Page One

Mothers honor true meaning of Mother’s day

By Neil G. Greene, Special to the Daily Planet
Monday May 13, 2002

Long before Hallmark cornered the market on greeting cards, Julia Ward Howe, author of the famous poem, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation. That was 1870. 

Yesterday, the recently-formed Berkeley Interfaith Women for Peace, held a peace pilgrimage to honor Howe’s original anti-war declaration of Mother’s Day.  

“Mother’s Day was born as a mother’s and women’s movement for peace and disarmament,” said 33-year-old Kristi Laughlin, coordinator for Interfaith, formed in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “We thought it was typical that history was co-opted and forgotten. It was originally about powerful women coming together to say no to war.” 

Laughlin said she and other Interfaith women were lamenting that women’s voices are virtually absent from public debate concerning U.S. foreign policy, and the formation of their group was a direct response. 

“All you were seeing on TV were men, Pentagon officials and business men determining how we were going to respond,” she said. 

Laughlin contends that women have a different approach to conflict than men. They’re more likely to be cooperative and understanding of one another —to listen to where people are coming from by nurturing a common bond, she said. 

“Women have a real appreciation for how sacred life is. Not that men don’t, but women are more resourceful in conflict resolution. We’re less inclined for violent behavior and action,” she added. 

With understanding in mind, Interfaith sought to create a space where women of different faiths can share their perspective which is predominantly absent from the public sphere. 

A wide spectrum of women from various religious backgrounds and political organizations spoke to the crowd listening intently on the Civic Center’s sun-drenched grass, yesterday. 

Some of those addressing the gathered participants were Medea Benjamin, founding director of Global Exchange, Barbara Lubin, director of Middle East Children’s Alliance and Katherine Chesire, founder and director of The Touch of the Earth Foundation. Numerous prayers for peace were also administered by women of the Muslim, Quaker, Jewish, Universalist, Catholic and Hopi faiths. 

Before the peace pilgrimage hit the streets, Laughlin and fellow Interfaith organizer Tracey Weaver recited Howe’s proclamation with the standing audience. It’s opening stanzas read, “Arise, then, women of this day!/ Arise all women who have hearts!/ Whether your baptism be that of water or tears, say firmly:/ We will not have great questions/ decided by irrelevant agencies.” 

The peace pilgrimage snaked through Berkeley’s streets, first stopping at the Berkeley Police Station and ending at Martin Luther Kind Jr. Park. This route was chosen to make a connection between the role city institutions play in helping or hurting local and foreign women — to explore the links of militarization and globalization on women and children in Berkeley and around the world. 

One scheduled stop was in front of McDonald’s, where 29 year-old Christine Ahn of Food First, an institute promoting food access and development policy, would speak in regard to how world trade affects people’s access to food and their ability to feed themselves. 

The youngest of ten children, Ahn said she was fittingly the last of her siblings to call her mother in Washington D.C., and that she was pleased to be participating in her first political Mother’s Day. 

“Mother’s Day is all about birth, creation and food. The earth is like our mother, it provides us sustenance,” said Ahn. “This year is more political than ever. We’re at a tipping point. People need to take responsibility for their actions. There is a collective consciousness and frustration, so the more people stick their necks out, the more possibility there is for change.” 

In a display of solidarity with women’s peace movements around the world, Interfaith will send out Mother’s Day peace cards to mothers in Israel, Palestine, Columbia, Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Liesa Lietzke, an artist in Santa Cruz, said she had no idea Mother’s Day originated from a movement for peace and disarmament. It wasn’t until she made plans with her mother that she learned about the holiday’s true meaning. 

“I told my mother I’d take her out on a day anywhere, and she chose here,” said Lietzke. “For me, I’m looking around and thinking I don’t want to take this for granted. Here peace is crossing religious lines — it’s inspiring. I’m not an activist, I’m just happy to witness this.” 

While men were greatly outnumbered at Sunday’s event, father of two Danny Kennedy said having children has helped him become more focused on the kind of world his children will live in. This has caused him to further question the United States’ present leadership.  

“We need to follow women and mothers instead of boys and brothers. Barbara Bush has failed us,” said Kennedy, noting that he remembered to call his mother in Australia, and that his first political Mother’s Day will not be his last. “This is a much better form of reflection on motherhood.”