No Horton on Wall Street but lots of Whos

Earlier this week, while I was waiting to hear whether my piece on Occupy Wall Street would be picked up, my nearly-four year old son asked me to read Dr Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who.

As I read, I was quietly astonished by the links between this children’s story and the narrative that is unfurling in New York and across the United States.

Of course, I have read the book to my son a few times before, and we have watched the film version. Until now, I had read it as a sort of allegory on faith, on believing without seeing or hearing. It is an amusing reversal, with the tiny, fragile Whos in Who-ville having to prove their existence to the larger, more powerful elements of the cosmos (Horton, the sour kangaroo, Vlad Vlad-i-koff, the Wickersham brothers) in order to survive.

Now I am struck by Horton’s plea to the sneering, sadistic creatures around him: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

This seems to be the overarching spirit of the Occupy Wall Street protest: that people, no matter how ordinary or inconsequential their lives, are still people. They are human. They are not statistics or collateral. Yet up in airconditioned penthouse offices with double-glazed windows, everyone down the street must seem so small, hardly there, not even audible.

Horton’s entire task during the book is to convince the other characters that the Whos are in fact there, that being there is all that matters, and that though their home may be a speck of dust, it is home. Horton sees his size and power as an obligation to protect the vulnerable Whos.

The others ridicule him, snatch and drop the clover upon which the dust speck rests into a field of clovers, and finally threaten to put it in a pot of boiling oil. Horton frantically calls on the Mayor of Who-ville to make a noise that they may be heard and so convince the others:

You’ve got to prove now that you really are there!

So call a big meeting. Get everyone out.

Make every Who holler! Make every Who shout!

Make every Who scream! If you don’t, every Who

Is going to end up in a Beezle-Nut stew!

All the Whos make noise, but they still could not be heard. The Mayor had to go find the one person who wasn’t adding to the volume. It was one small boy — and when he finally did yell, it tipped everything over. The nasty creatures who would’ve destroyed their world were confronted by the reality of the potential consequence and hastily abandoned their plan.

It is the Whos we are all now hearing from Zuccotti and Foley in New York, as well as elsewhere. They are saying, as they do in the book, “We are here! We are here! We are here!” And it will take every single one who lives on that speck of dust to make noise before they can all be heard. They do not have a Horton; maybe they have many Hortons. But they will not be denied. Their survival depends on someone finally listening.


Categories: Politics and Governance

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