Contrary to what the cardmakers would have us think, Mother's Day wasn't always a Hallmark holiday. The original Mother's Day proclamation, written by Julia Ward Howe in 1870, was actually a rallying cry for mothers to make their sons and husbands quit the business of warfare.
While best known for writing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, Howe lived through the Civil War, and she was horrified by the violence she saw around her. She used her poetic gift to pen a proclamation against war -- a proclamation that birthed Mother's Day.
"Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause," Julia wrote. "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, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
Her solution? Women should gather together to "promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."
Unfortunately, Julia Ward Howe's proclamation is needed more now than ever. Our nation and world are in crisis.
We are mired in war in Iraq, spending billions of federal dollars on a misguided, unwinnable conflict. The war is taking a particularly high toll on women in Iraq, who have to cope with the shortages of medicine, food, shelter, clean water, electricity and other basic services.
In January 2006, residents of Baghdad were getting fewer than eight hours of electricity per day, less than they had pre-war. Women trying to raise families in the midst of this chaos find themselves beset by skyrocketing poverty and malnutrition, and a dearth of social services like decent schools and health care.
Even worse is the intense violence and uncertainty that stalks the streets: Iraqi moms kiss their children goodbye when they walk out the door, wondering if they will ever see their babies again.
Illiteracy is on the rise, particularly among girls, as parents fear letting their daughters out of the house.
And moms here in the United States who have sons and daughters in the military live in constant worry for their children overseas.
These mothers, whose families are threatened daily by the realities of warfare, have little to celebrate this Mother's Day.
Meanwhile, our government is contemplating another military attack, this time on Iran. Iranian mothers we have talked to are terrified by the prospect. Many of them desperately want to change their government, but they look at neighboring Iraq and pray that the United States does not try to bring them "democracy," as well.
Here at home, the Bush administration is sacrificing vital social services to fund a bloated military budget and to underwrite tax cuts that go mainly to the wealthy. Bush's proposed 2007 budget eliminates or significantly reduces 141 government programs, including after-school programs, college loans, food stamps, vocational education and housing benefits for the elderly and the disabled.
This is not the world I want for myself or for my children.
And I'm not alone. As an April 13 Gallup poll showed, a staggering 71 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States today, and 65 percent disapprove of Bush's handling of the war.
On May 14, peace groups from across the country will be getting back to the heart of Mother's Day. CODEPINK, for instance, will hold a 24-hour vigil in front of the White House, celebrating women as peacemakers.
For the sake of mothers in the United States, Iraq and Iran, we should heed Julia Ward Howe's 1870 cry to "Disarm! Disarm!" and find the means "whereby the great human family can live in peace."
Medea Benjamin is a co-founder of the women's peace group CODEPINK (www.codepinkalert.org) and the human rights organization Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org). She can be reached at email@example.com.