Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 October 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: US left galvanised by death of icon

Ginsburg made her name in the 1970s by bringing down a series of laws that discriminated against women

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg sounded a warning for American progressives, thousands of whom – wracked with ever-deepening concern for the future – gathered on Saturday outside the Supreme Court in Washington to honour the late justice.

As evening fell with a sudden September chill, a stream of families and young people gathered for a second night – only 45 days before the US presidential election is held – to pay homage to a renowned progressive figure, affectionately referred to as RBG.

"Ruth, I didn't know you, but you affected my life in many ways," says one of many letters placed at the foot of the court building, among flowers, rainbow flags and Ginsburg bobblehead figurines.

A choir performed a concert, singing songs such as John Lennon's Imagine, as mourners lit candles and organisations representing liberal causes such as Black Lives Matter, gun reform and pro-choice groups handed out shirts, signs and stickers.

"This marks a seismic shift in the course for justice for our generation and will have a permanent effect on the history of what Generation Z does," gun reform activist David Hogg, who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018, told AFP.

Earlier, Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris wended her way discreetly to the front of the crowd.

"RBG was one of my pioneers, an icon, a fighter. She was a woman in every way," she told AFP.

Ginsburg made her name in the 1970s by bringing down a series of laws that discriminated against women.

Nominated to the country's highest court in 1993, she spent her 27-year tenure there defending the rights of immigrants, among other groups, establishing herself unequivocally as a champion of the American left.

A banner with flowers form part of a makeshift memorial outside the US Supreme Court as people pay their respects to Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Washington, DC. AFP
A banner with flowers form part of a makeshift memorial outside the US Supreme Court as people pay their respects to Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Washington, DC. AFP

Ms Harris's running mate and US President Donald Trump's opponent, Joe Biden, is struggling to drum up great enthusiasm among progressive voters, owing to his centrist views and age. He is 77.

But Ginsburg's death, in a country already on edge, could well galvanise them to his side.

Elizabeth Warren, a senator for Massachusetts, addressed mourners from a podium and said: "This fight has just begun."

The challenge will be to prevent the doyenne of the Supreme Court from being replaced with her ideological opposite, since Mr Trump has preselected very conservative candidates.

"Thank you for teaching us how to fight," Gina Eppolito wrote in chalk on the pavement outside the imposing white marble building in the US capital, a city known for its progressivism.

A mother of two 11-year-olds, Ms Eppolito said she was concerned that rights acquired during her generation – particularly the right to abortion – might not be passed on to her children.

With Ginsburg's death at the age of 87, the US Supreme Court could become conservative for a long time.

That sparked fears among those who gathered outside the court.

"We are in an extremely vulnerable position," Ms Eppolito said.

Pam Crescenzo, 60, could not hold back tears as she spoke.

"If the courts continue to tilt to the right, it's really going to be a difficult time to be a woman in America," she said.

To her right, a group of people read out a Hebrew prayer. Ginsburg was born to a Jewish family in New York and died on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, one of the most holy days in Judaism.

In a sign of the deep divisions in the US, a man wearing a black suit came to the court to praise Mr Trump. He was roundly booed by the crowd.

Many of the young people there also wanted to thank Ginsburg and to promise they would take up her fight.

"We have a lot of work to do and a lot of fighting to do in the next 45 days," said Kiley Boland, 25.

"It's on us now. She can rest. We got this."

Updated: September 20, 2020 08:03 PM

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