Mother's Day event focuses on building peace

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BENNINGTON — Inspired by the historical connections between Mother's Day and social justice, some 50 people gathered on Saturday for an inaugural Mother's Day weekend event honoring mothers and promoting peace.

Called Mothers & Others for Peace, the hour-long event included music, the making of artificial flowers and a series of brief addresses, and culminated in a "Peace Walk" from the town offices on South Street to the Oldcastle Theatre on Main Street, chosen because it had been the site of racist graffiti earlier this year.

Mary Ellen Munley, one of the organizers, said she had taken part in similar events in Oak Park, Illinois, where she previously lived. "We just took great joy in working together and putting something together for the community," she said.

Munley said the event "adds a little more depth and significance to Mother's Day."

The event, sponsored by the Greater Bennington Peace & Justice Center and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bennington, opened with a reading by Stephanie Eames of Julia Ward Howe's "Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World" from 1870. Later known as the "Mother's Day Proclamation," the one-page work was a pacifist reaction to the Civil War and Franco-Prussian War, urging women to take political action to end armed conflict.

"In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the bloody exchanges of the battle field," Eames read. "Thus men have done. Thus men will do. But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror.

"Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before," she read.

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Munley encouraged the gathering to consider an expanded idea of motherhood, one that goes beyond the biological definition. "Mothers give and help those around them. Mothers nurture. Mothers help those around them who are dealing with difficult things," she said. "And so mothering has less to do with having children, and more to do with how we treat the people in our lives.

"So in that way, the world is just full of mothers. The focus of Mother's Day expands, from honoring women with children, to honoring all who care deeply and take care of others."

Select Board members Jeanne Conner and Donald Campbell jointly read a proclamation passed by the board, recognizing May 11, 2019, as a day for Bennington "to celebrate the historical connection between Mother's Day and women's work for strong communities and peace, and the many ways mothers and others have enriched the lives of their communities through their activism and advocacy."

Conner reflected on the legacies of Howe and social activist Anna Jarvis, who succeeded in establishing a national Mother's Day holiday in 1914.

"Both of these remarkable woman were working for important causes from the 1860s to the early 1900s. Think about that for a minute," Conner said. "Suffice it to day, things were very different for women during that time period, which makes what they were able to accomplish even more significant and improbable. So thank you, Anna and Julia, and every other woman who followed your example, and fought to do great things in your stead. I probably would not be standing here today if it were not for women like you."

Campbell noted that Conner and another current member of the board, Jeannie Jenkins, are among just five women ever to have served on the Select Board.

"For 270 years, our town government has been run by people who look somewhat like me," he said. The under-representation of women in the town government, he said, "needs to change. I hope that you, and your daughters, and your daughter's daughters will be part of that change, either through your vote or by running for office yourselves."


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