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Ilze Petersons of Orono is a former refugee and long-time supporter of peace and justice efforts. She was the program coordinator for the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine.
Each day we witness the terrible death, destruction and displacement of so many in Ukraine and other war-torn lands. We all face the threat of nuclear war and the impacts of climate change resulting from short-sighted policies of growth and militarism.
In the past when our government waged wars of choice in the name of national security (Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan), we could join with others at rallies, vigils, marches and visits to congressional delegations to call for an end to spending our tax dollars on wars that did not make us safer but drained dollars needed here at home. Today, we see that the billions devoted to building more weapons and “improving” nuclear weapons that can never be used do not make us more secure. The so-called defense budget that eats up more than one half of our discretionary federal budget has not led to successful negotiations to end this war.
However, today it is the Russian government waging war in Ukraine and crushing Russian citizens who courageously protest. Thousands who demonstrated against the war have been arrested and face up to 15 years in prison. An editor at Channel One Russia TV channel, Marina Ovsyannikova, was arrested after bravely holding up a sign during a news broadcast reading “No War. Stop the War.”
There have been courageous acts by Russian peacemakers in the past in spite of misinformation and repression. In 1989, 300 mothers of conscripted soldiers in Afghanistan demonstrated and succeeded in bringing 180,000 young men home to resume their studies. In 1996 the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia received the Right Livelihood Award for upholding the common humanity of Russians and Chechens. They opposed militarism and violence and helped in negotiating for an end to the war in Chechnya.
Recently human rights activist and Russian recipient of a Right Livelihood Award in 2016, Svetlana Gannushkina, was arrested for participating in an “unauthorized public action” on Feb. 27, according to Der Spiegel.
In late March, Newsweek reported that a group calling themselves the Feminist Anti-War Resistance in Russia came up with a creative anonymous way to express anti-war sentiments — writing “no war” and “stop the war” on rubles.
It is painful to watch the death, destruction and displacement of millions of Ukrainians and hard to know how we as U.S. peacemakers can help to end this illegal and immoral war. Perhaps this Mother’s Day we can join with Ukrainian mothers, Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia and mothers and peacemakers around the world to continue the call for an end to the war, and the militarism that perpetuates violence as the solution to conflict and drains resources needed by ordinary people.
This weekend, as we celebrate Mother’s Day, is a good opportunity to recall the origins of Mother’s Day in 1870. After the Civil War ended, Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist who wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” issued this proclamation for a Mother’s Peace Day. “Arise all women who have hearts,” she urged. “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 women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, ‘Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.’”