This speech was originally delivered by the ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Gastañaga at a vigil for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Richmond on Sept. 20, 2020.
We are here tonight to pay our respects to a righteous woman who led the way for all of us.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s dedication to her vision of an America where we are all truly equal --- where our policies and our laws do equity --- left us in a profoundly better place than she found us. It is not an overstatement to say that, as Thurgood Marshall was the leading legal mind of the civil rights movement, Ruth Bader Ginsberg was the leading legal mind of the women’s rights movement.
At the ACLU, in Virginia and nationally, we are grieving Justice Ginsberg’s death as the death of a member of our family. She was the first director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project – a project founded only because of her unrelenting advocacy. She assumed that position in 1972 and by 1974 the ACLU nationally had brought 300 cases challenging gender discrimination. Her strategy was an inclusive one … helping the mostly male judges understand that men and women (and non-binary people and transgender people) all are adversely affected by sex discrimination … by the limiting stereotypes that undergird traditional views of gender and sex.
For me personally, I know that I have experienced opportunities that I would not have had but for Justice Ginsburg’s advocacy. I am also grateful that opportunities that I was denied because I am a woman (like being able to attend UVA or any Ivy League school as an undergraduate or being able to get credit in my own name when I was a new law graduate) are now open to other women because of Justice Ginsberg’s legal leadership.
For all of us, Justice Ginsberg’s death has us asking with trepidation … what does the future hold? Who will light the way forward?
For those who are tempted to see Justice Ginsberg’s death as the extinguishing of a light, I ask you to see it as the passing of a torch. Reach out and hold the light high so others can follow.
For those who are tempted to see Justice Ginsberg’s death as the end of a race, I ask you to see it as the completion of the lead-off leg in an important relay. Reach out and accept the passing of the baton so that you can carry it forward and pass it to the next runner.
For all of us tempted to give in to hopelessness, I encourage you to remember Bryan Stevenson’s advice that hopelessness is the enemy of justice. We must remain optimistic to do the work ahead. We must be resilient.
I recently read an article in the New York Times by Eilene Zimmerman that asked why some people are more resilient than others. Zimmerman wrote that the “most resilient among us are people who generally don’t dwell on the negative, who look for opportunities that might exist even in the darkest of times.” “Dedication to a worthy cause or a belief in something greater than oneself” also enhances resilience. Zimmerman advised focusing energy on what can be changed and looking for meaningful opportunities in any difficult situation. And, she pointed out that resilient people don’t “go it alone.” Resilient people find or develop a support system.
So, let’s leave here tonight drawing resilience from our shared commitment to our worthy causes, promising to look for opportunities even in this dark time, and finding support from those here with us and our allies in the fight for reproductive justice and gender and racial equity.
Let’s leave here committed to pursuing our cause at the polls in November and in Congress.
Let’s leave here committed to working harder in the Virginia legislature to make Virginia laws more equitable and to ensuring that, whatever happens in Washington,
our Commonwealth will continue to move away from its racially unjust history,
our Commonwealth will continue the work to assure racial justice at the ballot box and in our criminal legal system,
our Commonwealth will not go back on our “first in the south” protection of LGBTQ people from discrimination,
and our Commonwealth will not reinstitute burdensome laws limiting women’s access to abortion and basic reproductive health care.
May Justice Ginsberg’s memory be for a blessing and may her memory be for a revolution.