Last night I was watching Mary Poppins with my kids when it occurred to me that I had never actually been to St Paul's Cathedral. Seen it, yes, but only ever from a distance. In fact, I mused, that whole "old London" area - St Paul's, Cheapside, the Square Mile - remained as much of a mystery to me as it had been when I lived half way across the world. So I resolved then and there to set out the next day to go and see it, wondering vaguely if there might still be a homeless lady peddling her wares on the steps of the great cathedral.
What I found wasn't feed the birds, exactly. But it wasn't far off.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has gained a lot of attention over the past few weeks. Much has been made of the grass roots protest in the media - some for, some scathingly against. But more importantly the message of the Occupiers - basically that corporate greed has gone too far - has reached others who, no matter their race, religion or creed, have embraced the ideals behind the movement and joined in solidarity to the cause, both across America and the world. Including, for the last two days, London.
I had been dimly aware that Londoners were forming their own Occupying force, but I'd not paid enough attention to realise they were congregating around St Paul's. So when I arrived earlier today I was caught unawares. Although upon reflection, St Paul's - an indisputable beacon on wealth and power - seems a good a place as any to "stand in solidarity with the global oppressed and...
call for an end to the actions of our government and others in causing this oppression" (source: http://occupylondon.org.uk/).
I must admit, the reason I'd not paid too much attention to Occupy London is that I found the message of the movement a little trite coming from the (free NHS, readily available public housing, generally quite decent social security) mouths of the Brits. Because even though many of the social welfare schemes in Britain have been basically decimated by the governmental cut backs, compared with the situation in the US, the UK is living on easy street. Don't get me wrong: I am absolutely 100% for the Occupy Wall Street movement. What kind of bleeding heart lefty would I be if I didn't think all grass roots movements were utterly brilliant? And what kind of journalist would I be if I didn't get all hot and bothered by such an important socio-political event? I mean, thousands of hardworking, educated people putting aside all their differences to unite for a pertinent cause that effects all of them in ways simultaneously totally different and yet exactly the same? It's actually the stuff my wildest dreams are made of. But London just didn't seem like the kind of place such an event could happen with any kind of genuine clout.
I was wrong, though. Aside from the blatant agenda pushing (oh hi there, Marxist flyers from the communist- and socialist-party pushers), most of the people outside the cathedral seemed to believe they could honestly make their opinions, and the opinions of others like them, not only heard but matter on a global scale. And...I love that. It's real change, without spin or hidden malice. It's democracy. Even the clergymen who work at the cathedral were said to have supported the peaceful protest, personally asking police not to move anyone on. It was a Bob Dylan song in motion, complete with acoustic guitar and harmonica. It was a phenomenal feeling to be there, talking to people and not only allowing but willing them to challenge my preconceptions, even if only for a few hours. And really, what does it matter of the message in the UK is slightly different to the message in the US? What's important is that there is a message at all.