It's true. Mothers Day was NOT invented by Hallmark. Or by 1-800-FLOWERS or even Sees Candies. In fact, the woman credited with initiating Mothers Day would have been appalled by its crass commercialism. Were she alive today, she probably would have told her kids to dispense with the roses and Instead join her in an anti-war protest. Yes, Julia Ward Howe was a peacenik.
While best known for writing the Battle Hymn of the Republic and her stance against slavery, Julia was horrified by the carnage and suffering during the Civil War and the economic devastation that followed. She was also heart-broken by the outbreak of war between France and Germany in 1870, with its ominous display of German military might and imperial designs.
Julia used her poetic gift to pen a proclamation against war. "Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause," she wrote. "Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
Seeing photographs of Julia in those long dresses and bonnets, I somehow can't picture her joining Women Baring Witness and stripping naked on the beach to make a peace sign with her body. But I can certainly see her standing tall with Women in Black to cry out against the daily carnage in Palestine and Israel. I can see Julia marching arm-in-arm with the 40,000 women who gathered in Colombia last year to call for an end to the terrifying violence that has engulfed that nation. I can see Julia trying desperately to stop the war in Iraq, standing in the cold with Code Pink: Women for Peace in the 4-month vigil in front of the White House. I can see Julia, mother of six, at the massive anti-war rally on February 15, walking down the streets of New York with Military Families Speak Out, holding a sign saying "I did not raise my son to kill your son."
A globalist before her time, Julia called on women to get together "without limit of nationality." How her spirit would have soared seeing millions of women and men around the world marching against war in Iraq under the global banner "The World Says No to War."
So let us remember that the original call for honoring mothers was not to give them trinkets or breakfast in bed. In the name of womanhood and humanity, Julia Howe called for a day when women would come together to "promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."
This Mothers Day, why not sit with your family and read the original Proclamation? Why not commit ourselves, as a family, a nation, a globe, to Julia's plea: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice." Lets give Julia, and the mothers around the world, the greatest
gift: finding "the means whereby the great human family can live in peace."
Medea Benjamin, Founding Director of the human rights group Global Exchange, is also co-founder of the new women's peace group Code Pink (see www.codepinkalert.org).