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The Real Mother’s Day Tradition | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

The Real Mother’s Day Tradition

"Arise then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears!" So begins the original Mother's Day proclamation of 1870, written by Julia Ward Howe, who also authored "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" as an anti-slavery activist in 1862.

In a new video by Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films, in collaboration with CODEPINK, Gloria Steinem explains the original intent behind Ward Howe's Mother's Day idea: "Mother's Day really was in its origin an anti-war day, an anti-war statement. Julia Ward Howe was sickened by what had happened during the Civil War--the loss of life, the carnage. And she created Mother's Day as a call for women all over the world, to come together, and create ways of protesting war, of making a kind of alternate government that could finally do away with war as an acceptable way of solving conflict."

"Say firmly: 'We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, andpatience….'"

The video renews the original Mother's Day call for women's leadership in pursuing peace, offering support for the organization No More Victims as a concrete way to take action and help Iraqi children who have been wounded in the war.

Alfre Woodard explains her motivation to take part in the video and support this Mother's Day renewal: "My mother used to say all the time, ‘I look after people's kids, because one day I know somebody will look after my kids. I feed people's kids, because I know somebody one day will feed my kids.' That informs a lot of who I am as a mother. That I know I'm not only parenting Mavis and Duncan, but I'm responsible for every child that comes through."

"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… to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."

Women are indeed taking action this Mother's Day to "promote the great and general interests of peace" as Ward Howe advocated nearly 150 years ago. The Peace Alliance will be promoting H.R. 808--Representative Dennis Kucinich's legislation that would create a Department of Peace and Nonviolence. The bill now has 65 cosponsors and on Friday "Peace Pies" will be delivered to 150 Senators and Representatives from 38 states to encourage them to sign onto the bill. (A pie will be delivered to Sen. Hillary Clinton at her New York City office at 11:00 am.) There will be a sliver missing from each pie, representing less than 1 percent of the federal discretionary budget required to establish the proposed cabinet-level department.

Similar efforts to create ministries of peace are taking place throughout the world, including in England, Italy, Israel, Japan, and Canada. Here in the US the annual cost would be less than the current cost of just one month of war, according to Peace Alliance Executive Director, Dot Maver.

"Julia Ward Howe was a visionary," Maver says. "The Peace Alliance and each of the 50 individual state campaigns are working to establish a US Department of Peace to help make her dream of a world without war a reality."

"Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?" Ward Howe wrote in a journal entry.

CODEPINK certainly will continue to "interfere" in these matters of war. Its activists will be in DC on Thursday to lobby Congress on the Bush War and the Defense Budget, and also attend some notable hearings including Rep. John Murtha's on Contracting in Iraq (where Robert Greenwald and Nation contributor Jeremy Scahill are scheduled to testify). Throughout the weekend there will be theatre, film, discussions, a "Rock the Media" event, receptions, and other activities to promote peace and reinvigorate the original intention of Mother's Day.

The weekend will culminate with a Kids Peace March and Festival on Sunday, and a "Mother of A March" on Monday – when Cindy Sheehan calls on all mothers to surround Congress and demand an end to the occupation.

"From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own, it says ‘Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.'"

Chocolates are great, and should be given frequently and generously to mothers, partners and friends alike. But there is nothing – nothing – sweeter than peace. Julia Ward Howe understood that, and this weekend we mothers resolve once again to pursue her cause.

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