Hundreds Gather in the Castro to Honor the Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Approximately 500 people gathered in the Castro for a candlelit vigil to honor the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sep. 18, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Hundreds of mourners gathered in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco Friday night for a candlelit vigil honoring the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday of complications from cancer at age 87.

Many attendees rushed to Harvey Milk Plaza on less than one hour’s notice — alerted by social media posts and an email from organizer Manny Yekutiel, owner of the community space Manny’s in the Mission.

Those assembled described feeling numb and in disbelief at Ginsburg’s passing.

“I think a lot of us felt like, ‘Well, as long as RBG is there, we’re gonna be good, we’re gonna be good’,” said San Francisco resident Shawn Rosenmoss. “Now I’m a little lost, which is why I’m here.”

Betty Doerr brought her Ruth Bader Ginsburg figurine that she bought at Cliff's Variety to the candlelit vigil in Ginsburg's honor on Sep. 18, 2020.
Betty Doerr brought her Ruth Bader Ginsburg figurine that she bought at Cliff's Variety to the candlelit vigil in Ginsburg's honor on Sep. 18, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Although there were few tears, every speech of the night contained an impassioned plea to continue fighting for the late Justice’s gains.

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Pastor Megan Rohrer led the assembled group in singing the folk song “Singing for Our Lives” by Holly Near. Rohrer, a transgender pastor who ministers in the Sunset district, said that when their wife told them the news, they were distraught.

“The feeling is just when you didn’t think you could have more fear and doubt about what might be happening next in the world, another thing happens and makes you wonder,” they said. “Not knowing what’s going to happen next becomes a source of fear once again.”

The evening’s impromptu program also featured two Hebrew prayers to honor Ginsburg, who was Jewish, on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the start of Jewish New Year.

The candlelit vigil in honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg made its way from Harvey Milk Plaza to the Human Rights Campaign Action Center and Store where there were several speakers. The building was once home to Harvey Milk's camera shop, Castro Camera.
The candlelit vigil in honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg made its way from Harvey Milk Plaza to the Human Rights Campaign Action Center and Store where there were several speakers. The building was once home to Harvey Milk's camera shop, Castro Camera. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The Castro, a predominately LGBT neighborhood, seemed a fitting location due to the contributions the late justice made to that community.

“For the LGBTQ community — for us — elections and the courts are a matter of life and death,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, who attended the gathering and ensuing march. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped create so much of the modern civil rights framework legally. There will never be another like her.”

The group of 200 swelled to more than 500 and slowly marched toward the site of Harvey Milk’s former camera shop on Castro Street. Wiener and District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman along with activist Cleve Jones led the march, flanked by signs reading “RBG” and “We Won’t Let You Down, RBG.” Diners sitting outdoors on the busy street stopped to watch, with many applauding.

Gillian Reid holds a Ruth Bader Ginsburg candle during a vigil in her honor in the Castro on Sep. 18, 2020.
Gillian Reid holds a Ruth Bader Ginsburg candle during a vigil in her honor in the Castro on Sep. 18, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Mandelman said he had “been a mess” since he heard the news. He said the Justice’s legacy “is very much up to us over these last two months,” stressing the importance of keeping President Trump from appointing Ginsburg’s successor.

That sentiment was echoed by Wiener, who called Ginsburg a “hero,” and emphasized the need to “fight to make sure Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell don’t steal this election.”

As for Rosenmoss, she pointed to her two daughters — one in medical school, one applying to law school — as carrying on Ginsburg’s legacy. More broadly, Rosenmoss gestured to the battles that Ginsburg fought “in her life to be an attorney and a mom and a married person. It’s really sad that we have to, every day, keep fighting those fights.”

Stephan Ferris lights a candle for Cleve Jones during a vigil to honor the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the Castro on Sep. 18, 2020.
Stephan Ferris lights a candle for Cleve Jones during a vigil to honor the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the Castro on Sep. 18, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Speakers urged those assembled to vote, stay politically involved, and organize in swing states. Many shared messages of hope for the future.

“Have her memory be a blessing and move forward to build a better country and a safer world,” said Jones. “That is what she would want us to do, and we all know that.”