Most people don’t know the history behind Mother’s Day. And yes, it predates Hallmark and has an origin story rooted in something other than commercialization and profit making.
The holiday was actually first observed in the mid-1800s with the purpose of facilitating dialogue among women across political lines and to recognize what we held in common was greater than what divided us. Led by a West Virginian organizer named Ann Jarvis, women from both the Confederacy and the Union came together in the wake of the Civil War to chart a path back toward unity. In the 1870s, the torch was passed to Julia Ward Howe, who used Mother’s Day as a platform to unite former foes and to call on women to take an active role in promoting peace, including by penning her now well-known Mother’s Day Proclamation.
Even if those facts were new to you, the storyline should sound familiar — or at least it would to any of the 5 million participants in January’s Women’s March. History has a funny habit of repeating itself.
We may not have the Confederacy or the Union anymore, but we certainly have Red versus Blue; we’ve traded muskets for tweets, but the weaponry is still potent, the victims still wounded. Today, there are no credible calls for Secession, but the fissure in this country is deep and wide. What else hasn’t changed: the potential that reconciliation will be led by our nation’s mothers.
“Mother’s” is not meant to be exclusive here. In the words of Gloria Steinem: “As a noun, mother is limited to half the human race, and also to the accident of fertility and age and intention….But when mother is a verb — as in to be mothered and to mother — ah, then the very best of human possibilities come into our imagination….To mother is to care about the welfare of another person as much as one’s own.”
Mothering — the verb — requires action. That is what you’ve seen spill out on to our streets, dominate our newsfeeds, and color our dinner conversations over the past six months. Those who mother have come together, almost instinctually, in effort to weave back together the torn fabric of American society, and to reintroduce a shared humanity into our public discourse. The divisions between us are more perceived than real; at our core we all want and need the same things: food, water, and safety; a good job and the dignity that carries with it; education and opportunity for our children; healthcare when we’re sick; the freedom to hold the hand and kiss the lips of the person or persons we love.
In every American oath and anthem we wax poetic about freedom, liberty, and justice — those words are hollow if they are spoken but not lived. It is on us to create a framework to Make America Functional Again. We can’t just wait for the next election. Until we address our country’s underlying problems, any progress will be fleeting, any solution ephemeral. We need a deeper, longer look in the mirror. To cure what ails us, back in Antebellum America, Trump’s America, and every future America, we all need to mother.
This Mother’s Day, I am asking all Americans, to celebrate Mother’s Day in Ann Jarvis’s image. Find someone you disagree with on an important issue. Learn something from them. Teach something to them. Bring empathy and leave everything else at the door. Summon the moral courage to engage in a Daring Discussion, a campaign developed by my sisters and I from the movement. Stop at nothing short of meaningful progress. America can have a bright future again. Like the rest of us, it needs a Mother.
Directed by Paola Mendoza; Creative Director, Sarah Sophie Flicker