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The life and legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: how OU remembers

Just hours after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday, Sept. 18, people began to gather at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. to honor her legacy. Masked mourners laid posters and flowers on the concrete steps. They let tears slide down their faces, candlelight reflecting in their downcast eyes. The night was soaked in mourning but tinged with hope.

Across the country, people remembered Ginsburg’s life. On Sept. 19, a similar scene unfolded at the Athens courthouse. People brought candles, flowers and tributes, reflecting on the life of the second woman ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ginsburg was sworn into court in 1993, but her decisions and personality began to make its way into public consciousness 20 years later. In 2013, the Supreme Court argued Shelby County v. Holder, a landmark case pertaining to voting rights. The court decided 5-4 that a section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was unconstitutional, rolling back some protections of voting rights that disparately harmed Black and low-income Americans. Ginsburg dissented.

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet,” Ginsburg said.

Patty Stokes, an associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, points to this line from Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion as the moment she became a figure in American pop culture.

“A bunch of young people, who probably had never known who she was, all of a sudden were fanning and stanning this octogenarian Jewish grandmother with this incredible life story,” Stokes said.

Before her appointment to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg was a champion for women’s rights. Through law, she ensured that juries contained women; made it legal for women to apply for a credit card, mortgage and bank account without a male co-signer; and established that employers cannot discriminate against employees because of gender, according to a 2020 Global Citizen article.

Ginsburg’s legal activism, guided by feminist ideals, created a more equitable world for women.

“I didn't know who she was in the mid ’70s when I first started developing an early feminist consciousness,” Stokes said. “But the world that she was helping to create was a world that opened all the opportunities that I have today as a woman.”

Ginsburg also inspired generations of women to advocate for what they believe in.

“My mom really loved her and shared her story with me,” Aya Cathey, a freshman studying journalism, said. “Even when it was something that was controversial, [Ginsburg] stood up for it … I was just really inspired by that.”

The inspiration that Ginsburg provided has led many to want to honor and carry on Ginsburg’s fight for equal rights. Remembrances have been shared widely on social media. People are donating to Ginsburg’s favorite charities in her honor.

Athena Cinema displayed Ginsburg’s words on their marquee: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” 

After learning of Ginsburg’s passing, the Athena decided to display the quote because they “felt that RBG shared so many important messages,” Alexandra Kamody, director of Athena Cinema, said. 

“It wasn’t a question of displaying her words on the marquee, but which quote to use,” Kamody said.

To further remember Ginsburg, the Athena is virtually showing the documentary RBG. Proceeds from purchases of the movie will go to the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, which Ginsburg co-founded in 1972.

“Bringing the film back in our virtual cinema seemed like a good way to highlight RBG’s work and legacy,” Kamody said.

Although Ginsburg has passed away, her vision for the future lives on.

“I think what RBG would want from those of us who appreciate her life's work is to keep going with it, and carry it on,” Stokes said.


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