Yes, of course mothers* across the country love roses, breakfast in bed, and a thoughtful greeting card. But this year we’re taking to the streets to celebrate the true meaning of Mother’s Day: a day when mothers unite to protect our global family. In 1870 after the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe wrote a Mother’s Day Proclamation—the inspiration for Mother’s Day in the US—which begins, “Arise then women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts!”
Facing a world scared by war, Julia Ward Howe said one question burned in her heart, "Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?" To incite interference, she passionately worked to bring women from around the world together, “for a great and earnest day of counsel.”
Fast forward 137 years to May 13th, a time when Julia’s vision of mothers uniting is better known than her writing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Why are mothers just now resonating with Julia’s call to action? Because we stand at a crossroads in history: a time when globally we spend over a trillion dollars on our military budgets, while nearly every other child lives in poverty. Our leaders seem to have lost their way, as Julia said, “unlearning all that [their mothers] have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.”
In our world, 29,000 children die every day due to malnutrition and preventable disease. 1 in 6 has no access to safe drinking water. 1 in 8 has no access to health services. 1 in 20 will not set foot in a classroom this year. 1 in 150 has lost their mother or both parents to AIDS. In the US, 2,000 children are born into poverty every day. We can no longer afford to watch silently as our children’s resources are spent and their future neglected.
The 2006 US national defense budget is at a historic high of $535 billion dollars—nearly as big as all other military budgets in the world combined. Building new fleets of fighter jets and researching the next generation of nuclear weapons is not creating true security. The real cost of this budget—to the citizens of the US and the world—must be examined.
One of the real costs created by these huge investments in defense is the loss of life. UNICEF estimates that 90% of war casualties are now civilians—and almost half of these victims are children. The US doesn’t track civilian deaths, but a report published in the British medical journal Lancet, estimates 46% of civilian casualties in Iraq have been children under the age of 15. Somewhere between 15,000 to 50,000 Iraqi children—in addition to 2,376 US sons and daughters—have died since the US preemptively attacked Iraq.
Again, Julia’s words are a call to action, “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 voice of a 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.”
Mothers know the best weapon at our disposal is investment in the prevention of poverty. A report from the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change states, “Combating poverty will not only save million of lives, but strengthen states’ capacity to combat terrorism, organized crime and proliferation.” It’s time we invest in our global family and divest from war. World leaders have already crafted a plan called The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to halve extreme poverty by 2015. Leaders from all 22 donor nations (meeting the technical standard of “high-income” nations), have agreed to contribute .7% of their GNP (the U.S. currently contributes 0.16 %). The goals may be lofty, however significant progress is already being made in many communities around the world. This plan to end extreme poverty in our lifetime is worth our greatest efforts.
Julia said it well more than 100 years ago, “Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace…”
This Mother’s Day (after a quick peek at the greeting cards), mothers* across the country will stand tall—on stilts or off—and join an exuberant movement of mothers and others ACTING UP on behalf of all the world’s children, not just a privileged few. “Arise then women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts!”
To join mothers from Seattle to the Bronx in reclaiming Mother’s Day and uniting to protect our global family, visit www.mothersactingup.org for more information.
* mothers and others, on stilts or off, who exercise protective care over someone smaller