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There’s no choice but to turn your grief into a fight for Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy

In a year marked by calamity, the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is yet one more tragedy. 

The 87-year-old veteran of the court met her life’s challenges with admirable grit, never forgetting to break a path for women who might follow. The grief of losing that living inspiration is profound. Her death has also cracked open our already fragile politics at a time when those who oppose President Trump’s agenda feel deep despair about the coming election. 

Justice Ginsburg seemed determined to remain in her seat through at least November 3rd, all while trying to beat back pancreatic cancer. She indicated as much in the days before she passed: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” Justice Ginsburg said, according to her granddaughter. 

Her extraordinary will inspired memes. Liberals took comfort in her resolve. They knew that without Justice Ginsburg, President Trump would finally get his wish to transform the court into an institution ruled by conservatives. When her name would trend on Twitter, long before her death, the internet typically responded with a collective gasp: not yet. 

While she never publicly stated criticism of President Trump, she unwisely voiced her opinion of him as a candidate, calling him “a faker” during the 2016 election. Her record on the Supreme Court left little mystery about where she stood. She consistently decided in favor of civil, voting, and abortion rights, in addition to other progressive values. Justice Ginsburg became known for withering dissents in a conservative court she once described as “one of the most activist courts in history.” 

Now that’s she gone, everything has changed. Weeks before an election that will determine what America will become, Republican Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly promised that the Senate will vote on Trump’s nominee. Whoever he selects, trust that they will align with the five conservative justices on the court. For decades, decisions on critical cases related to gun control, abortion, voting rights, climate change, healthcare, and civil and LGBTQ rights will be decided by six reliably conservative justices, leaving three moderate and liberal justices in the minority. 

If Trump wins re-election, this majority may provide little to no check on his authoritarian impulses and policies if the substance of what his administration does reflects — or doesn’t outright trash — their view of the Constitution. That majority may even determine the outcome of a contested presidential election in a few short months. 

Meanwhile, America is on the cusp of falling headlong into a style of fascism that’s sold to its citizens as democracy. It is now a country in which the president uses the power of the state to target his enemies, and Attorney General William Barr, the nation’s top law enforcement official, encourages and enables him. 

You may feel numb to the totality of what’s at stake. You may have absorbed it so fully that you cannot stop panicking. First, close your eyes, take a long, deep breath, and ask yourself: How hard am I willing to fight for democracy? 

A democracy in peril can’t wait for an answer as you fret over whether there’s little difference between Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Trump, because you fear all politicians are corrupt. It does not care about exhaustion born of nonstop bad news. It does not know that you were laid off, or that you survived COVID-19, or that you’re already marching in the streets to end white supremacy. The traumatic events of 2020 have plunged many of us into darkness, and yet the only choice is to fight to restore America’s broken institutions and ensure that democracy endures this treacherous moment. You may be immersed in this work now. Perhaps you are prepared to commit yourself to it in the wake of Justice Ginsburg’s death.

That sentiment became a chorus on social media late Friday. Countless people are, in fact, ready for the test this moment presents. Amanda Litman, co-founder and executive director of the political organization Run for Something, turned the Jewish condolence “may their memory be a blessing” into a viral rallying cry on Twitter when she posted: “May her memory be a revolution.” Actress Kerry Washington issued a similar call to action: “Her rest is earned. It is our turn to fight.” From Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to activist Ady Barkan, grief gave way to defiance. 

The fatigue and desperation you feel can only be outmatched by action. Choose one realistic and practical step toward protecting our democracy. Participating in the presidential election is the least you can do. Try using Outvote, a nonpartisan app, to urge friends and family to vote, asking if they’re registered and if they have a plan to cast their ballot. If you can do so safely, volunteer at a polling site, many of which are desperate for volunteers. That sign-up information is just a few clicks away. Call or email your elected representative to request that they respect Justice Ginsburg’s final wish by refusing to vote on her replacement until the next president’s inauguration.

This path is long and hard. It does not end after the election. There is no final destination, a place of comfort where trust in our government and leaders comes easy. We are not consumers of democracy, taking pleasure in it when convenient; we are its guardians. It is only as strong as its citizens’ willingness to end their day weary from doing all they could to fulfill its promise. 

This is the example that Justice Ginsburg set. Mourn her death. Then, in her honor, find the strength and purpose to fight for this country’s fate more than you ever have before. 



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