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Authors Shana Knizhnik and Irin Camron share tales of the ‘Notorious RGB” for Women Helping Women Fund’s 30th anniversary gala

UPDATED: Wed., May 18, 2022

By Nick Gibson The Spokesman-Review

Nearly a thousand sharply dressed community members piled into the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Tuesday night for the Women Helping Women Fund’s 30th anniversary celebration and fundraising event.

In addition to marking the Women Helping Women Fund’s three decades of service in the Spokane area, the event also celebrated the life of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The “Iconic Night at the Fox” featured special guests Shana Knizhnik and Irin Carmon, co-authors of the New York Times bestselling book, “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

Executive Director Heather Hamlin said the group wanted to honor Ginsburg following her death in September 2020, but the pandemic prevented an in-person event.

“When RBG passed in September, we wanted to host these wonderful speakers to honor the life of a woman who truly changed lives,” Hamlin said. “So, when we figured out in-person events would be feasible in 2022, we wanted to go ahead with it.”

Since the inaugural spring luncheon in 1992, supporters of the Women Helping Women Fund have raised over $6 million to fund programs that serve women and children in need through grants, scholarships and nonprofit organizations. This year, 23 different non-profits will receive assistance through the fund.

“This fundraiser is really important, it provides critical assistance for mothers, children and families in our area,” Hamlin said.

After cocktails and appetizers in the lobby, attendees moved into the art-deco theater to hear from Carmon and Knizhnik. The moniker “Notorious RBG” is the brainchild of Knizhnik, who started the Tumblr page of the same name in 2013 as a sophomore at New York University School of Law.

Knizhnik recalled how the Supreme Court was announcing several major decisions that year, including a decision in the case Shelby County v. Holder.

“In that case, the majority of the Supreme Court struck down a major provision of the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in United States history, and Justice Ginsburg dissented,” she said. “Not only in writing, but also aloud from the bench.”

When opinions are handed down in the Supreme Court, the majority decision is usually the only one voiced. However, Justice Ginsburg read her dissent aloud, and then did so in two other cases, bringing the total to three vocal dissents in just one week.

“She wanted folks to listen and I was one of the people listening,” Knizhik said. “So I created a space on the internet in tribute to RBG and I called it Notorious RBG. Obviously, that was a play on the late, great Notorious BIG, a ’90s rapper.”

“Of course, in a lot of ways, the two could not be more different,” Knizhnik continued. “But they also have a number of things in common: both of them were children of immigrants, both were born and raised in Brooklyn, and both of them use their words in different ways to speak truth to power.”

Following the publication of the book, the nickname caught on and could be seen plastered on everything from T-shirts to bumper stickers. The 80-something year old justice became a pop culture sensation. A few adventurous individuals even went as far as tattooing the justice’s likeness on their bodies, Carmon said.

Carmon shared a moment from one interview with Justice Ginsburg in 2015 in which she asked her how it felt to capture the imagination of millions of people, especially younger generations, to the point they would get a tattoo. She said the justice scrunched her face after seeing the photo evidence.

“I remembered that although Justice Ginsburg was a legal icon and pioneer, she was also somebody’s grandma,” Carmon said. “And she stuttered, ‘why would you do something so permanent?’ ”

The authors reflected on their experiences putting the book together, and walked the audience through Ginsburg’s journey from president of the “Go-Getters Club” at her high school in Brooklyn to Supreme Court Justice.

“One of the things that we have asked ourselves, and are also constantly asked, is ‘what was it about her that inspires us so?’ ” Knizhnik said. “I think a huge part of it was the fact that she was someone who didn’t look like these heroes that we are taught to aspire to; an engaging individual using a position of power to fight for equality and justice.”

For those not able to attend Tuesday’s event, the Women Helping Women Fund has partnered with Auntie’s Bookstore, 402 W. Main Ave., for a book reading and Q&A with the authors on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

“These authors are incredible so we wanted to share them with as many people as possible,” Hamlin said.

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