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Iowans Honor Justice Ginsberg In Cedar Rapids With Memories And Calls To Action

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her chambers in Washington, D.C.
Ariel Zambelich
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her chambers in Washington, D.C.

A few dozen Iowans gathered in a parking lot in the shadow of the federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids Saturday night to honor the life and legacy of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The vigil was marked by remembrances and calls to action.

Not even a global pandemic that has killed some 200,000 Americans could keep some Iowans from gathering to mourn Ginsburg the day after she died.

“When I heard the news last night, I was devastated,” said Stefanie Munsterman-Scriven, Executive Director of the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission. “I readily admit, I cried. I cried last night. I cried today. Deep within me, I feel fear. I feel fear of what may come.”

The crowd lit electric candles, a handful carrying homemade signs, or wearing decorative lace collars in the style of Ginsburg’s. A cultural icon who inspired women of all ages, she ushered in a legal revolution that simply “changed the way the world is for American women”, as NPR’s Nina Totenberg reports.

“[Her mother] raised her to see the world not as it is, but as it could be. And we are here today to honor that we live in the world that Ruth Bader Ginsburg imagined,” said Cedar Rapids columnist Lyz Lenz.

The death of the diminutive and dogged justice, only the second woman to sit on the nation’s highest court, has sent shock waves throughout the country, just weeks before an already bitterly contentious election.

Local, state and federal elected officials and local activists, all women, shared personal stories of how the justice helped pave their own way, as civic leaders and as women in tis country. And they called for action.

“She worked to create a path for us. More than a path, a highway really. One that’s wide and strong, and with big shoulders,” said state Sen. Liz Mathis.

From owning a credit card to running for public office, rights seen as basic and fundamental today were for so long privileges reserved for American men, primarily white men.

“A woman who would become one of the most powerful and influential women in American history had to work as a typist because men didn’t want to hire her,” said Lenz. “A wife and a mother, they thought her place was at home. But Ruth knew otherwise.”

Organizers voiced fears that hard-won rights for women and LGBTQ Americans could be eroded if Ginsburg is indeed replaced by a justice appointed by President Donald Trump.

He is rushing to fill the vacancy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged that the president’s nominee will get a hearing, though it’s not clear if that would happen before Election Day.

Organizers called on voters to honor Ginsburg’s legacy through political action, by organizing, phone banking and fundraising.

“I’m scared for our country. I’m scared for my friends and neighbors,” said state Rep. Liz Bennett. “But I committed to myself last night to do every single that thing I can do.”

Anne Salamon, a hospital pharmacist who lives in Cedar Rapids, says she was already calling U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office Friday night, after the news broke of Ginsburg’s death, wanting to know if he’ll honor the precedent he helped set in 2016, of not confirming a Supreme Court justice during an election year.

“The first thing I did when I got home, after taking the stuff in, was call Sen. Grassley’s office,” she said. “What are we going to do now, Chuck? Are you going to honor what you said so many years ago with Garlic…Garland? Does that apply still in this situation? Do you have any integrity?”

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst is also facing questions on how to move forward with the confirmation process, as she weathers a tough re-election. Recent polling has shown she is failing to win over two thirds of female voters and her support among some Trump supporters has eroded.

A Des Moines Register / Mediacom Iowa Poll released Saturday evening showed Democratic Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield was leading Ernst 46 percent to 43 percent overall. According to the poll, Ernst is failing to win over two thirds of female voters and her support among some Trump supporters has eroded.

Iowa Democrats hope revelations around Ginsburg’s passing, and the stakes of the open seat, will galvanize voters up and down the ticket.

Echoing a Jewish blessing for the dead, and a call to action made by Run For Something Executive Director Amanda Littman, multiple organizers told the crowd, “may her memory be a revolution."

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter