As London Occupy protesters prepare for winter outside St. Paul's Cathedral, they hearken to a past call to help another marginalised group: Pigeons.
Back in 1964, Walt Disney's Mary Poppins included a somber, hymn-like tune called "Feed the Birds," which depicted an elderly woman selling breadcrumbs to passersby, who in turn distributed them to the city's winged population. Then as now, urban dwellers lamented the dirty, aggravating pigeon, yet this did not dissuade the bird lady.
"Come feed the little birds, show them you care, and you'll be glad if you do," she called to wealthy Londoners, including one Mr. Banks, an aptly named employee of Dawes Tomes Mousley Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. Mr. Banks was a harsh, unsympathetic man intended to be loathed or pitied by the audience for his lack of an ability to, as Mary Poppins summarized it, see past the end of his nose. In one moment designed produce viewer scowls, he told his children, Jane and Michael, not to waste their money on bird feed.
And yet, despite Mr. Banks's opinion, most viewers feel tenderness towards the bird lady: Though her efforts seem futile, one cannot help but respect a beggar who sits on the steps of majestic St. Paul's, pleading with merchants to help further the polluting pigeon population. Day in and day out, she sings her hymn on behalf of the lowest of birds, as unswerving in her devotion as the stairs upon which she sits. There is something heroic in that.
Yes, few among us would dare rebuke this icon of our youths. Many of us, instead, feel comfortable judging George Banks. We wouldn't be like him, we think. If we were at St. Paul's, we would do better than Mr. Banks: We would tell our children to give money to the bird lady. We would be noble. We would support the lowly, underling pigeons. We would be like the saints and apostles who, as the song says, smile each time a person buys breadcrumbs.
But back to 2011, where the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral support a new set of advocates and a new chant: "We are the ninety-nine percent! We are the ninety-nine percent!"
While the Occupy movement has gained worldwide support, sparking protests from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Cape Town, South Africa, dissenters continue to exist. In New Haven, Connecticut, there is an Occupy Occupy movement designed to repudiate the claims of initial demonstrators. At various sites, passersby scream to tent dwellers to move out and get a job. Protester fervor is met with equal fervor by financial executives who stand by their choices to pay out massive salaries and bonuses to a select few. These individuals, Occupy protesters might say, are not spending their tuppence as they should.
In fact, they seem to be the pre-reformation George Banks of our day, adults--funnily enough, still bankers--who cannot see past the ends of their noses, who don't want the birds, or in this case, the people, to be fed.
It is ironic that while most of us are quick to condemn Jane and Michael's father for his attitude towards pigeons, we do not all seem to have the same universal sympathy when it comes to the plight of our fellow humans.
That is not supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Yet on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral, on the concrete of Wall Street, Boston, Madrid, Seoul, Adelaide and Anchorage, the activists continue to cry, "We are the ninety-nine percent," with the faithfulness and constancy of the bird lady. And with each iteration of their words, the George Banks of our day are given the chance to repent.
"Though her words are simple and few, listen, listen she's calling to you: 'feed the birds, tuppence a bag. Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag.'"