Since Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death Sept. 18, politicians, family members and fans of the renowned legal mind have been flocking to Washington, D.C., to pay their respects to the jurist. And that includes a Charlotte mother-and-daughter pair.
Last Friday, Erin Brighton was at home folding laundry, and her 15-year-old daughter, Julia, was sitting on her bed. Their quiet evening got turned upside down when news alerts started to buzz. Their shared role model, Ginsburg, had died.
They realized Ginsburg was 87 and had survived battles with cancer in the past, but it still came as a shock, Brighton said.
“Reality did not play into our vision,” she said. “She was going to live forever.”
On Saturday, they realized their day was wide open — and there was going to be a vigil outside the Supreme Court for Ginsburg. Why not make the six-hour drive to D.C.?
“I love that she loves Justice Ginsburg as much as I did when I was younger,” Erin Brighton said of Julia. “I think her generation is really appreciating what she’s done for women and the importance of taking what she’s done and laying the groundwork for the future. I love that she wanted to do it with me — not every 15-year-old wants to hang out with their mom.”
As Erin Brighton drove, Julia searched for a hotel room on her mom’s phone — that’s how impromptu this trip was. They knew their destination, and that was about it.
Both mother and daughter admired Ginsburg’s passion and resiliency and felt empowered by her determination. On the ride up, Julia said, they talked about Ginsburg’s legacy.
“We were talking about some of the cases she had at the Supreme Court and the lasting effect they’ve had and promoting gender equality and everything she’s done for our country,” Julia said.
Julia’s interest in Ginsburg has meant a lot to Erin Brighton, who said she looked up to Ginsburg for years.
“She became a justice while I was in high school, so she’s been a role model for me almost my whole life,” she said. “I remember my grandmother being so proud of Justice Ginsburg being appointed to the Supreme Court. And for me, my grandmother was a feminist icon of my own, in my own small world.”
When they got to the vigil, there were candles, dogs, babies in strollers and people young and old. They listened to politicians like U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren offer reflections on Ginsburg’s legacy.
Like so many others, they brought signs. Julia held one that read “Women Belong In All Places Where Decisions Are Being Made,” a memorable quote Ginsburg once said. Both mother and daughter were impressed by the number of people wearing masks and keeping their social distance. There was a peaceful vibe in the air, Julia said. People were sad but also wanted to celebrate Ginsburg’s life.
“To be sad now but to not dwell on it and to move past this and kind of use it as a force to continue to make change in her name,” Julia said.
It was important to both mother and daughter to actually be in Washington to remember Ginsburg and to represent people in Charlotte.
“D.C. can be disconnected from us and real people, and I think it’s important for my children to be in D.C. and see where these decisions are being made and just show up,” Erin Brighton said.
Julia has her learner’s permit, but her mother hopes that when she can drive on her own, she’ll go for more impromptu road trips to support the causes and people she believes in.
“I’d love if she takes me with her, but that she feels she can do it own her own and with her own friends and set the tone for her peers,” Erin Brighton said.
“I think I’m going to definitely look back on this trip as a positive experience where I got to be in the center of it all and I got to see everybody come together after such a tragic event and move past it to continue to influence the future generations,” Julia added.
The trip was quick. They were back in the car Sunday. Julia had a lifeguarding shift she needed to make it back to, not to mention school the following day.
But the impression it made on both mother and daughter was lasting. And it’s one that they’ll hold onto as we inch closer toward a contentious election while we wait to see who will win the presidential race and who will be appointed to succeed the “Notorious R.B.G.”
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