By Briana Brady, Opinion Editor–
I have always been a believer in the collective: I am convinced that no single person can make change alone, but that it instead takes people working together in sustained efforts through small, daily actions in combination with broad-reaching movements. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg challenged that notion. Yes, undoubtedly, she built upon the work of the women that came before her, and her efforts were surely catalyzed through her education and experience. Certainly, she had a support system—her devoted husband Marty, her children Jane and James who she raised amidst a demanding career, the guiding influence of her mother, and many, many others—but Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a pioneer in her own right; she felt the responsibility to be the change she wished to see, and took it upon herself to fight for it both singlehandedly and as a part of the collective.
Through a bit of curious research this weekend, I found out where “The Notorious RBG” term came from; if you’re interested as I was, it turns out that a NYU law student created a Tumblr in that name years ago, playing on the name of the late rapper “The Notorious B.I.G.” The student’s post was an attempt to turn the negative into the positive; she showcased Ginsburg’s fervent dissent in rebuke of the divisive Shelby County v. Holder voting rights decision which deemed a significant part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.
Personally, I have always shied from using the word “notorious” to describe RBG because the etymology of the word carries a negative connotation, ultimately denoting some kind of merited celebrity status yielded from an unappealing quality or action. However, as I further considered the slander that RBG faced throughout her lifetime as a result of being one step ahead in social and political thought, I began to think that maybe the term “notorious” could speak to her incomparable foresight, which rarely resulted in broad, positive public approval in the moment, but upon which history has looked back fondly and gratefully. Typically those fighting for overdue change are not popular while they’re doing it, but popularity is not what they’re after. If we could all be so selfless, fearless, and “notorious” in pursuit of a more perfect union, perhaps we’d be further down that road.
The loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is colossal and incalculable. She devoted her life to public service in varying capacities, and she was never afraid to dissent. Even during her early years at Cornell, a professor gave her a real exam identical to the practice version, and knowing what he wanted in return, she went to him and said “How dare you? How dare you?” While there wasn’t the terminology for it in that day, Ginsburg fought against sexual harassment head on in that moment and those that followed. She posed the same sentiment of “how dare you?” to legal cases throughout her tenure, dissenting passionately against both Court Opinions, laws, and policies that deprived folks—women, voters, LGBTQ+, etc.—of their rights and freedoms.
Many young women, myself included, held RBG in highest regard. Her tenacious personality in tandem with her soft-spoken voice and small stature resonated with so many who dared to stand up for themselves and their beliefs, questioning anyone who states that “Well, that’s just how it is.” She was the embodiment of the various personas so many of us aspire to be: a servant, leader, advocate, ally, spouse, mother, and friend. As I think of the strong, formidable women in my life and my own independent and bold nature, I recognize and feel grateful that we were all nurtured and strengthened to be our more full selves through her lifetime of courageous work.
While her loss feels crushing and cuts deep, I don’t feel she would want us to mourn too long, for there is imminent work yet to be done. We must fight to fill her seat with someone who will carry on her work and legacy, not negate it. In her honor, we must do our part to preserve our democracy and the possibility of progress in the future; we must speak up for what is right and against what is wrong, we must be courageous in our action, and we must vote and elect Joe Biden on November 3rd.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was glorious, victorious, notorious, and a true warrior for the pursuit of equal justice under law. May her legacy continue through we who now carry the torch forward in that quest.