Written by: Brianne Johnson
“Fear the frill,” the shirt reads, framing the silhouette of the #NotoriousRBG herself, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s another muggy D.C. morning over in Dupont Circle, where the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) is consumed by the chaos of pencil skirts dashing through the halls, printers spitting out statement drafts, and me, a media intern, hovering over my office phone, pen in hand, for the first press request to come in. This is the morning of the final session of the term for the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), more infamously known in our office as the morning that the Court would release its ruling on the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores & Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell.
Amelia, a legal intern, has forwarded a link to the “Fear the frill” tee. In a show of solidarity, I need this t-shirt. Actually, I just desperately want it. C’mon, she’s the Notorious RBG. And, for the morning of the Hobby Lobby ruling — which, at its most basic, favors the for-profit corporation and its “sincere” religious beliefs regarding contraception and employees’ access to its insurance coverage — Justice Ginsburg’s words of dissent were the solace we at the Center needed.
Now, outside of obsessing over “Legally Blonde,” I had never been interested in law; in fact, if you’d told me one year ago that I would be refreshing the SCOTUS blog with a fervor I’d only ever saved for livestreams of The Academy Awards, I might’ve just asked if “SCOTUS” was the latest Internet slang. Lol, smh.
My Fall 2013 enrollment in the Communications Department’s “Gender & Law” course with Professor Faith Sparr solidified my commitment to advancing women’s rights, then only an emerging passion I’d nurtured through the University’s Alternative Spring Break program. But to charge through the pages of Feminist Jurisprudence — a 1,110-page workout every time I lugged it to class! — and feel empowered by this newly realized opportunity to put into practice my dedication to gender equality was just that: empowering. This is where the National Women’s Law Center comes in.
Founded in 1972, and originating as the women’s rights project at the Center for Law and Social Policy, the National Women’s Law Center is a non-profit organization that advocates for women’s equality, namely in the areas of education, employment, child care and women’s healthcare, through many channels: filing briefs and complaints, releasing reports, like this one on women’s representation in construction jobs and sexual harassment in the industry, to educate the public and influence policy; telling the stories of women whose lives have been affected by the powerful improvements brought forth by Title IX, 40 years after its passage.
From June to August, I was an intern for the Center’s communications staff, reporting directly to its media director, Maria Patrick. When I wasn’t hanging onto the words of SCOTUS bloggers, I was Maria’s go-to for research: tracking MSNBC shows’ guests and topics to look for trends and strategies to get the Center’s experts on “The Reid Report” and “All In with Chris Hayes”, scouting for freelance writers who cover race and gender disparities in education, creating a massive spreadsheet of unconventional blogs and writers to whom we could reach out.
Better yet, every week, I would pile into one of the taxis stationed along New Hampshire Avenue with the other Center interns and staffers to head to the Capitol for press briefings at which Nancy Pelosi would speak on the Not My Boss’s Business Act … or for Witness Wednesdays, where Congress members and community leaders would speak on behalf of the everyday women who are disproportionately affected by long-term unemployment … or, again, for a press conference on The Schedule That Works Act, which addresses unfair scheduling practices for low-wage workers!
Simply put, I got to see and hear the D.C. and broader community explain and act on issues that I — and the rest of the humble, eloquent, driven, good-humored, and dedicated NWLC staff and interns — care deeply about. Like the Center’s reproductive health rights campaign’s namesake, this is personal. Despite the distance from which court judges and policymakers debate issues like access to contraception, this is personal. And I cannot think of a better way to have spent my summer than interning at an organization so committed to protecting that which is personal to women and families across the country. Wouldn’t Justice Ginsburg do the same?