Friday, November 11, 2016

Co-opting the poppy

It's Veterans Day today, so as is traditional, I wore a poppy.

Crocheted poppy pin
Took about 5 minutes to whip up this one. If I say so myself, I think it's rather attractive!
On past Veterans Days, people who noticed it would smile or say "Hey, nice poppy!" in passing. It usually gave me an opener to talk to veterans and to thank them for their service. But today was different. Although I caught many people locking eyes on the bright red poppy I wore while running errands this evening, no one asked about it or made any comment at all. A few people gave me actively crusty glances.

I was puzzled by this reaction -- puzzled enough, in fact, that I went home and looked it up. (Hey, it's what I do.) Online, I noticed a number of people making connections between the red poppy of Remembrance Day (the equivalent of Veterans Day in the UK and Commonwealth nations) and the British nationalist movement/Brexit vote.

I hope this isn't the case, but perhaps some Americans in this very blue state, still reeling from the election results and recalling Donald Trump's Tweet "They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!", are making similar connections, transferring their animus against Trump to the poppy and seeing it as a symbol of American bigotry and intolerance.

I think of this, and then I think of Xenophilius Lovegood and his necklace.

You know who Xeno Lovegood is if you're a Harry Potter fan. He's Luna's father and the editor of the Quibbler -- the man is odd, cross-eyed, considered highly quirky even within the eccentricity-tolerant wizarding world, all too likely to believe in things no one else thinks real. At the Weasley/Delacour wedding at the beginning of the final Harry Potter book, Xeno wears a necklace with a Deathly Hallows pendant, and Viktor Krum gets into a verbal sparring match with him about it. Krum's only knowledge of the Hallows symbol is through its co-opting by Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald. But Xeno Lovegood knows the history of the Deathly Hallows, believing that they actually exist (a belief which is well validated by book's end), and he refuses to stop wearing his Hallows necklace simply because intolerant, pureblood fascists have tried to wrest the symbol's original meaning for their own bigoted purposes.

So. I won't stop wearing the poppy just because a small number of people misunderstand its meaning. Because even if no one else knows or cares to find out why I wear it, I know what that small red poppy is for. I know it's a symbol not only of freedom, but of the profound personal sacrifices made -- the loss of an arm, a leg, an eye; a hidden wound that still causes pain years later; deep psychological damage that takes decades, if ever, to heal -- to safeguard that freedom. I know that many of our young men and women fought and sacrificed to preserve our rights -- which include the right to be different from others, to have a dissenting viewpoint, to cherish a minority belief. And I will not let intolerant bigots forget that, nor will I be cowed into letting them co-opt the poppy for their own purposes.

It's only a small act. But small acts, like pivot points, can have huge consequences.

No comments: