Mourning justice

I lost my hero on my birthday — it is my turn to fight

Emily DiSalvo, Arts & Life Editor

I grew up idolizing strong, intelligent women, certain one day I could become one too. My mom, my preschool teacher, Junie B. Jones. Later on I idolized Michelle Obama, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but most of all, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death is a reminder to never stop fighting for what is just. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

RBG’s bespectacled glare covers the walls of my dorm, the back of my laptop and the shelves of my bookshelf. I have watched her movie, read books about her and laughed at reenactments on Saturday Night Live.

RBG is my hero and on my 20th birthday, she died.

This isn’t about me. It’s about America and all of the women she represented as she fought for the right to access an abortion, sign for their own mortgages, open their own bank account and be their own people, separate from men. But on the night of my 20th birthday in one of America’s worst years to date, it felt a lot like a call to action.

Throughout her career, RBG never backed down from a fight. After law school, she couldn’t find a job as a lawyer because of gender discrimination in the field. She took a job as a professor, helping to inspire the next generation of warriors for justice.

When she finally began her tenure as a lawyer, she took on any and all cases that involved ensuring all groups had access to equal rights, not just women. She once represented a man who lost his wife, but could not receive the same Social Security benefit that widows received.

Her relentless commitment to equal rights and justice turned her into a pop culture icon among feminist activists. Coined, “Notorious RBG” after the rapper “Notorious BIG,” people quickly realized the name fit. Her tiny frame and massive list of achievements was, and is, notorious.

Well into her 80s, she hit the gym with her personal trainer and worked out to opera music, which has long been a passion of hers. She kept herself healthy so she could serve out her lifetime appointment for as long as possible.

While she traveled in and out of the hospital, Americans like me held their breath. Would this be her last trip to the hospital? Would she return to the bench?

With President Donald Trump in the White House, Democrats feared a third conservative nomination. Losing RBG would mean an overwhelmingly conservative Supreme Court that would inevitably turn over Roe v. Wade and demolish the Affordable Care Act. RBG’s death is our worst nightmare.

As she battled ailment after ailment, she knew in her heart how much was at stake and how much she had to live for. When she died, it was after a life full of effort.

She put forth effort to be a woman in a male-dominated field, to raise her children and care for her husband as he battled cancer. She put forth effort to fight her own cancer. And most of all, she put in effort to spend every waking moment of her life fighting for anyone who isn’t receiving equal treatment under the law.

If she could put in all that effort, I think I can do at least an eighth of that. I’m 20 now. When RBG was 20, she was in college plotting the rest of her life. She probably didn’t know she’d be appointed to the Supreme Court or become “notorious.” It wasn’t luck that got her there. It was grit.

In honor of my hero, I plan to fight for equality with grit. As a journalist, I will be a voice for the powerless. I will be a check on power. When I see injustice, I will not remain neutral. I will petition my government leaders for change and equal rights. I will vote for officials who will represent all people, not just rich, white men. I will dissent.

If I pledge myself to a life of being notorious, I am going to have to follow the RBG method to longevity. I will hit the gym, stay healthy, listen to opera and share love with my friends, family and even those whom I don’t agree with.

I can’t take on this task alone. In honor of RBG, we all need to commit to a life of justice. It’s the only way our democracy will survive this jarring time. When you see something you don’t agree with, dissent.