A Humble and Unscripted Tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Ellen Goldstein

Americans often experience national mourning moments and rituals in the same expected and organized manner:  a lowering of flags, a brief and moving speech by our president, perhaps a ceremony at the National Cathedral.  But perhaps the most moving and cathartic moments are those that are unscripted and spontaneous – think of the bipartisan chorus of Congressional Members singing “America the Beautiful” on the steps of the Capitol immediately following the 9-11 attacks.  Or when President Bush shouted into his bull-horn after his microphone failed while visiting the rubble that was once the World Trade Center.  These are perhaps moments remembered best by Americans –more memorable perhaps than the scripted speeches and ceremonies crafted by dozens of dedicated staff toiling for hours to create programs of organized national grief.

Thus it was in the hours and days following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  The very evening of her death – Friday September 18th, the beginning of the Jewish New Year – hundreds of people, mostly women young and old, started gathering at the Supreme Court to honor and grieve for one of the most respected and beloved jurists of modern America.

But it didn’t cease that Friday evening. Up until the body of Justice Ginsburg arrived at the Court five days later, thousands and thousands of ordinary Americans came from all over the Washington metropolitan area – and from well beyond – to pay their respects. The massive spontaneous outpouring was led by women with their girlfriends, their sisters, and with their boyfriends, husbands, brothers and fathers in tow – along with their very young children, often bringing flowers and signs to express their quiet reverence.

As so often happens, the humble and unscripted tribute to Justice Ginsberg demonstrated how Americans so often come to the monumental core of our Democracy in Washington DC to express their sorrow, their joy, their outrage, and their hopes.  It was cathartic for so many mourners just to be there.  And maybe there’s hope that this will translate into something more than appreciation for a great jurist.

• Ellen Goldstein is a member of the Board of the National Mall Coalition

Photo Gallery: Tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg