It's true. Mothers Day was NOT invented by Hallmark. Or by 1-800-FLOWERS or even Sees Candies. In fact, Julia Ward Howe, the woman credited with initiating Mothers Day in 1870, would have been appalled by its crass commercialism. Were she alive today, Julia probably would have told her kids to dispense with the roses and chocolates, and instead join her in an anti-war rally. 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. She used her poetic gift to pen a proclamation against war, a proclamation that birthed Mothers Day.
"Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause," Julia 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. " Her solution? Women should gather together to "promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."
This year on Mothers Day weekend, May 13-14, CODEPINK: Women for Peace is organizing a gathering in Washington DC in the spirit of Julia's original proclamation. Recognizing that our nation and our world is in crisis and that we, the women, must intervene, we will be gathering for a 24-hour vigil in front of the White House.
We'll be calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq and for stopping an attack on Iran. We'll spend our time strategizing about how to promote citywide resolutions, state orders to bring home the National Guard, legislation to cut off funds for the war, campaigns to support disaffected soldiers, global efforts to stop the next war, and people-to-people ties with Iraqis and Iranians.
Our weekend plans also include a performance of the historic antiwar play Lysistrata, an evening concert, antiwar films, writing letters to Laura Bush, a pink pajama party, an interfaith service on Sunday morning, and a visit to Walter Reed Hospital to deliver roses to mothers/wives of injured soldiers.
This Mothers Day, we'll be echoing Julia Ward Howe's plea: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Instead of trinkets and breakfast in bed, we'll be giving our mothers and the mothers around the world the greatest gift: our energy, our passion, our commitment and our determination to stop the violence and build a world without war.
Medea Benjamin is a cofounder of the women's peace group CODEPINK and the human rights organization Global Exchange.