Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Give Mom Some Justice

Mother's Day is a Hallmark holiday, but its roots are radical.

I can't quite figure out how Julia Ward Howe went from writing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," which was inspired by meeting Lincoln at the White House in 1861, to issuing the Mother's Day Proclamation in 1870:
Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with 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 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."
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice." Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
Howe was an abolitionist and a woman suffragist before the Civil War, but after the war: 
Howe focused her activities on the causes of pacifism and women's suffrage. In 1870 Howe was the first to proclaim Mother's Day, with her Mother's Day Proclamation. From 1872 to 1879, she assisted Lucy Stone and Henry Brown Blackwell in editing Woman's Journal.  (from Wikipedia)
Less well known is the story of Ann Maria Jarvis, who was even more instrumental in the official establishment of Mother's Day.  According to the blog allvoices:
Ann Maria Jarvis organised women in her area of West Virginia in 1858 to deal with the poor sanitation and health conditions in her town of Webster. She was attempting to combat high mortality rates. Only four of her own twelve children survived to be adults. The women's group coordinated care for families whose mothers had tubercolosis, provided medicine for the poor, and inspected food and milk.

When her county was occupied by both Union and Cofederate soldiers her Mothers'Day Work Clubs provided basic nursing for both sides when typhoid and measles epidemics broke out. They also provided food and medicine.

A decade later after the war in 1868 Jarvis arranged a Mother's Friendship Day at the local courthouse. The gathering of soldier's and families was from both sides of the war and was an attempt to have them come together in peace. The event helped to heal community division and was continued for several years.
Ann Jarvis actually withdrew her support for Mother's Day in the 1920s as the florist industry and other business began to commercialise the holiday and depend upon it for sales. Jarvis initiated lawsuits, and was even arrested for creating a public disturbance as she attempted to stop commercialisation of the holiday.
Today I decided that the only Mother's Day present I'm giving this year is justice for women.  From the evisceration of welfare benefits to the erosion of abortion rights to assaults on equal pay, mothers, potential mothers, women who want to be mothers and women who are being forced to be mothers are the front line of the war on women, labor and poor people.

Honestly, I don't always give Mother's Day presents or send cards at all.  I'm very hit and miss about it.  But this year, I decided I'm giving the moms I love the best presents I can -- donations to organizations that are fighting to protect the (few) rights that women have left.  I chose Virginia Organizing for my mom, since she has spent almost her entire life in the state which happens to be led right now by Governor Ultrasound, our wannabe but hopefully-never-to-be vice president.  I know she'll appreciate it.

For my mom-friends in California, I donated to ACCESS-Women's Health Justice which does direct advocacy, case management and policy work to "remove barriers and build the power of women to achieve reproductive justice."  I was one of the earliest ACCESS volunteers in the nineties and helped to create its first of its kind practical support network, to bridge the gaps in access to reproductive health care in California.  It's a truly grassroots organization with a radical vision.

This year, Say It With Justice.

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