In memory of RBG, we must stand up for justice

Moments after the NPR notification appeared on my phone—Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died—my social media feeds also lit up with shock and distress. Dear Ruth, so beloved by so many! She tried so hard to stay alive until after the election, and she came close…dying on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. 

As is often the case with Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah has a serious tone to it. The day RBG died is the first of 10 days of introspection, culminating in Yom Kippur, the day of atonement for one’s mistakes over the past year, along with a vow to do better in the coming year. 

Although I am not a practicing Jew, this ritual of taking stock of one’s transgressions at the start of the New Year seems like a wise one to me. I think many Americans are asking ourselves these days: how did it come to this? How did we let it come to this?

Well, my fellow Americans, it came to this because we were not paying close enough attention. We were not willing to rock the boat. We were not willing to give up our comforts. 

Justice Ginsburg was a shining example of a woman who paid attention. She repeatedly rocked the boat to stand up for her principles, and was beyond stoic in her willingness to sacrifice her personal comfort in order to serve her country. 

Imagine, at 87, after several battles with cancer, still working out at the gym to stay fit enough to keep going to work every day at an exhausting, demanding job. 

Gail Collins, in an admiring eulogy column, offered this summary of RBG’s trail-blazing legacy and her legendary grit:

“She came up as part of that first generation of women who proved they could mix families and careers, who stunned the authority figures in even the most demanding parts of their profession with their determination. While she was in law school at Harvard, her husband came down with testicular cancer. She went to his classes, brought him back notes, took care of their little girl … and made the law review.”

So many hard-working professional women today stand on the shoulders of women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Thanks to her, the doors to power have been cracked open a little wider, allowing more women to step through more easily. 

But we still have a long way to go, and without RBG at the Supreme Court, or someone like her, America will continue its backslide towards what I can only call patriarchal fascism. 

Thanks to the social and economic devastation of the coronavirus, the wildfires and the hurricanes, coupled with the open train wreck of Republican “leadership” and the twin threats of militarized police forces and death-dealing vigilantism, Americans are finally paying attention. 

The Black Lives Matter movement showed that when people get angry enough to take to the streets en masse, change happens. 

No political tyrants have ever been able to withstand the will of the people when they refuse to go along with oppression. 

Americans above all should know this, coming from a country that proudly celebrates its birth in revolution. 

But revolution, or civil war, is always a tool of last resort. America has prospered as a law-abiding country, with good people like Justice Ginsburg working to bend the moral arc towards justice through the legal system. 

However, if the Republicans have their way, it is quite possible that RBG’s seat on the Supreme Court will be filled by someone who wants to bend the law towards oppression.

Americans have to pay attention, and refuse to let this happen. 

I still can’t understand how we all stood by and let Bush Jr. steal the election from Gore in 2000. 

How have we stood by while the Republicans gerrymandered the districts to give themselves the advantage in the state legislatures?

For that matter, how have we allowed the injustice of the Electoral College to stand for so long?

How have we stood by and allowed police brutality against people of color to continue with impunity?

How have we stood by and allowed women to be hobbled by the expectation that they will do unpaid housework and child care while also working jobs for which they are paid less than their male counterparts?

How have we stood by and allowed the corporate chieftains to throw the planet into the maw of industry, with the resulting extinction of millions of species?

How have we stood by and allowed America to thumb its nose at the rest of the world’s efforts to get a grip on climate disruption?

This long list could be much longer. The point is that in my lifetime, Americans have just stood by as our supposed shining city on the hill became ever more tarnished and corrupted. And now, in our networked, globalized human civilization, we are dragging the rest of the world down with us into the pits. 

Each of us bears some responsibility for the way things are now. And each of us has the power to act to make things better.

Of course, we all have to go vote. That goes without saying. 

But like so many Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, I find it hard to trust that we will have a just electoral process this year. 

And if the vote is stolen, if the election is rigged…then what? Are we going to stand by, like we did in 2000, and let the Supreme Court decide? Of course, that is why the Senate Republicans are suddenly slavering to appoint a Justice now, before the election.

How hard will they have to push Americans before a critical mass decides it’s time to stop standing by and letting the Republicans get away with the murder and mayhem they have inflicted on the country?

No one wants to see civil war erupt in the United States, and yet the conditions are ripe for it: a bitterly polarized citizenry, vast wealth disparity, and the powder keg potential of armed vigilantes and militarized police. 

The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg brings us closer to this nightmare vision. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one tossing and turning last night, unable to sleep. 

