For Mother’s Day: Safe, peaceful world
BY JESSE JACKSON
Mother’s Day has passed in celebration. Restaurants were filled with families; florists enjoyed one of their biggest days of the year; Hallmark cards cleaned up. All of us are eager to pay tribute to our mothers on this annual day.
But originally, Mother’s Day wasn’t about flowers or going out to dinner.
The women who originally organized Mother’s Day saw it as a time for mothers to organize to protest against war and injustice. Women, the bearers of children, the keepers of community, could issue a moral call to the society. In 1858, “Mother’s Work Days” were organized in Appalachia by Anna Reeves Jarvis to protest conditions that were endangering poor workers. In 1870, after the carnage of the Civil War, which sacrificed more American casualties than any other American conflict, Julia Ward Howe, author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” called for a special day for mothers to oppose war.
Howe was a pacifist and a suffragette. She published a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870 that made her purpose clear:
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 . . .
Anna Jarvis’ daughter, eager to honor her mother, succeeded in getting official recognition of an annual celebration in 1914. But it was quickly taken over by commercial interests, leading Jarvis, shortly before her death, to tell a reporter that she regretted even having started it.
Commercialization of Mother’s Day is not unique. The “Christmas season” — meaning the shopping season — now starts before Thanksgiving. Increasingly, Christ takes a back seat at Christmas to Santa Claus, the North Pole, presents, Christmas trees and parties. Christmas is about shopping rather than about the story of Christ, born to an oppressed people awaiting a Messiah, a mighty warrior, only to be delivered a prince of peace. The Easter Bunny and chocolate candy increasingly displace the story of the Resurrection. And now, Mother’s Day is transformed from mothers organizing to challenge injustice and war, to children and dads dutifully taking mom out to dinner.
No one would begrudge moms their day of rest and recognition. But conditions in this society argue for recapturing the original intent of the holiday’s inventors. Sons and daughters are at risk in two wars; childhood poverty is rising; the death toll in some neighborhoods is greater than that in Iraq. Economists declare the economy to be in recovery, even as youth unemployment is at Depression levels.
Imagine moms joining together on Mother’s Day to march on the gun shops. Or taking their families to demonstrate outside of the banks to protest the foreclosures that are putting families into the street. Or holding a vigil to protest the soaring numbers of children in poverty. Or gathering, as Julia Howe intended, to share ideas on how to bring peace to a world scarred by war and terror.
This original conception of Mother’s Day has biblical roots in the story of Esther. Esther, wife of the Persian king, was called upon to save her people, the Jews, from a powerful official who plotted to kill all of them. She risked her own life by approaching the king without being called for. She revealed that she was Jewish, and told him of the plot against her people. Her courageous intervention saved her people from genocide.
Today’s moms would be wise to lead us back to the original intent of Anna Jarvis and Julia Howe. The greatest honor we can provide our mothers is to commit to create the conditions in which their children can reach their fullest potential. A healthy start, safe neighborhoods, good schools, strong family, peace, jobs, an equal opportunity to soar — these are what every mother wants for her children. Flowers are always appreciated. But justice and peace are the greatest tributes.