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caption: As people gather at the Supreme Court on the day after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rosio Marin of Washington, left, comforts a close friend who declined to give her name, as they mourn the loss of one of the court's liberal justices, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020 in Washington.
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As people gather at the Supreme Court on the day after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rosio Marin of Washington, left, comforts a close friend who declined to give her name, as they mourn the loss of one of the court's liberal justices, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020 in Washington.
Credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

It’s heartbreaking that RBG passes as record numbers of women fall out of the workforce

As for so many, the news of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing hit like a punch in the gut.

My wife, son and I were curled up under blankets on the couch for movie night — we were tired but feeling optimistic because we are starting to get some routine around school.

After refusing to join any video calls for the first two weeks of school — leaving us with the fear that we’d either have to force a shrieking child in front of a screen or give up on most school altogether — he’d conquered his fear and made it onto video all week (in no small part thanks to his teachers going above and beyond to help him and us).

I saw the news first and gasped — my wife quickly searching to confirm. “Did she really die?” I said.

“Who died?!” My son blurted out, sensing our fear.

“Yes.”

The fact that our emotional reaction to things shapes how our son will respond has been a daunting reality since coronavirus changed our lives — we’ve seen our anxiety and depression manifest in his behaviors. We’ve tried hard to take care of ourselves so we could be better for him — to create fun and lightheartedness while we feel fatigue and despondent.

“It’s someone we really admire who has helped our country,” my wife explained calmly to our son.

We regrouped and shuffled him to bed. I hugged him tight as he fell asleep.

***

This hits hard for so many — but I can really only think of the moms right now. How much have moms (and all caretakers) endured over the last six months — many going into lockdown already operating on a thin margin.

The fact that our foremost champion of equal pay and equal rights has passed — creating the opportunity for a fraudulently earned majority on the highest court opposed to equality and rights — at a time when record numbers of women are falling out of the work force… it feels like a cruel joke.

Record closures in childcare will dictate a fate for so many parents for years to come, just as an anti-equality majority on the court would.

Mass unemployment among women of color will shape this generation of kids and families just as a white supremacist supreme court would.

The fact that the majority of my fellow white women voted for this President in the first place has already set ours and our kids’ generations back for decades.

***

The very people who will fight the hardest to protect our democracy are the ones who’ve already spent their surge capacity several times over.

For so many families, the beginning of the school year has not made anything easier — in fact, it’s gotten even harder. The schedule, compared to the spring, is robust — a nearly full day broken into 20 minute segments. Yet again we seem to be moving on from this debate. NYC schools have postponed reopening while restaurants are being cleared to do so. In DC where I live, school is all virtual but restaurants are bustling.

The point is not that this situation is impossible for parents — though that is a point worth making again and again and again. The point is that the burden is disproportionately falling on women, and women of color in particular. And that’s a big problem for our democracy.

Women have been the backbone or progressive resistance since Trump was elected. And in every election in my lifetime, black women have been the cornerstone of democratic organizing and will be who Joe Biden has to thank if he is victorious in November.

How much more can be asked of the people who are carrying so much burden of our society? We are keeping our kids healthy and educated and healing our communities and protecting our democracy — because the government abdicated its responsibility to do so.

***

RBG said, “Women will only have true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

This morning after I woke up seized by depression and paralysis, I ate my feelings in Rosh Hashanah food and thought about this new year — it’s starting less optimistically than we hoped, but also, maybe, like a baton being passed.

I don’t doubt that we will keep fighting. Because it’s our families and our country on the line.

Chloe I. Cooney is an advocate & writer focused on feminist movement building, global health and human rights.