Last winter August Beck wore a sign to a peace rally in Washington, D.C., declaring, "My parents teach me to use words, not bombs."
It was a powerful message coming from a 6-month-old boy.
A woman on stilts noticed the child and sent someone over to hand Alicia Beck, his mother, information on Mothers Acting Up.
Worries about war are nothing new to mothers. In 1870, Julia Ward Howe, author of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," called on women to take action for peace. She issued a Mother's Day Proclamation that addressed the same issues mothers still face today.
"Say firmly: We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies," Howe wrote. "Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
Howe's words inspired a group of women in Boulder, Colo., to form Mothers Acting Up, which attempts to mobilize women to move from concern to action.
A group of concerned mothers in Greater Cincinnati plan to gather at Findlay Market at 10:30 a.m. Sunday to celebrate Mothers Day by displaying their concern for children. Mothers Acting Up encourages mothers to host parades to raise awareness of children's issues and motivate mothers to use their political power.
"It's an event all about uniting people underneath a common cause," Beck says. "We all care about our children and what happens to our children. It's all about celebrating the strength and getting people excited about it."
Beck and other women will walk on stilts, wearing colorful costumes, to draw attention to their cause. Their kids will use noisemakers.
'A natural lobbying group'
The goal is to move from concern about children to action on their behalf, according to Elizabeth Cochran of Northern Kentucky. The parade is designed to "celebrate the power of motherhood," she says.
Beth Osnes, a theater teacher and a mother of two, is one of the founding members of Mothers Acting Up, which held its first parade in Boulder last year. This year there will be parades in nine cities.
"I think the motivation for all of us was the disparity between how we were able to raise our children and how other mothers around the world are having to raise their children," Osnes says.
Osnes, for example, has the luxury of access to medical care and raising her children in a safe college town. Many mothers throughout the world, she points out, have no access to doctors and are forced to raise their kids in war zones.
It only seemed right to her that women would advocate for those children.
"There is a natural lobbying group for children — and that's mothers," Osnes says.
In order to make a change, the group knew it needed to reach its target audience. Peace rallies don't really reach those who aren't already converted to that cause, Osnes says. So the mothers learned to walk on stilts, found some attention-grabbing costumes and planned a parade.
"Great things have happened," Osnes says. "We're not trying to convert anybody to being concerned. We're assuming there's a ton of people out there who are already concerned."
The goal is to give them the tools to take action.
Since becoming a mother, Beck's activism has taken on new meaning.
"I think one thing that really has changed is just my urgency about it," she says. "Knowing that I'm going to be passing this world onto my son, there's just more of an urgency to make change in the world on his behalf."
Mothers Acting Up has focused on the war in Iraq, AIDS in Africa and children in Afghanistan. The group has encouraged mothers to contact their political representatives and make appointments to speak with them.
The mothers take their children with them. In one case, a Republican politician's aide tried to explain the need for war by asking a 10-year-old boy what he would do if someone held a knife to his mother's throat.
"Bringing up images of mommy being attacked — it was so odd," Osnes says.
Mothers aren't the only ones questioning their political representatives, Osnes says. The kids have their own list of questions prepared.
Beck hopes to raise the level of awareness and action of Cincinnati's mothers.
"I think it's an obvious kind of leap to go from concern about your own child to concern about all children," she says. "Coming together underneath the power of motherhood and driving that force forward is politically powerful and it's a huge voice. There's a lot that divides the world, but one thing we can all agree on is protecting our children. It's a uniting thing across borders." ©