On Friday evening, there was a great gasp heard around the world. Phones flashed with breaking news, text message bubbles popped up, and American women worldwide burst into tears. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the iconic, trailblazing lawyer and supreme court justice, lost her battle with cancer at the age of 87. Her open seat on the nation’s top judicial committee comes at a pivotal time for democracy—with only a few weeks left until the 2020 presidential election—evoking fear in many for the country’s future.
Throughout her career, the Notorious RBG, as she’s often called, was a pioneer of women’s and human rights, strategically taking cases that fought against sexist, traditional beliefs. Her work directly resulted in many breakthroughs for the female sex. These included the right to sign a mortgage and open a bank account as a single woman, the right to gain employment without being discriminated against because of gender, and the right to be a working pregnant woman or mother. She was also a fierce defender of the right to choose, for universal birth control for all, and a proponent of LGBTQ+ rights. Her contribution to the United States—and specifically to American women—is why I’m able to write this article right now.
Like many of my friends, I was gutted on Friday. I instantly went into a full-out panic, ranting to my fiance about how scared I was for our country. And how anxious I felt about potentially having a daughter one day if a leader like RBG wasn’t at the helm of our judicial system. After furiously texting and chatting with other feminists in my life and sleeping on it, I realized the best way to continue RBG’s legacy is to do what she always did: Persist. Fight. Organize. Believe with fire.
In addition to my monthly donation to Planned Parenthood, I also set up one with the American Civil Liberties Union (RBG founded The ACLU Women’s Rights Project in 1972). And as a journalist, I pitched this very story you’re reading and interviewed these impressive activists who offer advice on how we can all keep the battle going. Consider these the best ways to thank the one-and-only RBG:
Organize, but don’t reinvent the wheel
If you’re an entrepreneurially-minded person, you may be inspired to start your own non-profit or advocacy group. Though this is the right type of action-oriented perspective, Asheville, North Carolina based activist Michelle Gratsy-Colont says, right now, it’s better to join an existing local organization. “I cannot express enough that there are many, many people who have been doing this work longer and have more experience and knowledge than you do right now,” she continues. “It’s more important to sign up and show up. Donate either your time or money to established groups—you do not have to be on the frontline to make a difference, but you do have to show up to make a difference. Know your availability, budget—both time and financial—and research local or regional groups that you can work with.”
Support local women that are running for office
Sometimes, it can feel paralyzing to make a difference, particularly if you don’t have a large sum of cash laying around to donate. That’s why Violette de Ayala, the founder and CEO of FemCity, reminds us that a $5 donation or five hours of volunteering for a woman’s political campaign are equally as important and impactful. “Women that run for local office are generally underfunded and lack the support that men in the same role currently have while in the race,” she shares. “Volunteering through door-to-door activities, assisting in social media or sharing the messages of local female candidates that are passionate about equality for all is something we can all do in her name and spirit.”
Create weekly goals and plans
In February of 2017, Cheryl Juech and Lisa Heuler Williams started a group called PerSISTERS in Wisconsin. Ever since they have met each week (either at Juech’s dining room table or at a local park). They started as a group of five passionate friends and neighbors and now have more than 320 followers. During these gatherings, they discuss local, state and national issues, engage with elected representatives, and roll up their sleeves to do the work. To date, they’ve written more than 7,000 letters, sent countless emails, and made thousands of phone calls. In 2018, they helped to flip a seat from Republican to Democrat—the only swap in the entire state.
To make an impact like PerSISTERS, Juech suggests making weekly goals and plans that are manageable. She suggests this outline:
Week one: Invite five to 10 friends/family/neighbors to join you in writing letters. Make sure to have stationery, envelopes, and stamps ready, as well as email and physical addresses of representatives. Start a discussion around what’s encouraged them lately, or what has broken your heart.
Week two and all weeks after: Create and follow an action sheet. This should include issues that individuals care about, like racial equality, climate change, health care, and so on. “Then, connect the action to who has the power to create change: is it your state representative, governor, congressional representative, senator or the President?” Juech shares. Then, for each cause, assign a volunteer and help them to move forward.
“Each week, PerSISTERS can choose to drop a few dollars in the bowl to be used for stationery and postage. Some PerSISTERS choose to donate in-kind, bringing stamps and stationery to the table,” she shares. “If we collect more than we need, we set the money aside and make a donation to a candidate or non-profit. We have made thousands of dollars in donations.”
Hold your circle accountable
When tragedy strikes, Gratsy-Colont says many folks think that they are part of the solution by texting or talking with their like-minded friends. Though it can be beneficial to have a sounding board and to be comforted in a difficult time, it’s not enough to fight the battle.
“We can hold space for each other’s sadness and grief through conversations, but we have to ask our friends to do more than just talk and post on social media. Not only are we responsible for directing our friends towards action, but we need to insist they take it,” she explains.
This means encouraging your friends to make phone calls or donations. Inviting them to volunteer with you—and even challenging them to think critically about their own values and beliefs. “These conversations can be uncomfortable if you haven’t had them before, but solid friendships can withstand this kind of shift, and it can actually deepen the intimacy between friends,” she adds.
Commit to a healthier lifestyle
Women take on too many roles too often than they can safely balance: professional, volunteer, partner, mother, friend, dog walker, house cleaner—and the list goes on. While it may not seem like a way to promote advocacy, it’s essential to take care of yourself and prioritize your mental and physical health, just like RBG. Up until her last months of life, she visited the gym and was known for a morning walking schedule. You can continue her legacy by taking care of yourself, says attorney, writer and activist Wendi Weiner. “Her trainer mentioned her staunch dedication to her workouts on just a few hours of sleep. She remained physically and mentally strong. Most women are juggling careers, child care, and all kinds of other responsibilities,” she continues. “The fact that RBG continued on with her workouts into her late 80s is something to be remembered and carried on.”
Weiner says to visualize RBG lifting weights adorned in her ‘Super Diva’ sweatshirt and start your day with wellness and fitness.
Serve as a mentor for young girls
Countless female lawyers have admired RBG’s career and sought to follow in her footsteps. Regardless of your industry, de Ayala says mentoring the next generation of feminists is an invaluable use of your time. This means getting personal—either in person or online—about how you’ve overcome sexist obstacles to arrive at where you are today. “When we share stories of our own journey, we inspire others that are searching for their own path and purpose in life,” she continues. “Our individual voices on a collective platform can change whether a young girl decides to move closer to her dreams and see herself as a pillar to make the world a better place or live a life that limits the great impact she can have on this world.”
When I started crying, my fiance, who supports me and my career endlessly, said he would support whatever I needed. He can’t change the looming, scary realization that fundamental female rights are currently at stake—but he can listen. And he can believe me, and other women, when we talk. And this is a powerful move for everyone, says Gratsy-Colont. “When women share their stories—whether it be to get it off their chest or explain to you why they need you to vote—hear them and then believe them,” she continues. “And I don’t just mean believe women that look like you. Believe Black women, trans women, Muslim women, poor women, indigenous women, and any voices you should feel honored to hear stories from. Their pain and experiences are real, and they deserve to be heard and understood.”
And take it a step further than just listening too, by being an advocate for others that are not seen as equal. “Whether it’s standing next to someone who is being bullied, reporting times when equality and injustices occur or sharing their stories of strife and unfairness can lead to big changes in a world that continue to struggle to see all humans as equal,” she continues. “The smallest gesture can make a great impact. Commit to being the voice for others that need virality in order to be seen and heard.”
Featured image via SCOTUS blog