Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Poppy politics

The yearly debate about whether the poppy is a political statement bumped into a special form of Canadian patriotism this year, namely the mainstream media's opposition to US based Amazon and subsidiaries such as Whole Foods Market.

I want to start with Whole Food Market's ban on political symbols being added to work uniforms. On this I have mixed feelings.  

There are some types of jobs, such as those that are providing specific government services, where employees need to be, and be seen as, impartial.  This isn't possible if employees in specifically sensitive positions are allowed to wear political and/or religious symbols. I don't think this need for impartiality exists with someone working at a grocery store, and I don't think Whole Foods was attempting to make that argument.

In their case they were trying to keep the increasingly divisive politics outside of the workplace.  Whether the law should protect or prohibit that, I don't have that strong opinion on and can be convinced either way.  I've seen how large companies like Google are having problems with divisive politics within the company, but I don't think we need policies to allow large companies to function. (See Cory Doctorow's How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism)

I've personally gone through all stages of the remembrance day and poppy debate.

  • In my youth I believed what I was told, which is that this is a symbol to remember war veterans and the horrors of war so that we will do everything we can to avoid war in the future.  Many of my uncles on my fathers side, and my grandfather on my mothers side, were war veterans so I wore the poppy proudly. It never occurred to me there was any other way to think.

  • In my early 20's (in the 1990's) I started to notice the symbol being used to promote Canadian patriotism and Canadian military campaigns.  This to me felt like the opposite of reminding us why we should avoid war, but instead promoting some of the very "us vs them" mentality that leads us to war. I've read numerous articles over the years discussing how many veterans in a variety of commonwealth countries (and the UK itself) have the same complaint.

    I stopped wearing the poppy.  In recent years I became aware of the White Poppies, and was considering that.

  • This year as part of my antiracism training I learned about the origins of the Dominion of Canada.  I was already not patriotic, and am less so as I better understand how Canada was formed and the existing civilizations that Canada is still working to eradicate.
    • Treaties were signed between European and North American nations, where the Europeans haven't upheld their side of the treaties.
    • How legitimate is is for Europeans to claim they created a nation separate from themselves without the permission of the civilizations and nations that existed (and continue to exist) in North America prior to and after European contact?
    • Many of these North American nations were already long standing democracies, while the European Christian monarchies were not. Those subjects of Christian monarchies were given permission to replace existing civilizations via a series of papal bulls from the Pope that have yet to be rescinded.
    • Has Canada and Brittan always been on the side of "freedom and democracy"?  Is it only a specific subset of wars and veterans that we should be honoring, and if so which ones?
    • What about the decedents of 6 nations war veterans where the
      Ontario and Canadian governments are still trying to violate treaties and kick them off their own land (See: 1492 Landback Lane).
    • Was a new country formed when the British North America Act was passed in 1867 by the British parliament?
    • Was a new country formed in when the Canada Act was passed in 1982 by the British parliament?
    • Will a new country be formed if Canada declares itself a republic and members of the new parliament and immigrants no longer have to swear allegiance to the British monarchy?


To me it is obvious that the poppy is a political statement, even if most of the people wearing it aren't yet aware of that statement. We need to be able to discuss these political issues if ever we are to understand these statements.


The poppy is a symbol of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.  While this is well understood in Ireland, it seems most Canadians are unaware.  I don't consider the poppy to be less political than a symbol for Black Lives Matter or gender diversity -- things which I believe shouldn't be considered controversial at all.  I have recently become aware of how colonialism brought with it gender binaries, the patriarchy and racism, and this is part of my opposition to the commonwealth.  Allowing the poppy while disallowing BLM/LGBT symbols only makes the political statement more obvious.

While Whole Foods was seeking to ban all political symbols, organizations like Global News apparently told employees that poppies should be warn by all Global News anchors, reporters and radio hosts appearing on television and in online videos from Sunday November 1st to Wednesday November 11th.

While I now recognize that objectivity and individuality are white privileges, and that objectivity doesn't exist (including in journalism), it is important for journalists to be aware of the biases they are projecting while wearing these political symbols. If they are seeking to be seen as more impartial, then they shouldn't be wearing these symbols.

This is not a uniquely Canadian debate, or debates in the colonies, but is also being discussed within the UK.

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