The Power of Grief — An #RBG Playbook

Jenni Hayman
4 min readSep 19, 2020
mural image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Mural, Washington, D.C. by Ted Eytan CC-BY-SA 2.0 on Flickr

I was 56 years old when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. It was September 18, 2020 and I was living in Canada at the time (a relatively happy and productive dual citizen of Canada and the U.S.). The U.S. was as politically divided as I had ever seen it. I had experienced so many periods of grief and sorrow in the four years of the Donald Trump dictatorship. I was grief-stricken November 9, 2016 when I learned that he was actually elected. I had suffered — along with everyone that cared — the regular pain of the news cycles, the evil behind-the-scenes, and right in-front-of-the-people dismantling of democracy, decency, community, and care that took place in that time.

RBG’s death right before the 2020 election, in the early days of the Great Global Pandemic felt like the fatal blow to equity, peace, and justice for Americans. A blow most keenly felt by those that had always been demeaned, ignored, and taken advantage of by the disgustingly wealthy and most powerful 5% or so. The Black Lives Matter movement had just secured gains that have endured and grown in my lifetime. However, the grim reality of who controlled the richest country in the world had been laid bare. Armed, empowered white men with no values. It seemed they had all the power and would attempt to keep it and wield it against Americans at any cost. Any cost whatsoever.

There were social media posts and advice articles flying around on the day of Justice Ginsburg’s death calling for every manner of reaction. Just grieve, don’t start making plans, respect her, respect her family, don’t overreact, don’t protest, do this, do that, don’t do this. I decided to do what felt right for me and I have no regrets.

That moment for me, as I think on the anniversary of her death, as I turn 87 myself here in 2051, was a moment of power. I was so devastated at the time, I felt so uncertain, so powerless. How might I react, other than dissolving into despair? How might I take action, do something, anything to help begin to turn around the political, financial, and human rights gutting of America? It was a lightening-rod moment that led to the most incredible and productive period of my life.

Photo by Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash

I asked myself, what would RBG do? Then I took at a look at the things RBG had done. Things she had done against all odds and in the face of every barrier that can be erected to prevent a woman from doing the things she did. She was a powerfully decent and generous human who used every tool at her disposal to uphold social justice and enact change. She was human though, and so was I, so probably there were things I could also do.

I decided to develop an RBG Playbook for my own life and my own skills. I decided to use my care, energy, and talent in ways similar to ways that she did. I developed my own plan to get in shape physically and mentally for longevity. I began to design my path to help dismantle patriarchy, complacency, disparity, and systems designed to favour elite with money and power while oppressing everyone else. Educational systems and use of technology for learning were my areas of expertise and I reckoned there was potential for impact in there somewhere.

I had a Doctor of Education in Leadership and Innovation (earned when I was 54 years old) as a solid start on competencies. I had a community of educators, friends, and family I trusted and relied on and loved. I considered my talents, interests, passions, and opportunities to learn more and starting plotting a way forward. I was scared. Scared of how angry I was, scared about the risks that would need to be taken, the resistance I would likely face. I considered the real possible threats that might emerge to my life and well-being and the uncertainty that I was likely subjecting my family and myself to. I was also hopeful as I reflected on RBG’s courage. That hope and borrowed courage sparked the most amazing journey.



Jenni Hayman

Open education advocate. Way, way open. My views are sometimes shared.