May 15, 2008

Bluegal wrote up a little bit about The Mother's Day Project last Sunday, but I wanted to learn more. As someone with a background in visual arts and knowing that through art, humanity has confronted some of our most painful facets, long before we've had the distance and ability to discuss it otherwise, I've participated in the power of this kind of communal project before with the AIDS Memorial Quilt. I thought (and hoped) that The Mother's Day Project could similarly engage some C&L readers and asked project founder Threading Water if she would contribute a guest post to C&L to tell us more about her project, and the desire to honor and acknowledge the human cost of the war:

The Mother’s Day Project is not – as the name would suggest – a cross-stitch sampler of aprons and biscuits and babies and other sentimental iconography associated with mothers and motherhood. Truth is, The Mother’s Day Project is only marginally about mothers, despite its nod to the traditions of home-based needle arts.

Volunteers from 37 states, five countries and three continents, are stitching the names of female members of the Coalition Forces who have died in Iraq. Each stitched name is returned to me to be joined into an embroidered fabric collage panel that will become part of a larger memorial. Additionally, each participant is asked to learn something about the woman whose name they receive and to write about their experience as a Project participant.

The purpose of The Mother's Day Project is to draw attention to the human cost of the Iraq War. While the parameters of the Project focus on women who have lost their lives serving as part of the Coalition forces in Iraq, it is not meant to exclude recognition for others who have lost their lives as a result of this war. Male soldiers, Iraqi men, boys, girls, infants and women have died in the thousands. They are all worthy and deserving of our attention. But, how does one grasp these devastating numbers, many of which are the result of underreporting and best guesses?

  • 105 women soldiers

  • 4,389 military deaths

  • 8,257 Iraqi security forces deaths

  • 29,978 wounded US soldiers

  • 435 contractor deaths

  • 42,096 Iraqi civilian deaths

This war, more than any other in my lifetime, has been removed from the collective psyche of our day-to-day lives. What we see, what we know and subsequently, what we feel is under tight control. No flag-draped coffins. Reporters are "embedded," and thus compromised in their duty to report with fairness and objectivity. Most days, the daily death toll from Iraq is buried in a sidebar of my local newspaper somewhere around page 11.

Meanwhile, the real numbers coming out of Iraq reveal a level of violence and destruction that is, for most of us, too daunting, too numbing to comprehend. And why should we have to comprehend the reality of Iraq? Without a military draft, a relatively small segment of our society has been paying the price of military service, with many individuals serving three or four rotations in Iraq. That leaves the rest of us, the majority of us, untouched.

Julia Ward Howe envisioned the original Mother’s Day as part of a larger peace movement following her experiences during the American Civil War. That fact certainly lends credibility to the name of The Mother’s Day Project. As human beings, the work of bringing peace to our personal relationships, our communities, our country and our world may be the most noble and necessary endeavor of our lifetime. I am all in favor of returning Mother’s Day to its original purpose and I hope this small, grassroots project will advance a return to the genesis of the day.

I also hope, fervently, to fan the coals of subversiveness. The Mother's Day Project, in making the losses of war personal, changes forever the sense of disengagement that the Bush Administration wishes us to feel about this war. No one who has taken the time to forge a personal connection with someone killed as a result of this war, will ever be able to look at those statistics of dead and wounded in the same detached way again.

That's more than a protest of the Iraq War. It’s a shift in comprehension and vision. A small revolution.

It begins with needle and thread.

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