I have no words of comfort to offer. 

We are in a transition time and the contractions have started. The pain will be real, the suffering immense. We can only hope that our collective labor will bring a better world into being. 

This morning, I am grateful for the shining example of RBG, who never, ever, gave up. 

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  1. How paradoxical this post just after “Be the Prayer.” That’s the way we are living in these times — in deep, deep paradox. Beautifully written, Jennifer. Thank you.

  2. Penny Gill

     /  September 19, 2020

    a superb piece….especially the list where we have “stood by”..please send it out further

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  September 19, 2020

      Thank you Penny. A painful piece. I am feeling so sad this morning, despite the bright sunshine and clear air (after a week of smoky haze). I sent it out on Facebook…wish I could do more. My words are my weapons….

  3. Sue

     /  September 19, 2020

    So well said. So true. So sad. WELL DONE.

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Andrew Rock

     /  September 19, 2020

    Thank you, Jennifer, for your post, your courage and clear voice. Yes, how has it come to this? But what is this? An elite floating island, floating on a cushion of money and privilege above a mostly inert populace too busy with marginal survival and maximal distractions to see through the propaganda that passes for information and the sham that passes for citizenship? Yet there are more bodhisattvas than ever, more human T-cells in the body of Gaia and America than ever, more people who are awakened or awakening than ever before, and who love and care and begin to dare. To do what? Part of our American illusion, I think, of our whitye privilege I guess, is that if we stand up and speak out all will be well. We may have gotten past that point, if it ever existed. Do we really believe that tens of millions of Americans will take to the streets, boycott buying, go on strike? Yes, it is time to stand up and speak out, but we may be too far down the road into totalitarianism for that to have much impact. But that doesn’t stop the birth process of an inevitable new culture that will emerge from the ashes of the old one after it self-destructs in the near future. It may be that what we can hope to achieve is to take care of one another, to nurture the culture of community and care and simple living close to the earth/sea, and pass it on to those who will come after. To keep a different vision and value system alive. Keep living The Great Turning. Hard times to live through, for sure, especially if we are in shock and disbelief, yet Joanna isn’t alone in insisting that there is no other time she’d rather be alive than now, when so much is on the line.

    We can’t ignore the immediate political game, but it may take too much of our attention and sap too much of our vital energy. Earth abides. Most of life goes on beneath the surface of the skin. I’m not advocating passivity, I think, but the angry Volk and their pathetic masters are heavily armed and spoiling for a fight, and its one they will win if the battle is on their terms.

    Sometimes karma is really hard to take. You know that our political system has been deeply flawed from the outset because our values, vision and behavior were flawed. The seeds of what we’re experiencing now were planted and watered over many centuries. We’ve watched the monster take form and grow in our lifetimes.

    I still adhere to the Buddhist view that people are fundamentally good, but that goodness is deeply covered over by the accumulated karmic sludge of millennia of greed, aggression and delusion. And also, people are social animals, not really that far removed from our simian cousins. Most of us will think, feel and do what the others are doing. And our rulers understand that. Modern Americans have been domesticated, herded, and ranched, our money harvested, votes milked, minds and bodies kept placid with fodder that lacks nourishment. Someone I’m reading (Ben Ehrenreich, “Desert Notebooks,” brilliant, mind-blowing, enlightening, even funny as it interrogates and illuminates where we are, how we got here and how we might be with it) says that today’s reality is like every science-fiction book we’ve ever read coming to pass, and we’re living it. I guess some of us are the rebels, but it isn’t a book, is it, dear Jennifer?

    Nonetheless, your writing and teaching and sharing are a truly valuable gift from the heart. Thank you for inspiring us, and apologies for this rambling in reply.

    Warm wishes to you by the LaHave and The Atlantic. How wonderful to know that Nova Scotia and its people are there, and will abide in comparative decency and health! We’ll get through this (I trust the women).



    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  September 19, 2020

      Thank you Andrew. We are bracing for a hurricane next week, but at the moment it’s quite beautiful, a nice snap of fall in the air, and clear again after all that smoke from the western wildfires. I agree with you, the political game may “sap too much of our vital energy.” I am on the sidelines…watching, waiting, anxious…and have only my words and my spirit to offer to the fight. I continue to believe, as you do, that what we offer to the world, in terms of our ideas, visions, and sheer vibrational energy, matters. I am grateful for people like you and Nancy who are offering so much, in so many ways. RBG is counting on us now…we cannot give up!


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