Dear Justice Ginsberg,
As I write this letter to you, I am filled with grief. It has taken me two days to reconcile for myself what I’ve been feeling about your passing. Now I am ready and I write you this letter to express my feelings and my gratitude. As I write, my grief is turning into anger.
Really! Why did you have to fight so hard? Why couldn’t all those men simply see your worth? Why wouldn’t they employ you after you graduated from Columbia Law School? Why? Why? Why? Why has it been acceptable in our country for women to have to fight for every right, every liberty that the white men granted themselves upon its founding? Why couldn’t Sandra Day O’Connor, who was at the top of her class at Stanford find a paying job out of school? Why did it take 51 years for women to get the right to vote in this country? 51 years of fighting for a right to have a voice! Why did my mother have to fight so hard for equality in the work world? Why did I have to battle sexism in my corporate role where men were given all the latitude to lead but where qualified, educated women leaders needed to ask permission and were told to be less visible!? Have the men ever been told that? You can bet not.
In your own words, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
We talk about the United States as being the beacon of freedom around the world. But that is not true. It’s been 40 years since we lost the fight on the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which you know well, Justice, is a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. It seeks to end the legal distinctions between men and women in terms of divorce, property, employment, and other matters. Still, only 38 states have passed the ERA. Just as women took over 50 years to get the right to vote in the United States, we, like the suffragists, will never give up.
The suffragists had to confront the male-dominated political system and frankly other women for half a century! It makes me sad that not all women supported the suffragists, but today all women benefit from their struggle and persistence. Some women slammed doors in their faces and criticized them for their activism. But the suffragists pushed, and they prevailed.
Pitting women against women will not propel our society forward. And yet, you have only been gone two days and the out-of-touch men running the Senate and the White House insist on filling your seat before the upcoming election. It is hypocrisy at its worst. The President says he will nominate a woman and that we should simply accept that nomination because, well, she is a woman. His approach treats women as objects. It is not about simply appointing a woman. It is about appointing female justices that stand on the side of equality and social justice, and that have a track record of defending the freedoms of all Americans.
The President is using your death to further divide us. It is the oldest trick in the book. Divide the women because they are too powerful once they unite. Well, in your name, we are uniting as many women as we can to carry out your legacy.
Discrimination against smart, capable women has been the norm. Your suffering and the discrimination you faced was so unnecessary, but you were a chosen one. It happened to you, and you did not stand for it on behalf of all women. You took on the system and you had courage. You were also more qualified than most of your male counterparts. It’s why the collective “they” tried to keep you down, tried to hold you back. I call it the Tall Poppy Syndrome. But you would have none of that! You were fearless and you were right, which is a great combination.
To stand on the right side of history and to do that without fear is remarkable. I hope you realize, Justice Ginsberg, you were remarkable. You were unique. You were an absolute hero. Not just an American hero, but a global hero. You should know there is a groundswell of support coming from all around the world for you, and more specifically for who you were, what you did, how you did it, and what you represented for so many people who are still not equal in the eyes of the law and in the hands of government, business and society.
Still today around the world women and girls are not treated equally in the eyes of the law. They are not given equal access to education, credit, and property. Women suffer in a cycle of poverty because of systemic inequality. You in your life, and now upon your death, are part of a revolution to surpass and overcome the patriarchy once and for all.
Justice Ginsberg, you were about the height of my mother. My mom is 5’0" tall and 78 years old. People always called her tiny, but she, like you confronted the unbalanced system her entire life. I spoke with her by phone this morning. We were both emotional and talking about you and your leadership legacy. I wish the two of you had met. She is the woman who marches in the streets for the rights of all people. Yes, I am the daughter of a peace and social justice activist who protested many times on the steps of the Supreme Court. She was also a public-school teacher. And my mother taught me about you. She taught me about many strong women. She taught me about Sojourner Truth, Dorothy Day, Gloria Steinem, Maya Angelou, and Eleanor Roosevelt. By sharing your story and the story of other women, she was teaching me the fundamentals of humanity, and most importantly she was teaching me to stand up for myself so that I could stand up for others. Justice Ginsberg, that is what you have taught us, which is to never stop standing up for equality and for citizens who do not have access and privilege.
You were articulate in explaining it, “I don’t say women’s rights — I say the constitutional principle of the equal citizenship stature of men and women.”
Justice, you went to Cornell many years before I did. I wonder if we somehow walked on the same path. Did I walk the same patch of earth that you did? I am sure of it. I know we have had differing paths in life, but we have been on the same path as women. And I am grateful you chose the path that you did. You chose to stay on the path of equality and not yield. You chose the more difficult route, but in life and in death you are rewarded for your strength and stamina.
You were sick and you gave the world your absolute best your entire life, and indeed it was your time. But for many of us, we just wanted more of you. We know you held on for the election. We know that.
Now we are left without you, heartbroken and rightfully concerned. Without the ERA and no Constitutional norm except for the rulings of the Supreme Court, we could revert to another, darker era unless we continue to have leaders in the Courts, Congress, and in the Executive who understand the trajectory of history.
RBG, I am going to take my anger and turn it into action. It was your time to go and it is our time to hold our leaders accountable.
My letter to you culminates in two simple words: Thank you.
In unwavering admiration,
Devry Boughner Vorwerk, September 20, 2020, Excelsior, Minnesota