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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thinking of Moms

Mother's Day. I'm thinking of my mother today. This was a woman who grew up in a large family; a family that never had a lot of money or property.  There were a total of eleven children and at many times, just one wage-earner. In her junior year of high school, Mom left school to go to work as a telephone operator at an automobile dealer/service garage. In a relatively short time, she advanced from telephone operator at a switchboard to a stenographer, probably pretty much under the guidance and tutelage of her oldest sister who worked at the same establishment. They both were needed at these jobs to help out the family, and the story goes that they helped to put one of their brothers through Cornell. She met my father during the early days of the Great Depression, mainly because he worked nearby at a print shop and they also lived near each other - undoubtedly both walking the same route to their places of work. My father was still a resident alien, having immigrated to the states in 1923 from Canada, and before that, in 1911 from Birmingham England to Canada. My father and mother married in 1936 after a fairly lengthy courtship. They had two sons, eight years apart, but in-between there was at least one miscarriage and it hurt them deeply. So, my mother, in brief, was a woman of fortitude and compassion. She overcame many struggles and adversities, and always looked at the world as a positive place, with opportunity available to those who would grasp it.

And grasp it she did. She worked hard, not only as a stenographer, but as a bookkeeper at the City Chamberlain's Office, as the Assistant Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, at the central headquarters of the City Fire Department, and at the City Clerk's office. Even when she had her first son, she would take time to work when she was needed, and continued that pattern with her second son, until she became too ill to work as high blood pressure and finally a stroke took their toll. But she was undaunted in her quest to be helpful and useful. She not only managed a household as a wife and mother, she also assisted my father with his work, helped him be a long-time Treasurer of the City Bowling League, and even had a small thriving business of her own, designing and making such things as items of clothing, especially aprons, and preparing pre-decorated Christmas boxes for sale. Her creativity and resourcefulness were known by many and praised and rewarded by not a few. Her other area of endeavor was to be helpful wherever she could: at church, at school functions, with friends and neighbors. She was always someone other people could count on to be there for them, as well as for her own family. She was petite in physical stature, but grand in her many endeavors on behalf of others. She never stopped giving to others, until the day when she just gave out after a massive cerebral hemorrhage at almost age 52.

There is much more that could be said about my mother in personal remembrance, but I am guided by her example to think beyond her and myself and to think today of mothers who are striving and giving, as well as struggling to survive and caring for children at the same time. I'm reminded of mothers today who take a number of low-paying jobs just to get by, and to feed their families; who sacrifice their own well-being to save enough to send their kids to college; who work hours upon end.

I'm thinking today of single mothers who have children to raise without a partner/helper, with homes to keep and work to be done just to live from paycheck to paycheck. I'm thinking of mothers who suffer their own illnesses, diseases or handicaps who have struggles with paying the rent, buying the food, getting transportation and child-care, and keeping kids out of trouble; protecting their children and themselves from the dangers surrounding them. I'm thinking today of the mothers who never themselves had the support of a loving family; who never had the guidance one would expect, and who could use a bit more compassion from neighbors and their government. I'm thinking today of the women who need adequate health care, and who have not as yet found it, although it may already be there through the ACA, but they missed the sign-up period. Yes, I'm thinking today of mothers who are living outside the parameters of a middle-class society, and who struggle every day to keep themselves and their families above the water-line.

I'm also thinking today of mothers who have organized other mothers into viable and effective organizations to help solve or address a problem or flaw in our society.
1)  Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is "a nonprofit organization in the United States that seeks to stop drunk driving, support those affected by drunk driving, prevent underage drinking, and to make an overall push for stricter alcohol policy. The Irving, Texas–based organization was founded in 1980 in California by Candice Lightner after her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver. MADD claims that drunk driving has been cut in half since their founding." (Wikipedia). I remember vividly how people that I new as a teenager were de-crying the toll being taken on our society, and particularly on our younger population by deaths from drunk driving. Yet no one at the time had done anything to really put an end to it. MADD represents what one or two individuals, and then many more, can do to organize and actually make things happen to change attitudes, and to change our society in a fundamental way. This is the essence of activism: don't wait for someone else to act; make something happen on your own individual initiative. MADD epitomizes that factor.

2)  NOW -- In several informal meetings followed by a national conference, a number of activists came together to form the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966, seeing the need for a civil rights organization specifically focused on women's rights. Betty Friedan was elected the first president of NOW and served in that office for three years. The NOW statement of purpose at that time included:

women's rights as "truly equal partnership with men," "fully equal partnership of the sexes"
focused on activism: "confront, with concrete action, the conditions that now prevent women from enjoying the equality of opportunity and freedom of choice which is their right as individual Americans, as human beings"
women's rights seen in the context of "the world-wide revolution of human rights"; equality of women as an opportunity to "develop their fullest human potential"
purpose to put women in the "mainstream of American political, economic and social life" NOW's commitment "equality, freedom, and dignity for women" specifically defined as not being about "special privilege" for women or "enmity towards men"
Key Feminist Issues in the NOW Statement of Purpose had to do with:
employment -- the most attention in the document is to issues around employment and economics
education
family including marriage and divorce laws, home responsibilities by gender role
political participation: in parties, decision-making, candidates (NOW was to be independent of any particular political party)
images of women in the media, in culture, in laws, in social practices
briefly addressed issue of "double discrimination" of African American women, linked women's rights to broader issues of social justice including racial justice
opposition to "protectiveness" in work, school, church, etc.
NOW instituted seven task forces to work on these issues. (from About.com)

Here again, women had been moving toward this activism for years, but it took the formation of NOW to focus efforts and to put forth a platform that could be worked on by different groups and individuals. Focus on the key issues was another important factor that elevated this to a " movement," and which enabled individual women to advocate for change even if they were not a formal part of the NOW organization.

