Americans are unabashedly celebrity obsessed, following the ups and downs of every star with greedy devotion. One focus of our devotion is Angelina Jolie, whose adventures the proverbial "woman on the street" tracks more closely than the weather. And "especially in the case of Angelina" what's wrong with that? In recent weeks, as she shared publicly about her current pregnancy for the first time, she also spoke up for the rights of children in Iraq. Julia Ward Howe would be delighted.
Julia Ward Howe was a suffragette and poet who, after witnessing the horrors of the Civil War, said one question haunted her. "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?" In 1870, she wrote a Mother's Day Proclamation, calling women to unite on a day she named Mother's Day, to protect our common global family.
Julia wrote, Arise, arise, all women who have hearts! but somewhere along the way, breakfast in bed eclipsed this fiery call to activism. But all is not lost! After decades of burnt toast and loving messages, mothers have been sufficiently fortified and are beginning to fulfill Julia's vision. Mother's Day is again becoming a holiday when we not only honor our mothers, but their role in shaping our world.
Our global family is at risk, yet often mothers "due to laws or societal norms" remain outside political circles. In a world in which every other child lives in poverty; almost half of all war causalities are children; and global warming threatens all future generations, the world needs mothers to interfere to get involved in creating policies that protect and nurture children.
Fortunately, mothers are stepping into new leadership roles in every country in the world, from Angelina Jolie saying, "Every child has a right to education, and conflict is not a reason to ignore that," to Massouda Jalal, the first woman to run for President in Afghanistan, who works to educate all children, especially attending to the empowerment of girls. Writing in the 2008 Mothers Acting Up calendar, Massouda says, "My candidacy led the Afghan community to realize women can be leaders and led Afghan women to develop a political consciousness."
Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation urges women to, solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace . Mothers are questioning why half our federal discretionary budget is spent on "security" without any significant percentage allocated for the prevention of conflict. Mothers and Generals agree that a security portfolio should include funding for education and development, including our promised share of the UN Millennium Development Goals (eight international targets to end extreme poverty). As U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said, "We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military."
Now, if this is sounding really earnest and somber, not to worry: there are stilts involved. Around the country this spring, Mother's Day will be celebrated by reclaiming Julia Ward Howe's original vision in parades, radio shows and picnics in the park. There will be free cake, mothers on stilts (symbolizing rising up!), beautiful hats and hoop skirts, decorated tricycles and calls to Congressional Members. This Mother's Day, whether you are up on stilts or reading a fan magazine about Angelina Jolie, remember the spirit of Julia Ward Howe and heed her call to "Arise" on behalf of the world's children.
Juliana Forbes is a mother of two and co-founder of Boulder-based Mothers Acting Up, an NGO with members in all 50 states and 23 countries, working to inspire and mobilize mothers (and others) to advocate on behalf of the world's children.
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