The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is the first woman to serve in this position. Currently second in the line of presidential succession (behind vice president Dick Cheney), Pelosi is the highest-ranking elected woman in American history — and a mother. She has five children and seven grandchildren. This essay appears in the anthology "The Maternal is Political."
"As A Mother"
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
-Julia Ward Howe, Mother’s Day Proclamation, 1870
These words are from Julia Ward Howe, who called for a day in 1870 that carried a meaning different from the cards, flowers, and chocolates we’ve come to associate with Mother’s Day today (not that I mind the chocolates). After witnessing the devastating effects of the Civil War, Howe began what she called Mother’s Day for Peace — a call to women across the globe to come together and bring an end to war.
This year, Julia Ward Howe’s call is particularly relevant, not just for mothers, but for all women, all men, all daughters, and all sons. We are in the midst of a war that has taken far too many of our most precious resources — our children. It is a war the American people have lost faith in and are ready to end. It is a failed policy, and we are ready for a new direction.
There are numerous reasons to end this war — the cost of lives and limbs, the cost in dollars, the cost to our reputation in the world, the cost to our military and National Guard — but it is as a mother that I am most committed to ending this war, because war hits mothers in an especially painful and personal way. We cannot help but think of our fellow mothers as their young sons and daughters are sent off to war in Iraq, praying for their child’s safety, anxiously awaiting a call, an email, a letter — anything. The relief as their children return, or the utter devastation when their children never come home. We think too of the Iraqi mothers who have lost their children, and whose children are growing up surrounded by warfare and destruction.
Women have always been the peacekeepers of our societies. When I became the first woman Speaker of the House, I was honored to assume this position and humbled by the responsibility it brought. Nothing in my life will ever compare to being a mother — not being a member of Congress; not being Speaker of the House. But I am thankful that I have the opportunity to bring my experience as a mother to this position. When I traveled to the Middle East in search of diplomacy and peace, I was there as Speaker of the House. But I was also there as a mother, carrying Julia Ward Howe’s message. When I cast my vote for an end to the war in Iraq, I did so as a member of Congress. But my vote was also taken as a mother of five and grandmother of seven.
We will bring an end to this war because the world is not ours alone, but our children’s as well. As the adage goes, we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. Let us heed the call of Julia Ward Howe and make the next Mother’s Day a Mother’s Day for Peace, and as mothers, as daughters, and as families, bring an end to this war.
From the book "The Maternal is Political," edited by Shari MacDonald Strong. Excerpted by arrangement with Seal Press (), a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2008. This essay first appeared in the Huffington Post.
A note from the editor of "The Maternal is Political":
As the editor of the anthology about motherhood and politics, "The Maternal Is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Politics," I’m often asked, “So, how is the maternal political?” I usually pause when confronted with this question — not because I don’t have strong opinions on the subject, but because it still surprises me that this is a question we ask in our society.
How is motherhood political? It seems more reasonable to ask, How is it not? Because, of course, every act of mothering has a political dimension. And every political act impacts every single mother, because every act shapes the world in which our children live.
Right now in the U.S., political motherhood is getting a tremendous amount of press because Republican VP candidate Governor Sarah Palin is getting a lot of press. When she got off the plane in St. Louis last week for her debate against Senator Joe Biden, she held her baby son Trig in her arms.
The media is fascinated with her children, with how Palin manages (or doesn’t manage) to “do it all.” Gone are the days when the acknowledgment of mothers in our political landscape was a token nod to “soccer moms” or “security moms.” Today, we have the “hockey mom,” who the GOP would like us mothers to think of as our peer, our voice. Motherhood has arrived on the political stage!
But for me, getting a mom into office, while desirable, was never the point. I had hoped that having a mom on the ticket (I presumed months ago, that this would be Hillary Clinton) would bring mothers’ interests into clear focus in this presidential election. But despite all the recent attention given to a small town mom from Wasilla, this hardly seems the case. The candidates speak in generalities about health care reform and education, but the moms I know are looking for specific, impassioned answers about what McCain/Palin or Obama/Biden will do for our children.
So as we move into the final weeks of the election, I’ll be listening for details, and watching carefully to see what the candidates have to say about the issues at the top of my list: Iraq and Afghanistan, the economy, reproductive rights, health care, and education.
To read more from Shari MacDonald Strong, see the .