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Moms Revive Original Focus of Mother's Day Holiday - 2002-05-10

Most Americans view this Sunday's Mother's Day celebration as a chance to give mothers some well-deserved rest. Although an old tradition in many other countries, here in the United States, setting aside a day to honor mothers is usually traced back to 1907, when Ana Jarvis persuaded her mother's church in West Virginia to hold a special celebration.

Mother's Day was proclaimed a national holiday in 1914. But nearly half-a-century earlier, another Mother's Day Proclamation called not for honor, but action - urging mothers throughout the world to work together for peace. Now, some 21st century mothers are reviving the original focus of the holiday.

It's a busy afternoon at JoEllen Raderstorf's house, as she and three friends welcome kids home from school, get snacks for the pre-schoolers and craft projects for everyone. Today's extra busy, because they're giving me a news briefing about their plans for Mother's Day.

As kids dart into the kitchen to nibble fresh-baked bread, their moms begin the news briefing by announcing what they want for Mother's Day: not flowers or candy but a political lobby group to protect all the world's children.

"It's called Mothers Acting Up. And, it's about all people, young, old, male, female who are powerful and impressive and exercise care over someone smaller," Ms. Raderstorf said.

On its website, Mothers Acting Up encourages moms to spend at least one hour every month taking some action that will help the world's children. This month, the focus is on reducing the way America's War on Terrorism hurts children, especially in Afghanistan. They want the United States to remove unexploded land mines and cluster bombs, and they want policy makers in Washington to invest more money in health care and education for that nation.

Their website includes links to UNICEF, Save the Children, and other international relief organizations. And it provides a way for mothers to share how they've gotten involved, whether it's contributing to a relief fund or teaching kids how to call the White House comment line. Through this website, these women hope to build a powerful mother's lobby, right here from Mrs. Raderstorf's kitchen table.

"This is a scoop! You are getting a scoop. And we started this even before we knew that Julia Ward Howe really created Mother's Day to protect our children," she exclaimed. "She was tired of sending our boys off to war to die."

Julia Ward Howe was a poet and an anti-slavery activist, perhaps best known for writing the words to The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The song became the unofficial anthem of the Union Army during the American Civil War of the 1860s. The women of Mothers Acting Up say they like knowing that as the Civil War dragged on, Mrs. Howe yearned and worked for peace. Founding member Beth Osnes reads from Mrs. Howe's 1872 Mother's Day Proclamation.

"'Arise, women of this day. Say firmly, we will not have our great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking of carnage for caresses and applause. Let us then solemnly take council with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace.' She says much more, but we just love the [idea that] husbands can't come to us reeking of carnage, wanting caresses and applause. It's just not going to happen!" Ms. Osnes said.

As they build the power of the mother's lobby, they plan to infuse the political arena with the same lessons they teach at home. To get some idea about those lessons, I consulted the experts - Lily and Eliza, their grade school daughters.

Schlender: "What would you say to people who are fighting in the world?"
Lily and Eliza:"We'd say to use your words . . . Yes. And, um. . . .And to not be mean back cause then it's just going to start a whole nother thing. Yeah, if someone hits you, you don't necessarily hit them back."

In addition to reaching out through the Internet and the own families, the women of Mothers Acting Up believe in taking local action. So this Sunday, instead of sleeping late and waiting for breakfast in bed, they'll dress in everything from clown costumes and stilts to fancy Mother's Day outfits and march through the streets of downtown Boulder. Their husbands and kids plan to join the parade, while the moms sing an updated version of Julia Ward Howe's famous song. They call it the Battle Hymn of the New Republic.

"Mine eyes have seen the need for love and giving to grow strong; I have seen our hungry children turned away for far too long; Mothers, when will we assert what we find right and we find wrong? Our truth has lost its way," the mothers sang.