To My Mom on Mother’s Day

by Andrea Zonderman

May 8, 2011

It’s going to take all kinds of people to win on our battles ahead. It’s not just the ones leading the chants at the rallies, but it’s the moms who are baking cookies to raise money, the ones writing letters, those who push past their fears of public speaking even if it’s just once in their life to stand up for something they believe in. It takes all of us, people like my mom.

At first glance, you won’t think that my mom is an activist. Her friends probably wouldn’t even use that word to describe her. She’s quite shy. She doesn’t get into arguments about politics. She has a few Republican friends and says she can’t talk to them at all about anything political, because if she disagrees with you she probably changes the subject or chooses not the respond. But this doesn’t mean my mom doesn’t have strong beliefs or convictions.

Every Earth Day growing up, I was in the kitchen baking cookies. Sometimes they were round sugar cookies that Mom and I would decorate with green and blue frosting. Sometimes we’d get out the whale-shaped cookie-cutters; it all depended on what she was raising money for that year. Mom is retired now but was a 2nd grade teacher. She always taught her students about whales, the destruction of the rainforest and other environmental issues. She’s run fundraisers with her students where they’d sell the cookies to adopt a whale or buy an acre of rainforest. This of course was not part of the curriculum but something my mom felt strongly about. She wanted to help protect our environment and taught her students how they could too.

Then, back when I was a teenager, my mom heard that a developer wanted to swap some of his private land on an island off the coast of Michigan for public land on another island. This would mean that an entire island would be lost to the public. My parents own a sailboat and spent summers sailing around the islands in Lake Michigan. South Fox, the island in question, was one of my mom’s favorites. My mother was outraged and decided to do something about it. She was one of the first people to stand up and say that she disagreed with this land swap. She went to public forums and spoke. This was not a picnic for my mom. Though she’s completely comfortable standing in front of her 2nd grade classroom, speaking at a public forum is not her forte. She was scared to death at that hearing.

At the hearing, she made friends with a Department of Natural Resources officer who sent her documents (on the down low) about the island that she used to write letters to the editor and elected officials. She spread the news of this proposed swap with friends and any other people she could get to stand up against this development. Her colleagues at the school got sick of talking to her, since the island was all she spoke about (though she still managed to get them all to sign petitions). I saw my mother struggle with this and dedicate all her free time to this fight, going outside of her comfort zone to do what she believed.

In the end, some of the public/private land swap happened – but not the full amount that the developer wanted. The State of Michigan retained the northern and southern tip of the island. Years later a group restored the now-public lighthouse, which is open for visitors today. My mom recently shared with me the copy of her speech at the hearing. Her last lines were, “I want my daughter to be able to visit South Fox and her children after her. It should not be taken away from her and the rest of the people of Michigan, just to be enjoyed by a few. South Fox instills spirit into anyone who walked its shores. It makes you fight for the right to return. I am fighting for that right! I only have these words to fight with. Please let that be enough.”

Thanks, Mom you did it.

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