Anyone else a bit fed up of emails telling you which bath products, flowers and chocolates to get your Mum for Mothers' Day? I mean, I can always do with a box of chocs, and so can my Mum, but this commercial onslaught is relentless. Before all the commerciality came, there was Mothering Sunday,* an early religious festival, but frankly that doesn't resonate with me either.
Then, last week, whilst surfing the Internet on an unrelated subject, I stumbled across the true meaning of Mothers' Day, or at least what it could mean. And it choked me up.
I read Julia Ward Howe's Mothers' Day Proclamation (laid out in full below).
It's a rallying cry to Mums in 1870 after the American Civil War to leave their kitchens and stand up against future war. These were mothers who had been robbed of their sons during the war. They didn't want to put up their feet or relax in an expensive bubble bath and they didn't want to just leave it all up to God. These women were shouting about the loss of their sons, and other mothers' sons. This was Mothers' Day as a day of ACTIVISM for SOFT POWER. A day started by the grief and love of women; a day started by women imploring the opening of hearts to compassion; a day to knock down the borders of nationalism and see another's son as your own; a day to commemorate those lost to war and inhumanity, and to rally therefore for peace.
"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies" said Julia Ward Howe, as she nominated this day to meet and dialogue "about the great and general interests of peace".
As mothers and potential mothers, as carers of any kind, we have an immense ability to nurture. When we have a little one to look after, it goes against every fibre of our being to hurt them in any way or to put their lives at risk. This intense desire to watch over and protect spreads to creating the right environment for youngsters to live happily. THIS drive for peace, this willingness to roar with, and for, compassion, THIS, my friends, is what Mothers' Day is about. Not a card from Paperchase, not a prayer and a hope, but a call from the hearts and guts, a call to ACTION.
"Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!
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 been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.
We 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
Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow 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 then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the
means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each
bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a
general congress of women without limit of nationality may be
appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at
the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the
alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement
of international questions, the great and general interests of
Julia Ward Howe
This Sunday Mothers' Day is timely. It falls just after French police have burnt down the makeshift communities of unaccompanied children in Calais. They've used tear gas to disperse them and have sent them in metal crates to "centres". As "Mothers" or people who care, protect and watch out for human beings more vulnerable than ourselves, how about we reclaim this coming Sunday, as Ruth Rosen, a Professor of History suggests in her article Mothers' Day for Peace, and take an action towards Peace.
These are actions suggested by Rachel Mantell of Calais People to People Solidarity - Action From UK ...
🔹Emergency food and grab bag items are urgently needed- bottled water, tinned (ring pull) fish, dried fruit and nuts, good quality cereal bars, emergency foil blankets, wind up torches and 25l rucksacks.
🔹All the kitchens need donations and money and many need volunteers. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the Calais kitchens page for details.
🔹Urgent needs can be bought on leisurefayre.com (click the Helprefugees banner) and will be delivered right to the warehouse. Lots of people lost everything today, and desperately need warm clothes and sleeping bags/blankets.
🔹please go to 'phone credit for refugees and displaced people' to top up phones (and buy replacement phones) for people desperate to let friends and family know they are ok.
🔹fire extinguishers. No magic delivery fairies for this one- please take them over if you can get hold of them.
2. Witness. Make noise...Share posts, tweet, write to your MP and MEP. Demand that the right of family reunion is respected. I know it feels a bit futile, but we need to stand up and be counted.
3. Volunteers are needed but PLEASE only go through the organisations so they know who is onsite for safety reasons and so you can be most effective. They know how to get things safely to where they are needed most.
If you are going, please be clear about what for. As you have seen, witnessing and documenting is very powerful but if there are people relying on your skills to cook or sort and distribute, please do what is needed and don't change your plans.
As ever please contact the associations by email or through their websites/Facebook pages and be patient. The long term volunteers are understandably very distressed at the moment (and quite angry!) and are desperately trying to support their friends."
Remember, taking action does not mean you can't also have a great Spa day, or show how much you appreciate your Mum, or sit with your feet up working through a box of chocs. But let's also take action and so honour the roar of Ward Howe and her fellow Mums as they left their kitchens to rally in the streets and put their hearts on the line for lost children all those years ago.
Co-founder at Loose Debra
*Read about other Spiritual and Early Christian traditions which honour Mothers' Day here