We all can remember where we were when certain major, oftentimes unexpected, public events occurred. I remember hearing my parents and grandparents talk about the assassination of JFK. Another example is September 11th. For me personally, one of those events was the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
It is hard to believe it has been a year since RBG died. Frankly, it seems a lot longer. As if we fought a thousand battles since then.
Nonetheless, I vividly remember sitting at our dining room table as if it was yesterday. It was a Friday night, in the middle of a pandemic. Our eleven-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter had just finished their respective baseball and basketball practices, and we were sitting down for a late dinner - take out from Chipotle.
As is customary for our Friday nights, we started talking about our schedule for the weekend. It was going to an action-packed weekend, which would require my husband and I to divide and conquer, driving all over the DMV (local speak for the District, Maryland and Virginia), but we were thrilled that our kids were able to participate in some outdoor activities again. Honestly, we gladly would have driven to California to get them back to the things that they love, particularly given that the pandemic was rolling along with no discernable end in sight.
When we eat as a family, devices are not allowed. To nail down all of the details, I went into the kitchen to grab my phone and the myriad of apps that are required to manage kids’ schedules these days. I returned to the table, and just as I sat and engaged my phone, I saw the headline “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87.”
Apparently I went pale and uttered “F@#%!” I looked up, and my kids were just staring wild-eyed at me. An F-bomb at the dinner table is not something they had experienced. My husband said “what happened?” We met eyes, and when I told him Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, he said “What? No. Oh Jesus.”
I was numb and had tears in my eyes. Nonetheless, I tried to gather the details at least for the following morning. Our kids were thoroughly confused. Why was mom swearing and crying because a judge died? And dad seems upset too.
Thankfully, my amazing husband took the lead in explaining the significance of what we just learned. Telling them how important Justice Ginsburg was to women and for protecting people who need it the most, always treating others the way we want to be treated – both of which are mantras that we have been repeating to our children since birth.
Our kids would come to learn a lot more about RBG in the days, weeks and months ahead.
After they finished eating and headed upstairs to get ready for bed, we turned on the news. That’s when the floodgates opened. Sitting with my husband on the couch, crying, I kept saying “we are so F$%&#@.” Not one of my more eloquent days.
I spent much of that night unable to sleep, glued to the television, my mind racing. During law school, I was fortunate to have met Justice Ginsburg and knew a great deal about her and her fight for equality. Her husband, Marty Ginsburg, was the foremost expert of corporate transactional tax law, which is what I practiced for nearly 20 years. For me, they were the coolest. I had the utmost respect for both of them and often thought how amazing it would have been to have dinner with them.
Shortly after the news broke of RBG’s passing, people began organizing a vigil for Justice Ginsburg at the Supreme Court. Although I desperately wanted and needed to pay my respects with our daughter, given the worsening pandemic, I did not want her in any large crowds. I decided to take her down after her early-morning basketball practice, before the crowds arrived.
The next day, the mood among the adults at the basketball practice was incredibly somber. It is all we could talk about. The atmosphere was eerily similar to that on the playground during school drop-off the morning after election night 2016 – when everyone was stunned and concerned. My husband and I had taken our kids with us to vote, and I have pictures of my then five-year old daughter and me casting my ballot for the first woman President. She was so proud and told anyone who would listen that she voted for “Hilly Clitton to be President after Rocco Bama.” To this day, my husband and I occasionally refer to them as “Hilly” and “Rocco.”
When basketball practice ended, my daughter and I headed down to the Supreme Court. We talked along the way about the wonderful things Justice Ginsburg had done and why they were so important to women.
Seeing my daughter confused about women not being treated equally brought me back to conversations I used to have with my mother. I used to get irate when my mom would say things like “it’s a man’s world, Nicole,” and I would argue that it was nonsense and dismiss her. Fast forward 30 years, and I understand that my mother, in her own way, was trying to warn me of what I was up against. It pained me that I was having this discussion with my daughter and could not say that gender inequality was no longer an issue, but merely a part of history.