3)  Planned Parenthood -- The term "planned parenthood" originally applied to practices to control the number of children born to a family. Nurse Margaret Sanger promoted information about birth control methods as a way of dealing with the poverty of families where parents could not provide financially for their growing families and were ignorant of sexual and medical knowledge that could limit the number of their children.

Today, Planned Parenthood refers to the organizations at local, state, federal and international levels. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is the umbrella group at the national level in the United States, with umbrella affiliates, and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) which is based in London unites groups around the world. The focus of Planned Parenthood Federation today is providing reproductive health care, sex education, counseling and information. Abortion services, while the most controversial of their programs, is only a small part of the services provided in more than 800 health centers throughout the United States. (from About.com)

It is important to stop here and point out the fact that the radical conservatives of the Republican Party have been engaged in an attack, not only on Planned Parenthood, but on the concept that women's equality is a goal toward which society should strive. These fundamentalists want a return to a paternalistic society (often using Judeo-Christian scripture as their reference point), in which men are dominant and women are meant to be "obedient" to their male masters. This regressive philosophy is often masked behind anti-abortion rhetoric, but is the main goal that these primitivists are touting: that women are inferior beings and must allow men to rule and to govern and to set the goals and premises for our society. It is typical for a regressive or developing nation, caught in a an historical time-warp of paternalism, to advocate this very doctrine. Look at the latest episode from the international news, and place the Nigerian kidnappings of young girls into this context. Even the attitude of the government, run mainly by males, is similar to that of the kidnappers: these women are not important enough to expend extra energy (and government money and resources) to find them and to punish the perpetrators.

Make no mistake, the misogynistic tendencies of the Right-wing in this country are not much different from the same tendencies in societies that have seen fit to deny equal rights to women in our world. The Republican Party is not only negative about women's rights and freedoms, they are unalterably opposed to women taking any more than a subservient role as housewives, secretaries, assistants, and sex slaves. Their "Christian" ideal of obedient and submissive entities is the epitome of paternalistic cultures of biblical times, and of the same type cultures and societies today that still infect our world with visions of what being a creature of "Adam's rib" really means.

Women must remain united under a banner similar to NOW, for this fight is long-range and brutal. The Republican Party is your enemy. Do not fall prey to their rhetorical disguises: they are touting a world in which women are subservient to men. Don't let it happen!

4) Moms Demand Action, a group founded by a Zionsville, IN mother calling for more gun control, has sparked controversy with a new ad campaign.

The first ad in the "Choose One" series features two elementary-age girls, one holding the book "Little Red Riding Hood" and the other holding an assault rifle.

The tagline reads, "We keep 'Little' Red Riding Hood' out of schools because of the bottle of wine in her basket. Why not assault weapons?"

"We are grateful to the White House for acknowledging the power of mothers' voices and the urgency of our call for change," founder Shannon Watts said in a news release. "Mothers and women have often been catalysts of social change in America, wielding powerful influence on issues like suffrage, segregation and children's rights. Now modern American moms must come together to help enact stronger gun laws to protect our children and families." (from theindychannel.com).

Recently, this organization has joined with "Mayors Against Illegal Guns" to form a powerful group lobbying for gun violence reform, called Everytown: a movement of moms, teachers, survivors, gun owners, mayors, faith leaders, law enforcement officials and other responsible citizens who believe much more can be done to keep families and communities safe from gun violence. For the first time in history, Americans from all walks of life will mobilize to create a counterweight to the gun lobby and fight for common-sense gun laws at the federal, state and local level.

Everytown will address issues like background checks, domestic violence, suicide prevention and safe storage of guns: the first video from Everytown shows why every parent needs to be concerned about safe storage. To learn more, visit Everytown.org. (from which these excerpts have been taken).

Now, of course, this is only a smattering of organizations for, or about women and Moms. There are many more, including a broad spectrum: Girl Scouts, Foster Grandparents, National Parents Organization, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, RAINN, National Partnership for Women and Families, Emily's List, MOMS Help Organization. The list goes on and on.

The point is that women and Moms have played a profound and vital role in so many of our country's foundational organizations, and in shaping a society in which women and girls must have, not only equal rights with men, but opportunities to address and promote their own unique concerns and issues. And, in this brief synopsis, we have taken the opportunity on this Mother's Day, to remind ourselves that a lot of moms need supports and assistance in their quest to assure a decent life for themselves and their children. We have also taken some time to praise and honor the activist Moms who have led us all toward a deeper, stronger, more dedicated and involved society, always seeking the good and just ends that we as a nation espouse, by acting with focused intent and vigor whenever the situation demands such a response.

Thanks to my Mom and to all those moms who step beyond the confines of home and work to forge new paths for us all. We are grateful for your compassion and your leadership.