When Gabby Dietrich, a 29-year-old advocate at a sexual assault and rape crisis center in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, heard that 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been hospitalized yesterday, her stomach dropped.
“Yesterday’s news really hit me hard and scared me. There was a sense of desperateness,” she says. “There is so much importance in RBG staying on the Supreme Court, especially after the Kavanaugh appointment.”
An experienced community organizer, Dietrich quickly moved to unite friends and family and send positive energy Ginsburg’s way using the most efficient tool possible: Facebook. She called it the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Positive Energy Circle. Within a few clicks, she had begun spreading the good juju.
“I’ve been actually thinking about doing it for a little while, even before the incident. Now, I’m looking looking into organizing people in the group to sending cards, notes that say get well and ‘stay strong’ messages,” she says.
Savanna Lim, a 20-year-old undergrad student at Cornell (where Ginsburg received her undergrad degree in 1954) remembers the moment with similar shock. She was in her American Political Campaigns class scrolling through Twitter when she saw the news and started “freaking out.” She created the Facebook event Point to the Sky and yell “GET WELL SOON RBG” just moments later. The event was scheduled for three hours for next Tuesday, November 13, though like Dietrich’s event, it’s not actually happening in one place or at any specific time. It’s more of a symbolic gesture, explains Lim, a way to ease tensions with humor. (The event’s description implored guests to “GATHER UR BADDEST ✨THOTS AND PRAYERS✨ CUZ THE QUEEN NEEDS TO RECOVER.”) Within 24 hours it had over 5,000 members.
“We lived in the same dorm my freshman year, and obviously she’s an icon, a goddess on campus” says Lim. “A lot of ways that young people right now deal with complex emotional issues and controversial topics is through satire. Everybody is kind of antsy about this and really nervous, so I wanted just to make a ‘collective satirical grieving’ event.”
Lim notes that it seems to be a trend for people had her school and other universities to respond through social media. Not long ago a mutual Facebook friend created a group called Go to the TX Capitol and yell “Betoooooooo” to help him win. She acknowledges it may seem ridiculous or ineffective to some, but she believes the gesture is still important. “People love to feel a sense of community and I feel like that is what the event is doing. People have pointed out that it’s not going to do anything, but I feel like rallying people is pretty effective.”
Shana Knizhnik, the 30-year-old co-author of Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the founder of a blog that helped solidify Ginsburg in the hearts, minds, and memes of millennials, sees this type of internet outpouring as a coping mechanism.
“There isn’t that much that we can do from our computers or otherwise in terms of the composition of the Supreme Court, other than the obvious: working on campaigns, voting for senators, and trying to change the landscape of our Congress. If you can’t laugh at the dire straits that we are in as a country, then it’s hard to sometimes get out of bed,” she says.
“For young people the internet is how we express ourselves, how we connect with others that believe the same things we do, and the rallying around Ruth Bader Ginsburg is indicative of that. I think it’s partially just a matter of getting the word out there in a way that meets people where they are, and that the internet is a good form of not necessarily activism, but just information-sharing. And, if that is done in like a meme format? That’s cool, too.”
Of course, the outpouring of support on other social media platforms besides Facebook has been swift and vocal as well. Many of the responses are satirical, but rooted in deep and genuine concern. The 85-year-old justice was appointed in 1993 and is both the court’s oldest member and a critical presence: Should Ginsburg retire, the court’s ideological balance would likely shift conservative for years to come. Is a Facebook group called “Bubble-Wrap Ruth Bader Ginsburg” really the best way we can think of to cope? Is offering her part of your rib useful? Maybe.
When I ask Lim if she’s heard that RBG has been released from the hospital, the relief in her voice is audible.
“Oh good, she’s fine then,” she says, pausing for a few moments to let it sink in. “I’d like to think that my event helped spur some positive vibes her way.”