RBG IRL

Meeting RBG was literally unreal.

One minute I’m standing in the crowd and the next I’m quite literally kneeling before her.

The room is packed full of incredible people with important contributions to our community: President of Shaw University Dr Paulette Dillard, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Court of Appeals Judge Allegra Collins, former Raleigh Mayor Tom Bradshaw (like, for whom the Beltline is named), Representative Allison Dahle, FLONC Kristin Cooper, Chamber of Commerce President Adrienne Cole, Dr Assad Meymandi (like, for whom the building we stand in is named!) And somehow I end up sitting beside her.

It would be remiss not to pause and acknowledge the privilege of everyone in this room, especially myself. It’s a gathering of decision-makers, people with power, who are now falling apart at their own current proximity to power. After all RBG does hold one of most prominent seats of influence in our country: SCOTUS. Those of us here must use the energy of this moment to show up for folks without access to such an opportunity. I’ve had the privilege to meet incredible people over the years. I work really hard to channel that access into my passion for politics, and into building AFAR in service of our mission to increase access to local government. With privilege comes responsibility, most notably diversifying access to “the room where it happens” - just like RBG did for women in America.

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I’m nervous about what to say, but thankfully did not need to stress long. These women, a Mayor and a Supreme Court Justice, are familiar with this dance. Meanwhile, I’m over here trying not to panic with conflicting thoughts: must listen, must be respectful, must be present in the moment…. must take a picture!!! It’s hard not to fan girl out! Earlier today I was joking about bottling the air she breathes and now I am in her immediate presence. Her greeting is a nod and a smile. I just want to hug her neck, but that’s certainly not the vibe. She’s in her own orbit. It’s been said she is from another era, and I have to agree. Her delicate lace gloves are everything. She carries a dainty white clutch. Her pale blue earrings are clip on. I can’t imagine touching her, plus am neurotic about protecting her from germs. Did everyone get their flu swab at the door? Her frailty can’t be overlooked by someone who spends the majority of their time caring for elderly people. But let’s put a pin in that train of thought for now.

The conversation lasted two minutes, maybe three minutes
Ev'rything we said in total agreement
It's a dream and it's a bit of a dance
A bit of a posture, it's a bit of a stance.

- Angelica Schuyler, Hamilton.

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Next thing I know I’m explaining AFAR to RBG! My mom shares the organization’s mission to engage families together political advocacy and participation. “We believe that civic engagement is a family value” I say with pride, and she nods in agreement. I tell her about Civic Kids’ Story Hour when Judge Sam Hamadani read “I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark” The kids got to learn about how one becomes a judge, try on the robe and we made lace collars. She listens intently, though we are surrounded by chaos. I can’t even imagine how many thousands of people have shared similar stories with her. She’s a literal pop culture icon. I remember her laughing in the movie “I’m [86] and everyone wants to take a picture with me”. Then of course I’m that girl, but I don’t care because this moment is epic.

She asks me if I have heard about iCivics which I’m secretly embarrassed to say that I have not. She goes on to briefly explain the program as a resource for civics education, then encourages us to check it out and incorporate into our work. I answer with a slew of “Yes m’ams.” [Mental note - I think RBG just gave me homework!] My mom and I wrap it up both gushing “it’s an honor to meet you” and “thank you for your service to our country” and “thank you for everything you’ve done” and “thank you for coming to Raleigh, we are honored to have you” and I think probably one more “thank you” just because. Her eyes are kind, though she’s clearly familiar with our fussing and well-wishes.

Turns out, the iCivics program was founded by the first female Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Who interestingly was also a 1991 guest of this Meredith College lecture series, along with other prestigious people like Elie Wiesel and President Jimmy Carter. Named for another influential teacher and woman of small stature, the Lillian Parker Wallace Lecture series was endowed by the Meredith College Class of 1971. The full official recap of her conversation this evening can be found here.

I’m insanely blown away by the opportunity to be in the presence of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And if you are still reading, I appreciate your interest and indulging me in this debrief. I wanted to capture my story to share with my daughter one day. I hope you will also share with your daughters the story of RBG and her contributions to shaping the world as we know it. I’m grateful. I’m humbled. I’m in awe. She is fierce. She is tiny. She is divine.

~ Katie Mac Thompson

AFAR Founding Mother

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