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Campaign of the Week White poppies are more popular than ever

CEREN SAGIR speaks to the Peace Pledge Union about why this symbol of peace has has hit an 85-year high

MORE people are wearing white poppies this year than ever before, symbolising a win for the call for international peace.

Sales of the alternatives to red poppies, which have been defined by the British Legion as indicating support for the British and allied armed forces only, have hit a record high of nearly 120,000 since they were founded in 1933.

Symon Hill of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) told the Star he thinks there are multiple reasons for the rise.

“WWI has led to people reflecting on the nature of war,” he said. “It’s obvious to everyone except for a handful of right-wing nationalists that WWI was a futile and wasteful war where working-class people were sent to die.

“With the rise of the far right and with leaders like Donald Trump and Tommy Robinson, and with all the debates that have been triggered by Brexit, there have been more decisions on nationality.

“A lot of people feel that, yes, we care about British lives, but also the Germans, and the Iraqis and the Japanese, and the Palestinians and Israelis.”

Hill also said PPU along with other campaign groups have been doing a better job of getting the message out that white poppies are not an attack on British soldiers, but a commitment to peace, remembrance for all victims of war regardless of nationality and the rejection of militarism.

“There is a misconception that white poppies are a new thing, but they have been around for 85 years,” he said. “Even Conservative MP Johnny Mercer accused white poppies of hijacking Remembrance Day.

“When we explain the reality, people change their minds or say that although they don’t agree, they understand the idea.

“On Sunday, Theresa May will remember the dead, but will be back in office on Monday selling weapons and cutting benefits. There could be children dying in Yemen while she is laying the wreath.”

Both the PPU and Hill have been receiving abusive messages saying he should be killed or hanged for treason.

He said: “There has also been the spread of completely ludicrous nonsense on social media that we are funding our luxury lifestyles, giving me something to laugh about.

“There have been messages saying people are frightened of wearing white poppies because of abuse. In practice very few people are attacked verbally. They don’t have the courage to say most things in person.

“If it wasn’t for this, sales would be higher.”

This year saw the launch of the White Poppies for Churches Pack, which PPU produced along side the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and sales of the Schools Pack that the union jointly produces with Forces Watch doubled since last year, as more schools offered choices for people to express their views.

Hill said PPU will be looking at how to step up the campaign and develop it.

“Other packs are a possibility such as for universities and other faith groups,” he said. “It’s really important that before we sit in an office and decide on this, that we speak to people selling them on the street.

“We are trying to move towards a much more developed campaign, linking with groups and working on issues of war and militarism.”

The message behind the white poppies is what really counts, Hill added.

“If everyone wearing the poppies takes action for peace and non-violent resistance to war and militarism, it would be a great way of honouring people who have lost their lives in war.”

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