Moms (pt. II): surrogates of movements

We community organizers like working on our own terms, outside of the box. We do not like compromising our ethics or being limited by the system’s rules.

Many of us work in very constrained environments. Most strategists would not advise attempting to organize a march through Pyongyang. Many of us are also limited by our gender, religion, or other factors that ostracize us. Our ability to challenge the system on our own terms is often an indicator that we are among the privileged. The vulnerable must get what they can get from the system, because they incur higher risks trying to destroy the system from the outside.

Mary was not exactly among the privileged. Palestinians made fun of those who came from Nazareth. Mary was also a female. Many probably viewed her as little more than an asset for reproduction.

While some western feminists have criticized Mary for being seemingly passive in her agreement with the angel Gabriel to be a surrogate mother for God, others like Dr. Sharon Jacob, a professor of the New Testament at Phillips Theological Seminary, see things a bit differently.

Dr. Jacob is a native of India herself, and she spent considerable time reading the Bible’s texts about Mary with Indian women who were surrogate mothers.

Surrogate motherhood is a controversial industry. Well-to-do couples who cannot have children are able to contract a woman to carry the baby and deliver it for them. The woman is paid for this service.

Dr. Jacob explains that even though the system uses women, especially poor women, women also try to get something out of the system – income that can sustain them. Similarly, God used Mary and her womb, but Mary leveraged the resource she had to ensure it would help liberate her people. A different form of payment, but surrogacy nonetheless.

In my experience, people who have been abused so long by the system are often difficult to mobilize around abstract issues like transparency, democracy, or human rights. But if they understand there is something in it for them, that their participation will lead to a direct benefit, they are far more likely to participate.

The Benet women of Mt. Elgon were hesitant to join a theoretical campaign for “land rights” until a crisis moment. A schoolgirl grazing family animals crossed into a national park that had been stolen from the Benet people by the colonial administration generations back. A Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) park ranger punished the girl by raping her.

This was not the first incident of its kind. Since the 1980s, rapes, arsons, killings, and other forms of intimidation have kept the land in the hands of UWA, which illegally gives forest timber to businesspeople who offer bribes.

Benet women assembled and climbed Mt. Elgon, demanding an end to sexual violence and a return of their ancestral lands. There were risks involved in doing this, such as becoming targets of authorities’ violence. But even though they thought they were being used by organizations campaigning for “land rights,” they realized they could get something out of it too: more safety and the ability to graze animals in the park. (These women went on to journey to Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, as part of a continent-wide campaign on women’s land rights.)

The lesson here is certainly not to allow one’s self to be abused. No woman should be treated as just a womb, or an object that offers sex in exchange for money. Jesus’ mom shows us, however, that where we are being exploited by the system, we should push back and get something out of it. That too, is one of the many facets of resistance.

Here is part of the song Mary is said to have sung about her son-to-be, childbearing giving her the daringness to dream:

“He has scattered the proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel
Remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever
Just as he promised our ancestors.”

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