My Keynote Remarks at the MIRCI Conference in Toronto
First of all, it’s so extraordinary to be here with so many amazing feminist activists and I am grateful for the invitation and opportunity to speak to you. I am convinced that mother-activism is the key to true and positive change.
I also think the concept of Outlaw Motherhood is delicious, since I have become an Outlaw Mother in nearly every sense of the word!
We are all involved in so many righteous struggles and I want you to know that I know, we are all linked in our struggles. One fabulous thing we do as women and mothers is that we struggle with, dare I say it: Hope. Not the Madison Avenue induced Hope-nosis of false hope, but real, hands-on, in the trenches, Hope.
My pretend boyfriend, Jackson Browne, wrote a wonderfully uplifting song, among all his other wonderful songs, called, “Rock me on the Water.” He starts the song with the lyrics:
“Oh, people look among you, the signs are everywhere, you’ve left it for somebody other than you to be the one who cares.”
Well, I am surrounded by women who have rejected the thinking that someone else will come along and solve our problems for us—or that there even exists such a person out there, somewhere, that cares more about our children, our families, and our communities than we do.
Before I get too far into the theme of my talk, let me tell you a little about my own story.
I am a baby-boomer born in the USA during the rise of the working-class. However, Our lives during these so-called golden times were tainted with the terror of the Cold War, where I grew up diving under my desk every Friday afternoon at the appointed time to apparently give us the illusion that our magical desks would be able to save us from a nuclear holocaust. Did you all have to do that here in Canada?
The 1960’s were a decade that was clouded with one international emergency and scare after the other.
As one who was barely four-years old during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I remember the feeling of tenseness and worry among the adults in my sphere of influence. In fact, the other day, I was talking about a book I downloaded from iTunes to make my daily workout a little less tedious, called: World War Z. World War Z is about a Zombie plague on the planet (yes, I also do escapism and would like to do more research on the rise of Zombie-culture popularity, and the term “Zombie” is an appropriate metaphor for many of my fellow Americans today—but that’s for a later seminar). Anyway, my three-year old grandson, Jonah, was in the room coloring in a Sesame Street coloring book and he popped UP his little blond, handsome, curly head and said: “Hmm.., Zombie wars, that thounds thscary.” So I know that these events intrude on our psyches even from a very young age.
So, during the 60’s, as an impressionable, sensitive child, I was assaulted by what we now consider, US History 101: The Cuban Missile Crisis, The Kennedy Assassinations—first one than another. (When I met Senator Ted Kennedy a few years ago we talked about how I could identify and empathize with his mother, Rose who buried not one, but four of her children). Then the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr entered my world—little did I know that exactly 38 years later, on April 04, 2004—the same forces that killed Dr. King would kill my future first born child.
The Vietnam War, the Watts uprisings that occurred just a few miles from my mostly-white hometown in California, the Vietnam war protests—on and on. I clearly grew up in a very unstable world—but was my history unique to that of womankind in general?
Was I literally being groomed to sacrifice my own son on the altar of sexist-racist-violent nationalism as so many of my sisters before me on this male-dominated road to OUR ruin have?
Along with all of the conditioning to accept violence as the norm, I was also conditioned in a very infantile and inherently chauvinistic patriotism, where we are taught to salute and recite a prayer to a piece of colored cloth that hung over the postings of our perfect spelling tests in our classrooms. An era where one teacher sent me to the corner in 2nd grade for admitting that if a “Red Commie” stuck a gun to my head and told me not to recite the pledge of allegiance, that I wouldn’t dare. I may have been a very shy child, but I wasn’t a stupid one. That was child-abuse, right?
What happened in history during the years between the end of the Vietnam War and the War that stole my oldest son from me?
The troops limped home from Vietnam defeated and demoralized and an urban legend grew that they were spat upon by people JUST LIKE me and called “baby-killers.” Side note: a lot of babies were included in the millions of Vietnamese that were slaughtered during that insane US misadventure.
We saw a president resign and the rise of one US president after another that continued a series of clandestine wars in Latin America and overt “humanitarian interventions” all over the planet that began to be kept farther and farther from the psyche of an American public that was definitely tired of carnage, but this new militarism in an age of the so-called, Peace Dividend was out of sight and out of mind.
Not only were these presidents consolidating military power abroad they also began a concentrated and choreographed war on working-class prosperity at home. Since the beginning with Reagan’s attacks on unions and Clinton’s attacks on “Welfare Queens,” the US has currently become in the unenviable position of number one in income disparity of all the world’s so-called civilized countries.
As philosopher, Jacques Ellul (please excuse my French pronunciation, the first time I came to Canada, I was going to meet with some wonderful women of the Bloc Quebecois, and for the life of me, I thought my Canadian comrade was saying BLAH-QUA-QUA-QUA) anyway Jacques Ellul wrote: “The goal of modern propaganda is no longer to transform opinion but to arouse an active and mythical belief.” So, I was raised in this Mythocracy of an America that proclaimed itself, contrary to its reality, a shining example of freedom and democracy and opportunity. In the US, we often blame ourselves for our woes, when it’s the system that works us over like sitting ducks begging for more. I know I felt that any problems were isolated incidences and I must be the only mom struggling with the fact that I am not perfect and I couldn’t juggle a job, motherhood and citizenship without constantly dropping many balls before my son was killed and I was put in the awkward position of being profoundly hurt by a system that I had tried, although unsuccessfully, to be a part of (not apart from,like now) for over four decades.
One of the most damaging and insidious myths that we are beaten with in America, besides the one where we’re the greatest nation in the entire universe, is the one that says that one person cannot make a difference. We are overtly and subversively told that our only part in what has become our national shame is “voting.” Voting is so compromised and crooked, yet we feel if we go to the polls on the required day, within the proscribed times and get our Red-white-and blue sticker, proudly emblazoned with “I VOTED” then we can go back into our Dancing With the American Idol—McDonald’s Mega-meal induced coma—feeling that we have fulfilled some kind of “right and obligation” as good USAians—It usually never once crosses our minds that the scoundrels inhabiting the halls of power want, no need, our brain dead compliance with their crimes.
Why, if we as mothers thought too hard about it, we would never allow our children to be sucked into the meat grinder of the US military—war or no war, these institutions brainwash our wonderful children into unthinking automatons that put the “sacred mission” before family and common-sense and their very own lives. One consolation that I have is that from eyewitness reports on the scene when my son was killed, Casey refused to go on the mission that subsequently killed him, but was dragged to the truck by his sergeant. Casey was a conscientious objector at the end of his life, and I am very proud of him for that.
Instead of being in competition with each other for rearing the next "super-star quarterback," or Miss America, we should band together in defense of our families and our basic human rights to healthcare; good, free, and easily accessible education from pre-school to university; housing—in the US, one and a half million children fall asleep without a roof over their heads every night, that is a monstrous statistic in the world’s wealthiest (for 2% of us) of nations; another human right is healthy and GMO free food—the same amount of children fall asleep with hunger pangs in the US every night; and two of the most important things we should be organizing and aggressively working together for are: complete and unconditional peace and a healthy and sustainable environment.
Peace and environmental health go hand and hand and cannot be separated. War and militaries are the number one cause of environmental pollution, resource depletion and the current wars the US are waging are for resources, where indigenous populations are decimated to gain dominance over fossil fuels, water and other minerals. If Libya’s major export were broccoli, the US wouldn’t give a flying-flip about Qaddafi and his so-called human-right’s violations. Many world leaders practice what Qaddafi is accused of, including and especially, my own.