Her loss is a loss for our country—yet even as we mourn, we must recommit to the cause of justice that she championed.
In the Jewish tradition that Justice Ginsburg and I share, it is customary to say to a person who has just lost a loved one, “May her/his/their memory be a blessing.” Many on social media have quickly transformed this sentiment into a cry for the justice that RBG embodied: “May her memory be a revolution.” And while I like the clarity of that statement, even the original sentiment of “May her memory be a blessing” carries these connotations, as Molly Conway wrote yesterday in the Forward:
When we say “may her memory be for a blessing,” the blessing we speak of is not “may we remember her fondly” or “may her memory be a blessing to us.” The blessing implied is this: May you be like Ruth. Jewish thought teaches us that when a person dies, it is up to those who bear her memory to keep her goodness alive. We do this by remembering her, we do this by speaking her name, we do this by carrying on her legacy. We do this by continuing to pursue justice, righteousness, sustainability.
Phrase it as you wish; either way, though, Justice Ginsburg’s death still feels like a body blow as our country is already reeling from the depredations of the Trump administration. Our democracy’s survival, however, does not rest on the efforts of one person alone, however, no matter how strong she was. Justice Ginsburg died on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the start of the High Holy Days, when we reflect on our actions of the past year, make amends, and resolve to do better. Even as I mourn her, then, I hope to do more than ever to make sure her vision of equality, equity, and informed dissent continues. Let us use her passing, then, as a rallying cry to find our own strength, to renew our own efforts towards justice, and to show that her decades of work haven’t been in vain.
Here are some ideas for what we can do now, remembering her maxim that “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time”:
- Vote. Register to vote if you’re not already. Check here if you’re not sure. Get an absentee ballot if you’d rather vote by mail (and do this well in advance in case of mail delays). Find your polling place if you plan to go in person. Coordinate with neighbors, relatives, and friends to help each other get there, if needed.
- Contact your senators and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and tell them not to hold hearings or confirm a new justice until a new president takes office. Remind them that McConnell, in denying a hearing to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, said that justices should not be confirmed in an election year—something he has gone back on in now saying that Trump’s nominee will get a hearing.
- Some reason to hope: We only need four Senate Republicans to join the Democrats in order to block a vote. Right now, at least four Republican senators have said they will oppose confirming a new justice before the election—that’s promising, although it would be better if the confirmation was pushed back until the new Senate is seated on January 3 (if Democrats can win a majority) or until a new president (I hope) takes office on January 20. Vox breaks this all down in more detail, if you’re interested.
- Help kick McConnell out of office. He’s up for reelection. You may wish to support his opponent, Amy McGrath.
- Support other Democratic candidates for Senate so that the Democrats will control both chambers.
- Get involved with nonpartisan voter outreach campaigns like Reclaim Our Vote or stay involved with LGBTQ and other social justice organizations.
- Help turn out Democrats in battleground states (even if you don’t live there) with ideas from this page by Vote Save America.
- Talk with your friends, neighbors, and relatives about why this is so important to you and what you are doing to make change. As Justice Ginsburg herself once said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”