Jarvis Cocker: Do I Really Have to March?

September 18, 2014

As climate activists prepare for the People’s Climate March, the singer/songwriter and journalist Jarvis Cocker has some advice: take to the streets, but rather than march, why not dance?

Jarvis Cocker

   Sean Landers, Dance of Life, 1997. Oil on linen. 96 x 144 in. Courtesy Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York.

Do I really have to march? It’s actually a serious question: I mean, marching’s rather … military, isn’t it? Bit aggressive. Bit too much like what the baddies on the other side would do, don’t you think? Wouldn’t you rather saunter? Or stroll? Mince, even? A hop, a skip or a jump—anything but stern-faced, humorless marching. And let’s face it: we’re probably going to need a sense of humor.

Remember February 15, 2003? If you’re taking the trouble to read this, then you probably went on an anti-war march that day. Didn’t turn out so well, did it? Nothing really changed. The “largest protest event in human history,” as we remember it today, was effectively ignored. That left a nasty taste. It might even have put you off the idea of protesting forever. The marching boots were thrown to the back of the cupboard and you went into a major sulk. Maybe you even wrote a song about it. Yeah, that’ll tell ‘em. You wrote the words:

If you don’t like it then leave
or use your right to protest on the street.
Yeah, use your right –
but don’t imagine that it’s heard.
No: not whilst c***ts are still running the world.
– “Running the World,” 2006

And you thought: “Yes! Smash the system!” And then … time passed. Until you got this email:

On Sunday, Sept. 21, a climate march through midtown Manhattan will kick off a week of high-profile climate events in the Big Apple. Promoted as an effort to bring unprecedented attention to climate change, the gathering comes just as international climate negotiations ramp up in a major push toward a new global accord. The People’s Climate March, being called the “largest climate march in history” by organizers, will potentially draw over a hundred thousand people to walk through Manhattan and show a level of demand for action not seen since the era of Civil Rights marches and anti-Vietnam protests.

Can you be arsed? Do you risk being disappointed again? Or do you sit this one out? I mean climate change is a bit old-hat now, isn’t it? And some people say it doesn’t even exist—people like … Nigel Lawson. (A note for non-British readers: you may be more familiar with his daughter, the TV chef Nigella Lawson. The fact that he gave his daughter a “feminized” version of his own name tells you all you need to know about him, really.)

Back in 2008, I sailed the coast of Greenland on a vessel chartered by the organization Cape Farewell and saw the effects of global warming firsthand. It exists. On the way home, we spent a few hours in Reykjavík’s international airport waiting for a connecting flight back to the UK. I bought an ashtray made out of lava. When I got back home, I turned the TV on. It was the morning of the stock market crash and I learned that Iceland, the country I had been visiting not four hours previously, was effectively bankrupt.

That gave me a strange feeling because I hadn’t noticed. The sun had still been shining as I walked through the airport terminal. People had gone about their everyday business as usual, there had been air to breathe and nothing to betray the cataclysm that had befallen the entire country. How could that be? This was a financial crisis! The Big One! THE ECONOMY was at risk! Why was the world still turning?

You whisper now, but could it be that there is a higher power than … THE ECONOMY? I know that sounds a bit sacrilegious, but could it be that THE ECOLOGY is actually the biggie? That maybe having air to breathe, water to drink and land to inhabit could be more important than the fluctuations of the FTSE or the Dow Jones? It’s just a thought—a thought that most people instinctively understand, but that the political classes have yet to grasp.

In the end it all comes down to a letter—R—that has somehow gone astray over the years.

Exactly when did “government for the people” become “government of the people”? When did the function of government change from public service to crowd control? From protector to pimp?

The People’s Climate March this Sunday is important. Because governments won’t put the case for action on climate change too strongly—no, that might be interpreted as being “anti-business.” It might dissuade corporations from building factories in countries that sign on to climate agreements. It might be harmful to THE ECONOMY. So once again it will be left to ordinary people to point out the blindingly obvious fact that destroying the place you live in is not a good idea. It really isn’t. And the powers that be would do well to heed the cold, hard truth that there are more of us than them, that we are heartily sick and tired of being ignored.

That’s not a threat, you understand. I just thought I’d point it out.

Yep, it’s “once more unto the streets, dear friends” (you know you want to, really), and I would like to suggest that you dance your way along the route. Much more fun than marching.

This piece, commissioned by Creative Time Reports, has also been published by The Guardian.