Sunday, May 10, 2009

Celebrating the Real Mother's Day

Did you know a day to celebrate motherhood was first proposed by social activist Julia Ward Howe, best remembered for writing the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic?

Howe, a writer, poet, playwright, abolitionist and feminist, was sickened by the horrible bloodshed during the American Civil War and by the Franco-Prussian War that devastated Europe in the 1870's.

In 1870, she issued a Mother's Day Proclamation urging women of all nations to call for an end to war as a means of settling national differences:

"Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall 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 taught them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another 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.'"

Beginning in 1872, Howe initiated a Mothers' Peace Day, "dedicated to the advocacy of peace doctrines," to be observed on the second Sunday in June. An invitation to the event said it was a day "to speak, sing and pray for those things that make for peace." Mothers' Peace Day was celebrated by Howe's friends and followers each year until her death in 1910.

Howe had campaigned unsuccessfully to have her concept of Mother's Day recognized as a national holiday. Instead, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday of May as Mothers' Day in the U.S, "a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country." The holiday's pacifist origins were ignored, in favor of more sentimental considerations.

But if you think about it, a day calling for peace is much more in line with the true meaning of motherhood. Who suffers more in times of war than the mothers who are called on to sacrifice their children?

The greatest tribute we can give to the mothers of the world is to do everything in our power to work for just and lasting peace.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Happy International Workers Day!

On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers across the United States walked off their jobs to demand an 8-hour work day. Demonstrators paraded in the streets. The Chicago police tried to crack down on the protesters and the peaceful demonstrations erupted into the violence that became the Haymarket Massacre. Despite the brutality, the workers achieved their goal and the 8-hour work day came to be accepted.

Government, business leaders and the media, frightened at the prospect of an empowered citizenry demanding fair, safe working conditions and social justice, undermined the growing labor movement and characterized its leaders as foreign born, bomb-throwing radicals. The history and significance of May Day was subverted and buried.

Though, in the United States we no longer acknowledge the contributions of the strikers, International Workers Day is a national holiday in many other countries. Today hundreds of thousands of workers in Europe and Asia and throughout the world turned out to celebrate this day.


"When the prison, stake or scaffold can no longer silence the voice of the protesting minority, progress moves on a step, but not until then. "
Lucy Parsons, labor leader, social activist and anarchist
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