Yo, sentimental fools: Mother’s Day is supposed to be about politics, sweat, and advocacy

Yo, sentimental fools: Mother’s Day is supposed to be about politics, sweat, and advocacy

On the morning that I planned to handcuff my wrist to the White House fence along with other environmental leaders, I woke up, heart racing and grabbed my iPhone in the dark to check the time. It was 3 a.m., and I was alone in a friend’s guest room just outside Washington, D.C. I turned on the small bedside lamp and reached for the card my husband and two children had picked out for the occasion, with a photo of a polar bear leaping from one ice floe to the next. The bear’s front paws stretched out expectantly in midair—no longer on solid ground, but not quite landed on the next floe yet—fitting for my first act of civil disobedience, which was motivated by a desire to slow global warming, not only for the polar bears, but also for my own children.

I opened the card and reread my 16-year-old daughter’s scrawled note in the dim light: “I’m happy you care this much about something that will affect the future of us all,” she wrote. “Good luck!” I smiled—imagining her brown eyes and flaming red hair—and turned off the light again. …

Mother’s Work Day was founded in 1858 by Ann Jarvis, an Appalachian mother of eleven who became passionate about hygiene after losing two toddlers to disease. The day she founded was for mothers to teach each other how to protect their children, as best they could. Her work expanded during the Civil War when soldiers from both sides surrounded her community, and she organized mothers to treat the wounded and teach them sanitation. Jarvis’ work inspired another mother, Julia Ward Howe, most famous for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Howe also wrote the original Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870, calling on women to arise and come together, regardless of their country, to work for peace.

Both Mother’s Work Day and the Mother’s Day Proclamation urged women to work, not just for their own children, but for every child. That sense of solidarity with other mothers is part of what motivates me, too. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana, I’ve been saddened to learn of how maize crops in Africa are already withering due to rising temperatures and changing rain patterns.

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