This Mother’s Day, Let’s Honor Our Mamas With Actions That Reflect the Radical Roots of the Holiday

By Deepa Iyer May 12, 2017

Before it became a commercialized holiday replete with store-bought greeting cards and floral arrangements, Mother’s Day was an idea generated by women who sought to highlight the critical role mothers could play in ending disease and war. In the late 1850s, Ann Reeves Jarvis organized Mother’s Day work clubs in West Virginia to bring attention to infant mortality by fighting milk contamination and disease. In 1870, Julia Ward Howe issued a “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” a call to action for women, especially those who had lost their sons in war. It read in part:

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at 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.

As you honor the mothers in your lives, here are a few ways to reach back to the radical roots of Mother’s Day.

1. Participate in #MamasBailOutDay

The United States leads the world in the incarceration of women. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, only 5 percent of the world’s female population live in the U.S., but this country accounts for nearly 30 percent of the world’s imprisoned women. Thirty percent of these incarcerated women are Black. And of course this affects mothers: The New York Times reports that 60 percent of women in state prisons have children.

The cash bail system reinforces much of the inequity. According to the Brooklyn Community Jail Fund, over 60 percent of people in jails around the country are inside awaiting trial simply because they cannot afford to pay their bail. This means that many—including Black and Latino mothers—are incarcerated without being convicted of a crime. Most are locked away for drug possession and so-called quality-of-life offenses. Many plead guilty just to get out of jail and back to their kids and communities.

That’s why groups such as Southerners on New Ground (SONG), the Movement for Black Lives, Color Of Change and Brooklyn Community Jail Fund have launched National Mama’s Bail Out Day. This week, organizers in a slew of cities including Oakland, Memphis, Houston, Minneapolis, St. Petersburg, Florida, and Durham, North Carolina, have raised more than $250,000 to bail out local moms in time for Mother’s Day. "In the tradition of our enslaved Black ancestors, who used their collective resources to purchase each other’s freedom before slavery was abolished, until we abolish bail and mass incarceration, we’re gonna free ourselves," organizers state on the National Mama’s Bail Out Day website. The site also lifts up other bail-out and solidarity efforts in cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia and Richmond, Virginia. All mamas, including those who are queer, trans, disabled, immigrant, young and elderly, will get relief. Check out the initiative and read the broader policy demands here.

2. Hold a "Daring Discussion"

Starting on Mother’s Day, The Women’s March is rolling out an effort called "Daring Discussions" to encourage people to have 90-minute conversations with each other about issues seen as contentious in America today, from race to religion to immigration. Visit their site for an introductory video and "Daring Discussions" toolkits to help facilitate the talks.

3. Amplify Mamas’ Voices and Issues 

Mother’s Day is a perfect time to amplify and support the work of folks fighting hard for a range of issues including access to healthcare and reproductive services, wage equity, fair maternity leave policiesdomestic worker rights and the end of corrosive criminal justice and immigrant detention systems.

For example, in Houston, Latinx immigrants marked Mother’s Day on May 10, the date Mexico celebrates the holiday, by marching against SB-4, the draconian, anti-immigrant legislation Governor Greg Abbott signed this week. SB-4 punishes cities, counties, elected officials, campuses and even police who don’t collaborate with federal immigration enforcement.

In Washington D.C., Moms Rising and partner groups will march today (May 12) to stand up for immigrant and Muslim mothers and to shine a light on healthcare access as the Republican-dominated Senate considers their version of Trumpcare. Marchers are set to deliver Statue of Liberty figurines to select senators and Attorney General Jeff Sessions after a stop at the Trump International Hotel for a press conference.

Learn more about issues affecting mothers and their families by following the hashtag #MothersDontNeed on Twitter this weekend.

In the original spirit of the holiday, all of us at Colorlines wish the mamas and mama figures in our lives and communities a happy Mother’s Day.