RBG

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By: 
Michelle Phillips

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) was a champion for human rights, those of women, minorities and the LBGT community. She was one of a small handful of women accepted at Harvard Law School in the early 1960s before transferring to Columbia Law School, something that was unheard of at the time.

I was 26 years old when she was appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), and remember it was a big deal because she was only the second female Supreme Court Justice and the first female Jewish justice. At that time, she was considered a moderate, and had previously been appointed to an appeals court in the District of Columbia by President Jimmy Carter. As the SCOTUS shifted to the right, she became a more liberal voice on the court and would often dissent.

Probably her biggest accomplishment, in my opinion, was in 1972 when she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project as attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The work she did at the ACLU between 1972 and 1976 helped to foster inclusion and end gender discrimination.

For all her work, it took years before gender discrimination would end in many areas, and still, today there are places where individuals are discriminated against because of gender.

One such incident of gender discrimination that I personally experienced was in 1980. I was 13 years old at the time. My mother and stepfather, Tom, had been living in London (Tom was stationed there in the Navy), and I was still living with my grandparents in Michigan. 

Tom was about to be discharged and my mom had come back to Michigan ahead of him. She was tasked with finding a place to live, get a job and buy a car. The latter of which proved to be difficult.

I went into the Ford dealer with my mom and aunt, and she picked out a car. We then went inside to complete the loan application. My aunt had come to co-sign, if necessary, since my mom didn’t have residency in Michigan. I remember the salesman saying, “Okay, ladies, now I will just need your husbands to sign the application.”

I have to say, this was the first time I remember such blatant discrimination. I come from a long line of strong, independent women, who always told me I could do or be anything I wanted. Apparently, I could not purchase a car without a man, though. 

This lit a fire deep inside my soul, perhaps, RBG felt a similar burning need to end practices that discriminated against Americans simple because of gender. It was at that point that I knew I had to call out discrimination wherever I saw it.

Interestingly, a few years later, 1983, I had a high school teacher who would make us keep a journal and pose questions each day. When we moved to Madison, I came across the journals (I almost never threw away anything that I wrote), and one of the entries was “How would things be different if you were the opposite sex?” 

My response was: “If I were a boy, I would not have to deal with sexual discrimination from Mr. Karabetsos.”

Now, I don’t remember what my history teacher had said or done that I deemed discriminatory, but I clearly was not having any of it. Maybe RBG had a Mr. Karbestsos that fueled her desire for gender equality.

Regardless of what caused RBG to fight for the rights of others, we are all better off for it. 

In 1985, I bought my first car, all by myself. No co-signer, and certainly no patriarch to back up my loan. It may have taken a while for the changes to come after RBG fought for them for the ACLU, but the changes did come, and if it weren’t for her, I may not be able to have a credit card, get a loan or choose my own path in life. Those were all things that were inhibitive for her generation, and like any great visionary and leader, she worked to change that which she could not tolerate. 

I salute you Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You were a true champion for all Americans. May your legacy live on as we continue to work toward the equitable society we all deserve. 

Godspeed.

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