This year, the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8 has been eclipsed by the horrors of war in Ukraine. When World War II was percolating, people from all over the world got snippets of war news on the radio, in newsprint, and short grainy newsreels in movie theaters. Now, full color real-time news is instantly fed to us on our phones, so women (and men) throughout the world intravenously take in the pain of war in Ukraine.
On International Women’s Day, it is important to remember that women birthed every baby turned soldier who was killed in war – and in every war throughout human history. Because the process of life begins inside a mother’s body (sharing blood and food), women have an innate understanding of the preciousness of life and in turn, a revulsion toward war.
On March 8, 1917, Russian women marched in Petrograd, now St. Petersburg, to protest World War I and lack of food in what was called the “Bread and Peace” march. With their strength in numbers, this demonstration fueled the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the removal of Czar Nicholas II. Women and mothers understand the connection between bread and peace.
Humanist, food writer, and author of Motherland, Elissa Altman, understands how nourishment, not fighting, builds family, community, and cooperation. She writes:
It is the women who watch and the women who wait and the women who grieve, not knowing who among them will go and who will come back. I once heard about Palestinian and Israeli women, while their husbands and sons and daughters were fighting, they illegally tossed bread over the barrier walls to each other, so that they and their children wouldn’t go hungry. When the siege of Ukraine began, I baked bread as if I were possessed, conjuring up the ghost of my great grandmother, who died at the end of a Nazi machine gun outside L’viv in 1942. I see the faces of these men and women protecting their homes against every odd in this country known for its music and its wheat.
In Italy, International Women’s Day, Festa Della Donna took hold in 1945 when the Union of Italian Women affirmed that March 8 should be a day of celebrating womanhood and women’s rights. This low-key event is less political these days and more of a day to give yellow mimosas to a special woman in your life. (Don’t forget Nona.)
Novelist and poet Mary DeRocco, a second generation Italian-American describes war through her mother’s eyes, Immaculata Ottati of Piscotta:
Mussolini, always the strong man, stirs the people in the North to anger, gathers them in a frenzy. Fight for what’s rightfully yours, he instigates! He has planted rumors of an invasion of Ethiopia this fall. Why does Italy need to invade Ethiopia? All people want to live their lives in Peace. Aren’t there enough unexpected troubles life brings to our door? War is what men with lost souls seek. The dreams of power center them as King. They chase their own image, destroy what others cultivate and piece together an empire. This world is being stirred with chaos and ill will.
We are paralyzed with fear when we see clips on our phones of mothers and newborns hiding in basement make-shift Intensive Care Units in Ukraine.
But what can we do about this? And where is the bread and peace?
If 13,000 Russian men and women protested the war in the streets with the threat of prison time, and if 20,000 women garment workers marched for better working conditions and the right to vote in New York’s Shirtwaist Strike in 1909, then women and mothers of the world should do something. And the least we can do is pick up our phones and demand from our political leaders (whose salaries we pay with taxes – they work for us) to achieve an immediate CEASEFIRE. And no more ruminating and talking about ceasefire. Get it done. They are our leaders, and they have been hired by us to stop this war before a megalomaniac presses a button and blows up the whole world.
Header Image: STRENGTH IN NUMBERS – 1916 Women en masse marching to Albany NY for the right to vote. (7th from left is my grandmother Katherine Toofe (Stiles)
IN HONOR OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN DAY
By Mary DeRocco
A photo triggers a yearning so strong
to be out in the world having fun
so strong I feel sick to my stomach
this emotional memory in utero
my mother’s yearnings spills into the amniotic fluid that floats me
her blood my blood her flesh my flesh She yearns
To Be Loved To Be Seen To Be Free Out in The World Having Fun
she had a taste with her neighborhood homegirls
everyone a first generation Pisciottani-Americani
the war years
seismic shifts for women being free
my Ma in her early 20’s
photo snapped a visit to New York City
she sits on a wall at Rockefeller Center Prometheus peeks out behind her
her legs crossed at the ankles a sailor’s cap on her head
she is radiant her smile bright with mischief
growing-up Pa never Beat The Dare outta her
To Be Loved To Be Seen To Be Free Out in The World
her blood my blood her flesh my flesh