protections and are the majority of single-parent households. Their capacity to absorb economic shocks is therefore less than that of men.”

Women are struggling and it’s more than insulting that Ted Cruz blocked a Senate resolution to honor Ginsburg.  It’s time to refuse to comply. So make noise like Ginsberg. Participate in the census like Aunt Polly. And whatever your age, vote!

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