It’s our turn to carry the torch left behind by the notorious, brilliant, imperfect Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

by Erin Brandt

There are moments when hope is diminished.

The passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of those moments. A light has gone out in the world this day – September 18, 2020.

I could spend this time recounting Justice Ginsburg’s legendary career as an advocate for women’s rights, but you all know how to search the Internet. What I want to talk about, after we pick ourselves up off the floor, is what do we do now?

Before tonight, I would sprinkle little bits of my political leanings into these columns — make gentle or pointed suggestions based on my mood. Since June, I’ve been offering direction to my fellow white folks on how to engage with racial justice. Tonight feels different. It is the proverbial straw and that poor camel’s back. 

We asked this badass woman to hold the line for us long past the point of fairness. The safety and security of this democracy and the rights of its citizens should not rest on the shoulders of one person — yet, that is what we asked of Justice Ginsburg. We asked her to stay. We asked her to do push-ups into her 80s. We asked her to live. We denied her a retirement. Why? Because people could not bother themselves to engage with the gift — THE MOTHERF!CKING GIFT — that is voting. 

* 61.8 percent of the citizen voting-age population voted in 2012

* 36.4 percent of the citizen voting-age population voted in 2014

* 61.4 percent of the citizen voting-age population voted in 2016

* 53.4 percent of the citizen voting-age population voted in 2018

Sixty-one percent is pathetic, and don’t get me started on the midterm elections (the times when we aren’t voting for a President)! Every election matters. Every race is important. Voting for school board members in your community is as important as voting for the President. I’m very specifically yelling at white people right now. As a white person you are privileged in your access to voting. You don’t have to travel outside your community to find your nearest polling station. As a white person, when you present yourself to vote you aren’t dismissed as not being eligible — the implicit bias in the system is set up to do everything it can to help you vote. Access to voting if you are a person of color is purposefully difficult. If you manage to vote, some states, run by white supremacists masquerading as Republicans, throw your ballots out. Don’t believe me? Do some learning about Georgia and 2018.

The only way a democracy works is through the involvement of all of its citizenry, not just the powerful few. This is why a bunch of white folks fled a country and brought their disease-riddled asses over here. Why they wiped out entire groups of native people and forced them onto reservations — because they wanted free and fair elections. They built something with hope (and racism, and classism, and sexism) intending to be better than the monarchy they left.

Justice Ginsburg fought to fix those sexist, classist, and racist deficits. She did this imperfectly and often as one of a few dissenting voices from a majority determined to keep power for wealthy white men.

So what the fuck do we do?

First, call your Senator and demand that they do not vote on a replacement Supreme Court associate justice until after Inauguration day. Go to www.senate.gov and use the dropdown menu at the top left to Find Your Senators. Call them until you get through and demand that they wait to fill Justice Ginsburg’s vacancy — as Senator Mitch McConnell demanded in 2016 when he refused to bring a vote for President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, because it was an election year. 

Second, VOTE. I used to advocate for folks to vote no matter who they were voting for in an election. I wanted to encourage more engagement with our civic responsibility. How fucking quaint and idealisitic I was. I understood that not everyone had time or energy to meet the candidates, watch or attend debates, or volunteer on campaigns. The bare minimum was to vote and I thought that was enough. Not this year. Vote like your life depends on it. Engage with campaigns. Learn about issues and candidates. Volunteer your time. 

Bonus! Voting in Colorado is extraordinarily easy because we are a mail-in-ballot state. You register to vote when you get your driver’s license and/or turn 18 and then your ballot is mailed to you. Mailed to you! You fill it out and put it back in the mail or into a drop box. No standing in line. No funky machines. That’s it. If you’re not sure if you are registered, or what address you might be registered at, go here: https://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/vote/VoterHome.html. 

Of course, this year the United States Postal Service is under attack by its director so I encourage everyone to put their ballot in a drop box. Don’t mail it. In La Plata County, there are two drop box locations in Durango, one in Bayfield, and another one in Ignacio. As it gets closer to the election they open other polling places, like the Durango Fairgrounds, where you can also drop off your ballot. Your ballot will include a piece of paper that has a list of the places you can return it to! Colorado is privileged in that we don’t see the type of voter suppression that places like Georgia, or even most recently, Wisconsin have to battle. Does that mean that it isn’t difficult to vote for people of color in Colorado? Fuck, no, because the system is biased. If you have difficulty voting or submitting your ballot please call 866-OUR-VOTE or go to 866ourvote.org.

Make sure you know how to fill out your ballot properly and that you sign the envelope before returning it. Your ballot comes with instructions. Read them. Read them more than once. I apologize to any readers not in Colorado. Please go to your Secretary of State’s website and learn what you need to do in your state to vote.

Third, take five minutes every day for a week and learn more about the candidates running for office. That same link above for checking your voter registration in Colorado also has links to election information, who’s running for what, and a link to your sample ballot. Talk to your friends and family about voting. Find out what issues are important to them and then decide which candidate is going to address those issues. I guarantee you that there will be no perfect candidate that ticks all the boxes. Why? Because they are human! Because diversity is healthy. Because we are more than one issue or belief. Because the world and the choices we have to make are not black and white but rather varied and gorgeous shades of gray. 

Fourth, live your life in the service of others. If you need to do this capitalistically, fine, charge money. But do for others. Humanity cannot continue on its current path, and it takes all of us to build healthy and safe communities.  

Finally, do not give up. If Justice Ginsburg could survive years of sexism in school and work, take on cancer (again and again), and still stand up to support gender rights, reproductive freedom, lgbtq+ rights, and civil rights, then we certainly can show up now.

Honestly, I don’t know if this is what I wanted to write in this moment. I’ve gone from tears of grief to numbness. These last four years under the ever-growing authoritarian thumb of a racist, sexist, hate-filled person has weakened my resolve. I fear for my child’s future. And then I fight. I fight for the children that are ripped from their parents’ arms and forced into concentration camps. I fight for justice for Black men, women, and children who are gunned down by police. I fight for women’s rights. I fight for gay rights. I fight for the lives of so many trans folks who have been murdered in this country. I fight with my voice, my money, my vote. It is not my full-time job and it doesn’t take all my energy to care about the health and safety of my fellow citizens, so trust me when I say you can join in this fight.

Yes, right now, I’m weary. We lost a leader, a role model, and an inspiration.

I’m sorry, Justice Ginsburg, that we asked so much of you. Thank you for never just meeting the moment, but always rising higher and taking us with you. You were not perfect, but you perfectly inspired millions of girls and women. I would not be where I am today if you had not fought for women’s rights all those years. I stand on your shoulders with a deep yearning to prove myself worthy of your work. 

May your memory be a revolution.

Erin Brandt (she/her/hers) has been a sexologist for 15 years. When she’s not spreading sexual knowledge, Erin can be found learning from her child, hiking with her partner, cuddling with her pitbull, knitting with her cat, dancing with friends, and searching for the nearest hammock and ocean breeze. Want more? Visit www.positivesexed.com

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