Walking around Centennial Square, shortly after the city-imposed deadline for the removal of all permanent tents belonging to the People’s Assembly of Victoria, I was struck by the welcome spattering of red. In the crowd of onlookers, which mostly consisted of media, police and a few politicians, poppies blossomed in a place of pride above the heart.
Not everyone chose red, however. Several people wore handmade poppies bleached of all colour. To them, I’m sure, white symbolizes peace without bloodshed — something the younger citizens of Canada may take for granted though our soldiers still face death on foreign soil. I like the idea of the white poppy; the pure idealism of it. But I also believe it should only be worn in conjunction with the red. The red poppy symbolizes the blood spilled by our fighting men and women who had to face and overcome their deepest fears in order to safeguard our way of life. We should never forget that heartbreaking sacrifice no matter how idealistic our views toward the future.
Growing up in Glasgow, a favoured target of German bombers due to it being the ship-building heart of Britain, I played in and around reminders of the Second World War at every turn. My Gran had me digging out her old bomb shelter at the bottom of the garden; my grandfather’s bathtub still wore the painted fill-line that spoke of water rationing; the way my Gran’s eyes lit up when she saw a queue of people — a reminder of when food rations were so rare; my grandfather’s hidden medals and his silence. On holidays at the seaside, I played in concrete pillboxes and searched for the treasure of spent brass; I climbed on metal girders welded into giant crosses to prevent German tanks from landing — and it all seemed perfectly normal.
In Canada, our reminders of the juggernaut that was barking at the door are less obvious. Here, we rely on our remaining veterans to share their stories and remind us that the freedoms we enjoy today, the freedoms that allow such peaceful protests as Occupy Victoria to take place, were protected through sacrifice and loss of life. But we also have to remember that these troops had the full support of the people behind them.
The People’s Assembly of Victoria has an important message of economic change, but it is becoming lost in a battle over the right to camp in a public place. The protesters removed “occupy” from their name at the very beginning of this process in deference to the original occupants of this land. Perhaps this was prescient. A vocal splinter group has already shown the way to continue delivering that important message without pitching a tent and alienating the general public. This group has staged daylight protests in front of the legislature, financial institutions and court house. This style of rolling protest keeps the message alive — a message worth remembering. M