We arrived at the Supreme Court around 11:00 am, and people already had started to arrive. It was a beautiful but crisp fall day, and we found a spot across the street where there were less people. It was so quiet that you would never know that there were a few hundred people around.
Although I could feel the collective weight of grief and fear of what would happen next, it felt so good to be there. We needed to be there.
My daughter and I sat together, and the silence occasionally would be broken by some of her incredibly thoughtful questions. “Mommy, was it hard for her to do be one of the first women?” “Did she do it for us?” “Why are women treated differently?” The best of all - “What happens now?”
I could not stop thinking about her last question. What was going to happen? We were in the midst of a pandemic that was spiraling out of control. Women were suffering. The presidential election was less than two months away, and there was a vacancy on the Supreme Court.
I had no idea what was going to happen. There remained so much work to do in the fight for gender equality. And our Champion was gone. Seeing the parade of horribles, I knew I had to do something. I had to fight like RBG did. But how?
Two days after RBG died, I found myself driving to Corolla, North Carolina. With the kids having virtual school and very limited activities, my husband and I decided it would be better for them (and us) to ride out what we had thought would be the worst of the pandemic in a more isolated part of the Outer Banks, where the kids could roam free, playing on the beach, surfing, playing basketball and baseball, riding bikes, etc. Anything to keep them from their electronic devices.
It was on that drive, talking and singing and laughing with my daughter, that I figured out what I was going to next. I looked at my daughter, yearning for her future to be free of gender discrimination, and realized I had to get involved in the 2020 elections.
I have never been into politics, but too much was at stake. Not only did we need to get the pandemic under control, but now, the next President would be filling RBG’s seat on the Supreme Court – or so I thought. After all, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not allow President Obama (aka Rocco) to nominate a Supreme Court Justice eight months before the 2016 Presidential Election, stating that the next President should do it.
Wow, was I wrong. Within a week of RBG’s death, then-President Trump nominated a conservative Supreme Court justice, which was supported by McConnell, despite the presidential election being less than six weeks away. How was this happening? Why wasn’t anyone fighting this hypocrisy, which had such catastrophic ramifications for women?
I immediately volunteered for the Biden Campaign, as well as the North Carolina Democrat Party and Cal Cunningham’s U.S. Senate Campaign. I worked phone banks, registered voters, texted voters, and in the days leading up to the elections, I canvassed all over northeastern North Carolina. Together, my daughter and I wrote hundreds of letters and postcards.
Immediately thereafter, I volunteered for the Warnock and Ossoff Campaigns to help them win the Georgia runoff elections. We already lost a seat on the Supreme Court, so I thought we had to gain the majority in the Senate to help our fight for gender equality. Again, I made calls, wrote letters and postcards, registered voters and worked social media.
When they both won, I was elated, naively believing that with a Democratic majority that things could get done to ensure equal rights for all genders. Unfortunately, the January 6th Insurrection, which occurred hours after their victories, and the continued Republican support for then-President Trump despite his involvement, made it crystal clear that federal legislation addressing gender inequality was not coming anytime soon.
The pandemic raged on in DC, so we remained in North Carolina until February. We quickly settled into our remote work and school, exercise and sports routine. In the fall, my daughter and I participated in the Run for RBG, logging 87 miles over six weeks. We would run or take walks on the beach together, and we managed to collect a fair amount of sea glass along the way. It was truly special, and we continued to do it even after we completed the 87 miles.
During this time, I read everything I could about gender inequality, bias, and the devastating toll the pandemic was taking on women. Having first-hand experience with gender discrimination and the gender pay gap, I knew exactly how to continue the fight without the help of the legislature or the courts.
Shortly after arriving back in DC, I founded Shattering Glass. I continue to fight for gender equality, like RBG did, every day, and her words echo for me – “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
All of our daughters - and their daughters - need us in the fight.