Jane Fonda Has A New Mission: Saving The World
As she prepared to risk arrest yet again to protest for action against the climate crisis, Fonda told BuzzFeed News, “I don't want to die being part of the problem.”
“You know, I’m not out in front,” she told BuzzFeed News during a wet Friday morning last week in Washington, DC. “I kind of come to things late.”
At 81, the Hollywood icon is entering yet another stage in her life. She has made weekly headlines in recent months as she protests each Friday against climate inaction near the Capitol building -demonstrations that have often resulted in her arrest. Week by week, Fonda has recruited other stars to join her public foray into environmental activism in demonstrations dubbed “Fire Drill Friday.” On this particular day, she was joined by Oscar nominee Diane Lane, Coyote Ugly star Piper Perabo, and Manny Jacinto of The Good Place (his costar Ted Danson had been arrested alongside Fonda just weeks before).
They’ve gathered to demand an urgent response to the climate crisis -an end to fossil fuel use, a shift to renewable energy sources, and the halting of deforestation. Such measures came into focus again just four days after our interview when a new UN report warned of “potentially catastrophic” global warming of 3.4 to 3.9 degrees Celsius by 2100.
“We're living in a generation where the decisions we make in the next 10 years can be the difference between 100 million people dying or 400 million people dying,” Fonda said. “These are life-and-death decisions.”
Referencing an HBO documentary released last year titled Jane Fonda in Five Acts, a woman attending Friday’s rally characterized Fonda’s climate activism as the sixth act in the star’s life.
In her senior years, the protests have indeed upended Fonda’s life -a life that has famously (or infamously, in some circles) been shaped by activism, most prominently against the Vietnam War. In addition to moving to DC for the weekly demonstrations, Fonda has stopped buying new clothing to try to reduce her impact on the planet. She won’t live long enough to see the worst predicted outcomes of the climate crisis, but it’s an obsession that consumes her as she thinks of those she’ll leave behind.
“I have a 4-month-old grandchild. I have two older grandchildren,” she said. “I love nature. I love birds. I love whales, dolphins. I love the ocean. To see these things disappear… I mean, that just breaks my heart.”
In 2015, Fonda was busy enjoying something of a career renaissance. Fresh off a spin on HBO’s The Newsroom, she had begun working on the Netflix series Grace and Frankie alongside her old friend and 9 to 5 costar Lily Tomlin. But in 2016, she was shocked back into action by the election of President Donald Trump. “I thought, I have to get back in the barricades,” Fonda said.
She addressed the 2017 Women’s March in Los Angeles and began working to register others to vote and get them to the polls. But it was 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg who reinvigorated Fonda’s passion for public activism like nothing had before. Fonda became captivated by Thunberg after reading about the teen, who has a form of autism called Asperger’s that she has called her “superpower.”
“She sees things with such a laser focus more than us who aren't on the spectrum,” Fonda told BuzzFeed News. “It gives her clarity.”
On this particularly dreary Fire Drill Friday, Fonda arrived only 10 minutes late for our scheduled interview at the United Methodist Building, just footsteps away from the Supreme Court. She was full of energy, wearing the signature rose red coat she’s worn to all the climate protests, along with a wide-brimmed beige hat that cast a shadow over her eyes. She and a team of supporters packed themselves into a room where large flyers were strewn across a long wooden table, emblazoned with the phrases “No New Fossil Fuels!” and “Water Is Life!”
The name “Fire Drill Friday” was inspired by the student strikers across the world who were motivated by Thunberg to conduct their own weekly protests, “Fridays for Future.” Fonda said one of the camera crew members working on an upcoming documentary about this portion of the actor’s life came up with the fire drill name, and it just stuck.
As she and her fellow protesters prepared, Fonda sat at the head of the table looking straight ahead, silent, hands clasped, while everyone in the room listened as one of the women on the star’s team gave a detailed legal briefing about how to make the process of being arrested for civil disobedience go as smoothly as possible. Supporters were instructed to keep their personal items to a minimum, as this would hinder the booking process, and to make sure they didn’t have any illegal substances on them, like marijuana, which is legal in Washington but not on federal property. After a few in the room gave spiels about the dos and don’ts of the protest, Fonda, apparently concerned with the optics of a protest being broadcast around the world, then urged people to refrain from being on their cellphones while onstage at the rally. “Let’s be sure that when we are there and visible, we are focusing on the person who is speaking and trying to learn all we can from what they’re saying,” she said.
The meeting wasn’t over until the group performed a few collective activities: silent meditation followed by three guttural “hi-yahs” as a way to ground the folks who are putting their bodies on the line by physically advocating for change.
There is no special routine to Fonda’s morning when she’s preparing for a protest. She rises an hour and a half before she needs to leave and does the “usual things,” like putting on makeup and paying attention to the weather to make sure she’s appropriately dressed -though she does make sure to wear layers in case she spends a night in jail so she can use them as a pillow and bedding. And she always makes sure to leave with her red coat, which she now considers to be something of a good luck charm.
Fonda has said in interviews before that the red coat would be the last item she ever buys, but there are other measures she’s taken to demonstrate that her advocacy to save the planet isn’t just an elaborate PR stunt. “I made personal changes,” Fonda said. “Electric car, get rid of single-use plastic, less meat -cut it out altogether -recycle, all those kinds of things.”
Fonda said she knows that the small everyday changes people can make to combat climate change can’t be scaled fast enough to significantly roll back the effects of the climate crisis, but she believes it’s important to make people feel part of the process.
“Our goal here is not to try to convert people who don't believe that there's climate change,” she said. “What we want to do is reach people who know there's a climate crisis and know that it's man-made, but they're not activists yet.”
Quote of the Day
Don’t ever wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty, but the pig will enjoy it.