Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mothers Day

Mother's Day Proclamation - 1870

by Julia Ward Howe

(An excerpt below - full text here)

As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,

To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Mother's Day has several roots, but in the US the early Mother's Days were as much about pacifist activism as they were about feminism in general and affection for our mothers, in particular. Mothers who had lost sons, brothers and husbands in the Civil War were, for at least a few years after that bloodbath, moved to speak out against the evil of war and to consider how they might be able to ensure that peace would be sustained in the future.

Today, as we slog our way through another mind-numbing exercise in wanton war-making, I wish mothers were one half the instrument of peace that Julia Ward Howe imagined. In the years after Howe's pacifist Mother's Day declaration, women achieved the vote and realized their political potential. We have all seen how little that has mattered in matters of war and peace - women are as likely as men to vote to authorize the use of force against nations that have not attacked us and had not the ability to do so.

I wonder what Julia Ward Howe would think of Hillary Rodham Clinton's vote in 2002 to authorize the use of force against the people of Iraq. It is, fundamentally, a flawed question, based on an impossible assumption. Were Howe alive today, she would no doubt be supporting Hillary, cheering for a gas tax cut, and threatening to obliterate Iran.

Surely it is unfair to blame women for the Iraq War, and it is hardly gallant to make that argument on Mother's Day. In any case, Mother's Day is no longer dedicated to the cause of peace. Americans are no longer much worried about peace at all. Poor kids with no other options do all the fighting; their wives and mothers are no concern for the rest of us. And the mothers of Iraq? Our attention span does not reach that far; the antennae of our compassion are not touched by their weeping.

If feminism was ever about more than the empowerment of women - if it ever held the promise of a more compassionate, peaceable and just society - then we need that kind of feminism today. Not merely the feminism that results in the rise of women like Condoleeza Rice or Hillary Clinton, but a feminism that shouts down the Abu Ghraibs, that closes Gitmo's gulag, that brings justice to immigrant families in our neighborhood, security to refugees in Darfur, and peace to those suffering another year of war in Iraq - the families of our soldiers and marines, the mothers of the streets of Baghdad.

Here's hoping you, and all mothers everywhere, have a good, peaceful, and loving Mother's Day.


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