Voting is much more than a simple act of political participation every year. Voting is a sacred concept that has been theorized and defended for centuries. For people living in a democracy, and in order to keep that democracy alive, you must vote. Everyone has heard the call to vote be repeated numerous times, but I feel often it falls on deaf ears. We all read it on our politically active friend’s Instagram stories, we hear it from politicians, and from activists. Most people think: “yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll vote, don’t worry…I don’t know how to, but I will!” But let’s give voting some context.
In the United States, the democracy this article is focused on, this year’s election is the most consequential election many of us have seen in our lifetimes. It is paramount that in such a volatile year, in the middle of a pandemic, economic recession, and increasingly dangerous climate changes, those with the ability to vote in the United States do so. Many of us are fortunate enough to have the resources to avoid the immediate impacts of these issues, but the majority of people are not. These are the people we must keep in mind while voting.
It’s a mysterious concept—and a difficult one to truly understand—that our lives are all intertwined. I try to avoid beginning a piece of writing with such an existential concept, but it is important to look outside oneself and view things on a larger scale. The humbling, yet daunting idea that while we are all so incredibly small yet enormously interconnected is one worth discussing, especially in 2020. In understanding this concept, it’s important to understand those who came before us. The heroes who fought within our democracy to make sure it worked for everyone and was representative of everyone.
On Friday, the 18th of September, one of those heroes left this earth.
Just as I got into bed that day, my phone jolted. A BBC News notification appeared across my lock screen in a way that felt piercing. It read, “US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies, aged 87, after suffering from pancreatic cancer.” The first word that comes to mind that describes this moment for me is dreadful. My heart sank as I read the headline and thought of the giant we had just lost.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg left behind a legacy of determination, persistence, and hardwork. She created a legal landscape in the United States that lead to huge advancements in women’s rights and set a precedent on how the constitution should be interpreted in discrimination cases. Her tireless work throughout her career cannot be encapsulated in a few words, but is conveyed through an understanding of the legal fabric that exists within the United States today. Before joining the Supreme Court, she attacked “the most pervasive stereotype in the law – that men are independent and women are men’s dependents.” Through tough interrogations and brilliant dissents, RBG’s time on the Supreme Court resulted in her own status as a cultural icon, leading her to be commonly referred to as the “Notorious RBG.” Ginsberg was a stalwart litigator in the liberal block of the Supreme Court against the increasingly conservative majority.
Ginsburg’s accomplishments include:
- Eliminating legal work-place discrimination based on gender.
- Getting women the right to be pregnant/have kids and not be fired from her job.
- Neutralizing the language used in the law, providing more equal opportunities for men and women.
- Permitting men, through this neutralization, to become caregivers, nurses, etc.
- Making sure that men and women get equal preference in estate disputes.
- Securing women the right to take out a mortgage without the co-signature of a man.
- Successfully arguing it unconstitutional to apply different standards to military spousal benefits for men and women.
- Successfully advocating for widowers to get Social Security benefits after a spouse’s death.
- Making it easier for women to serve jury duty.
- Striking down the male-only admission policy at the Virginia Military Institute.
- Permitting women to be able to give a man a haircut and have the same drinking age.
Ginsburg was in the liberal minority on the Supreme Court. Her dissents on the court were some of her most notable moments:
- Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company (2007). Ginsburg dissented in the case, which created a strict time limit for bringing workplace discrimination suits. Congress overturned the decision after Ginsburg called on them to do so.
- Bush vs. Gore (2000). Ginsberg dissented in the 5-4 decision that won Bush the 2000 election. She called the decision, which decided there wasn’t enough time for a recount in Florida, an untested prophecy that should not decide the president of the United States.
- Gonzales v. Carhart (2007). This decision confirmed the consitutionality of a law Congress passed banning late-term abortion. Ginsburg called it an “effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this court – and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives.”
- Shelby County v. Holder (2013). Ginsburg dissented the 5-4 ruling that struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act, allowing Southern States to make voting changes. Ginsburg equated the ruling to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
- Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores (2014). Ginsburg dissented the decision that family-owned and other closely held companies are not forced to provide healthcare that covers birth control. Ginsberg expressed fear that the court had “ventured into a minefield.”
Her passing holds many implications and concerns for the future.
The immediate and obvious political implication is the ideological balance on the Supreme Court. If President Trump is allowed to appoint another conservative judge, the Supreme Court, the United States’ highest court, would slant conservative for generations to come. This threatens the overturning of marriage equality, a woman’s right to an abortion, and other important civil liberties.
However, in my opinion, while it is important to keep this idea in mind when voting, the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg compels a commitment to democracy that transcends even the balance of the nation’s highest court.
A Brooklynite, a first-generation American, and a cultural trailblazer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was revolutionary. She became a lawyer after attending both Harvard and Columbia Law Schools, graduating top of her class from the latter. She became a lawyer at a time when women were not wanted in the legal profession. However, she was dissatisfied with simply making advancements for herself — she wanted to bring others with her. When someone knocks down barriers, they do so so that others can move through life without having to face those barriers themselves. Ginsburg’s work paved the way for countless other women as she used her skills and fought battles others could not. Ginsburg embodies the very reason we vote. We vote to better not only our own lives, but the lives of those close to us, in our communities, and in our country.
The Supreme Court’s future is undecided at the moment. Ginsburg’s passing wish was that the next President select her replacement. Voting ensures that that can happen. I’m not writing this to encourage you to vote any which way, for that is your decision to make, but it’s a decision you must make while informed. Vote with those less fortunate in mind. Vote as if the house you see burning on the West coast were your own home. Vote as if the civil liberties women and LGBTQ+ people are afraid of losing were your own. Vote so that the future is better for those who are going to come after you. If you cannot vote in the United States, encourage those who can to do so with this in mind. I also urge you to keep this in mind when you vote in your own country.
In addition, make sure you are registered to vote: https://www.vote.org/
If you are planning to vote from abroad, click here: https://www.votefromabroad.org/
Several states offer the option to email your ballot.
Some states need you to mail your ballot back to the states, you can drop off your marked ballot in the proper envelope at the US Embassy.
It bears repeating, this year’s election is one of the most consequential in decades. Your voice is important regardless of where you live. Even if you live in the most Republican or Democratic districts, your local, state, Congressional, and federal vote makes a difference. Voting is using your voice. Silence is complacency. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was anything but complacent.
I would be remiss to end this piece without this final word: Vote.