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Jane Fonda Arrested: We Are in a Climate Emergency. I Have No Choice But to Put My Body on the Line

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Image Credit: Fire Drill Fridays

A new round of protests, Fire Drill Fridays, led by actress Jane Fonda are calling for action to address the climate crisis, as bushfires fueled by a historic heat wave threaten Australia, high tides threaten to flood Venice, and the Philippines prepares for a Christmas typhoon. Last Friday, a day before Jane Fonda’s 82nd birthday, the longtime political activist, feminist and two-time Academy Award winner was arrested for the fifth time, as she has been nearly every Friday in Washington since she started Fire Drill Fridays, inspired in part by the Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg. She was arrested along with more than 140 others inside the Hart Senate Office Building, and demonstrators sang “Happy Birthday” to her as she was taken outside. This month Jane Fonda wrote an op-ed in The New York Times headlined “We Have to Live Like We’re in a Climate Emergency. Because We Are.” In it, she writes, “It should come as no surprise that I believe in the power of protest. That’s why I moved to Washington to start what I call Fire Drill Fridays, joining the millions of young people around the world who turned out in the fall for protests to demand that our leaders act to save their futures.” We speak with Jane Fonda about her climate activism and why she started Fire Drill Fridays.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As bushfires fueled by a historic heat wave threaten Australia, high tides threaten to flood Venice, Italy, and the Philippines prepare for a Christmas typhoon, we begin today’s show with a new round of protests calling for action to address the climate crisis. Last Friday, a day before Jane Fonda’s 82nd birthday, the two-time Academy Award-winning actress and longtime political activist was arrested for the fifth time, as she has been nearly every Friday in Washington, D.C., since she started Fire Drill Fridays in October, inspired in part by the Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg. Jane Fonda was arrested along with more than 140 others inside the Hart Senate Office Building. Demonstrators sang to her as she was taken outside.

PROTESTERS: [singing] Happy Birthday to you!

JANE FONDA: Thank you so much!

AMY GOODMAN: This month, Jane Fonda wrote an op-ed in The New York Times headlined “We Have to Live Like We’re in a Climate Emergency. Because We Are.” In it, Fonda said, quote, “It should come as no surprise that I believe in the power of protest. That’s why I moved to Washington to start what I call Fire Drill Fridays, joining the millions of young people around the world who turned out in the fall for protests to demand that our leaders act to save their futures,” she wrote.

Well, on Monday, Jane Fonda joined us from Washington, D.C., and I asked her about her new organization and her protests and arrests around Fire Drill Fridays.

JANE FONDA: I wanted to pick up the call that Greta sent out: “Get out of your comfort zone. This is a crisis.” And so I decided to actually move my body to this place, the center of power in the United States, and do what I could to raise the sense of urgency, try to get other people, older people, to join me. I have been told that since Fire Drill Fridays began, more older people are now joining Greta’s rallies over in Europe, which makes me very happy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about why this issue, why the climate catastrophe we’re facing around the world, why it’s this that has grabbed you now, as you turn 82?

JANE FONDA: The science is what grabbed me, when I realized that the climate scientists are unanimous in saying this is a crisis. Because we didn’t act sooner, our carbon budget, the amount of carbon that we can continue to emit, has gotten very, very small, and we have 10 years to reduce it. And the science is very clear; there are not two sides to the story. And the scientists themselves say the only way that human beings are going to be able to force their governments to do what’s needed is to mobilize in an unprecedented numbers.

Well, I know about mobilizing. I’ve done it before. I’ve experienced what happens when very large numbers demand something. And so I decided I was going to try to lend my platform. I have a hit television series, so, you know, that’s helpful when you’re an activist, to try to get more people. We’re building an army. The senators that I met with from the Senate Task Force on Climate Change said, “You’re building an army. Make it big. We need pressure from the outside.”

And historically, we’ve seen that’s what’s — all the things that are important that ever happened, it’s because millions of people have demanded it. You know, during the New Deal in the 1930s, millions of people were rising up because they were desperate, and they demanded change, jobs, programs that would help them, of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And he said to them, “I agree with you. Now go out and make me do it.” So, I’ve gone out and joined with the young people to try to make them do it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the Democratic presidential debate in Los Angeles Thursday evening, the last one of the year. This is the moderator, Tim Alberta, a Politico correspondent.

TIM ALBERTA: We’re going to talk about climate now. … Senator Klobuchar, would you support a new federal program to subsidize the relocation of American families and businesses away from places like Miami or Paradise, California, perhaps, Davenport, Iowa, because we know these places are going to be hit time and time again?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, I don’t — I very much hope we’re not going to have to relocate entire cities, but we will probably have to relocate some individual residents.

TIM ALBERTA: Mr. Steyer, would you support such a new federal program, again, to help subsidize the relocation of these families?

TOM STEYER: Look, I am hoping that we in fact will do what I’m suggesting, which is declare a state of emergency on day one of my presidency. I have made this — I believe I’m the only person here who will say, unequivocally, this is my number-one priority.

TIM ALBERTA: Mr. Buttigieg?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG: So, I know what’s at stake. And it’s why I insist that we act with a carbon tax and dividend, with massive increases in renewable research, on renewable energy, energy storage and carbon storage.

