More than 160 candle flames flickered Saturday in Bloomington in memory of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ginsburg, who served as a justice on the Supreme Court for 27 years, died Friday at the age of 87 due to complications from pancreatic cancer.
“When I heard the news, I’m sure you all felt the same way I did… it was fear, right?” said vigil singer Sara Quah. “The news of her passing seemed like a blow in a different way.”
Saturday’s vigil was accompanied by a socially-distant crowd, poster boards, candidates and community leaders--and sorrow.
The new moon rose against the McLean County Law and Justice Center where women and girls sat on hills grieving the loss.
“Justice Ginsburg taught us to fight, no matter how high the hill is to climb, just start climbing,” said NAACP Bloomington-Normal branch President Linda Foster. “We know the power of injustices, and what it feels like.”
Many young girls looked up to their mothers and sisters, wondering who was Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
Going off the quote from Ginsburg, “Think back to 1787, who were ‘We’ the People? They certainly weren't women or those held in human bondage.”
McLean County Board Democratic candidate Jackie Gunderson thanked RBG for expanding that “We,” and RBG inspired her to lean into her power as a woman.
“She inspired me to fight for the things I care about,” said Gunderson.
“I am here because RBG is one of my heroes, and she has been for longer than I can remember,” said Gunderson. “As a female athlete, I have RBG to thank for Title IX.”
In 2005, Ginsburg helped the court majority find that Title IX allowed claims for retaliation by someone who had complained about sex discrimination.
“As a woman with a credit card, a bank account and mortgage in my name, I have RBG to thank,” said Gunderson. “As a happily married queer individual, my same-sex spouse and I have RBG to thank for fighting for marriage equality only five years ago.”
Ginsburg voted in favor of expanding LGBTQ rights, in cases on same-sex marriage and employment rights for gay and transgender workers.
“As a woman with the incredible honor of having my name on the ballot, I have RBG to thank for paving the way.”
Ginsburg upheld that reproductive health is included in women’s rights. In Roe v. Wade and abortion, she famously said that women have the fundamental right to make that choice for themselves.
“As a woman that was able to consent to my own medically necessary hysterectomy, I have RBG to thank for protecting reproductive health,” said Gunderson.
Foster came as a nonpartisan speaker, but encouraged the crowd to go out and vote like their lives depended on it.
“We talk about issues, and from issues we make determinations about what fits your values, “ said Foster. “Justice Ruth Ginsburg did a lot for us. She stepped out there and said and saw that the rules were not fair. The good thing is that she knew what she was stepping in for and she kept going for the rights and the equalities.”
Foster said Ginsburg faced and felt discrimination, but despite the put-downs she put in her effforts and worked. Foster said Ginsburg achieved the highest position in the judicial branch.
“That's saying something, when you come in and see what the history books are saying, ‘We aren’t supposed to be here.’ Just like these ladies here, the books don’t show them. The books will show them,” said Foster. “Ginsburg was a pioneer for women, but she was also fighting for men, even the men that were trying to put her down.”
The crowd applauded in remembrance of RBG’s accomplishments and academic achievements that included her fight for equal rights for all.
“As a woman, I come here owing a great debt to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I have benefited from her pioneering work,” said Unitarian Universalist Church minister Rebecca Gant. “She helped ensure that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment applied to all people, not just men.”
In attendance were many women with their name on the ballot in the November election, including Democrats Gunderson, Karla Bailey-Smith, Chemberly Cummings and Lea Cline.
“We have to be intentional about voting,” said Foster. “We cannot just assume, and we have to make sure we are telling all to vote.”
Foster then referenced the famous quote from Sarah Grimke, popularized by Ginsburg: “I ask no favor for my sex; all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
Gant’s church applies the same principles and values in faith. Being that of anti-racist, anti-oppressive and multicultural.
“We strive for justice in all we do. My faith teaches that all people have inherent worth and dignity,” said Gant. “When her side did not win, she did not give up. Instead, she put on that famous collar and she wrote brilliant, incisive dissents.”
Cummings, a Normal Town Council member who is running for the Illinois House, said sometimes fighting on all fronts makes you weary. But in celebrating the life of Ginsburg, Cummings urged the crowd to move forward so the progress RBG made does not flicker away.
“No matter what we are living her legacy, her dream, her vision of what it would look like when more women would lead and be seen as equal,” said Cummings. “Our fight has not ended. This is still a fight we fight today.”
Vigil organizer Karla Chandler-Huffman arranged for the song “Imagine” by John Lennon to be sung, while those in the dark lit the candles provided by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington.
Beside the microphone were two potted purple orchids, which are associated with love, fertility and sexuality--a fitting flower to remember the champion of women.
Ginsburg was said to have been a quiet woman, but as the song swelled out of Quah, you could hear the echoes of Ginsburg’s speeches.
“She was a champion of women, a champion of Black lives and all people of color, a champion of immigrants, a champion of the LBTQ community, a champion of religious freedom, she was a fighter,” said Chandler-Huffman. “It is about mourning RBG, but it’s also about carrying on her fight.”
Editor's Note: This story has been changed to reflect the composer of "Imagine" is John Lennon, not Elton John, and that it was the new moon on the night of the vigil, not the full moon.
We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.