Perhaps you've picked out a card to mail or made brunch reservations in preparation for Mother's Day. But what about digging out your markers and buying some poster board to make a peace sign? Huh?
Underneath the layers of schmaltz, our paramount Hallmark holiday has its origins in one 19th-century American woman's response to war.
"Mother's Day started as a day to be a peace activist," says Sara Sautter, founder of Julia's Voice, an organization seeking to restore the holiday to Julia Ward Howe's original intent. After having seen the horrors of the Civil War, Howe saw the Franco-Prussian war coming and had had enough, explains their website.
She didn't yet have the vote, but she had the ability to organize mothers, and her fame from penning the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" didn't hurt either. Howe issued a proclamation calling on women to take a day to stand up for peace. It was only later, explains Sautter, that Mother's Day turned into a day to honor mothers, and subsequently became commercialized.
With the U.S. currently engaged in two wars overseas, says Sautter, "It struck us how the words of her proclamation were just as relevant now as 140 years ago." Starting in 2008 Sautter has organized a stand for peace each Mother's Day, drawing hundreds of participants to line a major intersection in her home of Kansas City.
Other groups are inspired by Howe as well, and are taking up the cause of restoring Mother's Day to a day of women's peace activism. "Hallmark has co-opted the day," says Rae Abileah, grassroots coordinator of Code Pink: Women for Peace. Every year Code Pink holds peace events on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Mother's Day. This year they've also come out with a pie cookbook, that includes tips for making social change along with recipes for crusts and fillings. The idea came about as a way to call attention to the gigantic piece of the budget pie that goes to war spending.
Mothers, especially those who have lost a child to war, offer powerful voices for peace, says Abileah. "There was a major turning point in the peace movement when Cindy Sheehan sat in front of George Bush's house." Abileah saw firsthand the ability of women to unite over motherhood, despite national and political differences, while touring with mothers from other countries including Iraq, Chechnya, and Russia.
Abileah sees families as central to creating a world where alternatives to violence exist. "There's also the everyday things