TIM ALBERTA: Senator Sanders?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Tim, in all due respect, your question misses the mark. It is not an issue of relocating people in towns. The issue now is whether we save the planet for our children and our grandchildren.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar, two Democratic presidential candidates, debating on Thursday night, the last presidential debate of this year. One of the previous presidential candidates, who has since dropped out, Jay Inslee, the current governor of Washington state, called for a debate solely focused on the climate crisis, but the DNC has repeatedly rejected that. Jane Fonda, what do you think of the Democrats’ approach, what they are suggesting for the climate, and what you think needs to happen in this election year?

JANE FONDA: We mustn’t vote for anybody that doesn’t understand the urgency of the crisis, and the utter catastrophe, the utter devastation that can happen if we don’t do what’s needed. We have a very small window to do something unprecedented in human history, which is reduce carbon emissions by half in the next decade and then net zero by the middle of the century. That requires extremely bold action on day one of the new presidency. So I would not support anybody who doesn’t understand that this is not about carbon taxes or carbon capture or moderate things, moving people around out of harm’s way.

No, this — nobody — well, yeah, some people — I don’t want to endorse anybody, but too few of them are talking about the real problem, which is fossil fuels. You know, you can talk about relocation, you can talk about windmills and the renewables that have to come into play, but point our fingers at the criminals, the people that have caused this to happen to us: the fossil fuel industry. They knew in 1977 what they were doing. Their scientists told them that they were poisoning the atmosphere and it could lead to irreversible damage. And they lied to us, and they hoodwinked us, and they kept on drilling. And that’s why right now it’s too late for moderation. We have to take very, very brave, bold steps.

And whoever gets elected next November, we have to hold their feet to the fire. That’s why it’s important right now to build an army, bigger and bigger and bigger, so that by next November we will have the wherewithal to do what’s necessary, which could mean shutting down the government. We are fighting for the future of our children. Young people know what they’re facing, and they’re furious. And they have every right to be. And we have to do everything we can.

No matter what, it’s going to get worse before it slows down, because of all the heat that’s been baked in because of our inaction over the decades. So we have to help communities, frontline communities, the most vulnerable of us, in particular, to feel resilient. We have to build resiliency. That’s why a lot of us, many of us, are supporting a Green New Deal, because it would center justice in the climate movement. It would center caring for the people that are going to be the most impacted by what’s coming, and then moving very swiftly to reduce fossil fuels.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ve just come from Madrid, Spain, where we were covering the U.N. climate summit, officially the United Nations Climate Change Conference. I want to turn to the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. And this is what she said to the gathered world leaders and climate negotiators.

GRETA THUNBERG: Why is it so important to stay below 1.5 degrees? Because even at 1 degree, people are dying from the climate crisis. Because that is what the united science calls for to avoid destabilizing the climate, so that we have the best possible chance to avoid setting off irreversible chain reactions, such as melting glaciers, polar ice and thawing Arctic permafrost. Every fraction of a degree matters. … How do you react to these numbers without feeling at least some level of panic?

AMY GOODMAN: There is Greta Thunberg addressing her elders at the U.N. climate summit, COP25, that turned out to be a monumental failure, I think even called that by the climate negotiators, not to mention the massive number of activists outside, both in Madrid and around the world. Jane Fonda, this 16-year-old girl, who began her activism at 15 — her hashtag, I think, “a 15-year-old climate activist with Asperger’s — standing in front of the Swedish parliament every day, demanding they do something about climate change. And when the election happened there, she moved it to once a week, and now has led this movement around the world — certainly not the first young person, though, to engage in climate activism. Talk about when you first heard Greta Thunberg and when you made your decision, how you came to this decision, to move to Washington to lead this movement, really, of elders, to support the youth, when you started Fire Drill Fridays.

JANE FONDA: It happened, Amy, very recently. It happened over Labor Day weekend. I was in Big Sur with some friends, and I read Naomi Klein’s book. I knew about Greta Thunberg. I knew that she was on the autism spectrum, but I had never read anybody explain what that means in terms of her relationship to the climate crisis and her way of communicating. Naomi Klein enabled me to see what it is about Greta that is — that makes her so powerful as a leader of the young climate movement.

It’s the focus. Asperger’s — if someone with Asperger’s is interested in a topic, their focus is laser beam. They’re not concerned with what other people think, or they might be unpopular, or, “Oh my god, this is terrible, polar bears are starving,” and then, five minutes later, “Oh, I just bought a new pair of blue jeans!” She doesn’t think that way. She is focused, and she’s a science nerd.

And when she said — when she heard and learned of the science and that the scientists were all in agreement about the crisis that was looming, first she didn’t believe it, because, she said, “If this is true, nobody would be talking about anything else. It can’t be true, because everyone would have stopped their life and be focused totally on this issue.” And when she realized it was true and that nobody was behaving appropriately, it so traumatized her, she stopped eating and speaking, for so long that it stunted her growth.

When I read that, it just hit me like a train. I knew that what Greta had seen was the truth and that we were not behaving accordingly. And I tried to imagine myself in a house that was burning, and I wasn’t going to carry on business as usual. And, you know, I thought the only thing I can do is put my whole body on the line and have regular actions and include the historically noble thing called civil disobedience.

You know, when you’ve spent decades begging and pleading and signing petitions and writing letters and marching and rallying, you’ve used all the levers that democracy offers you to make your voices heard, and they don’t pay attention, then you have to go the next step, which is nonviolent civil disobedience. It calls more attention to what’s going on. It’s changed things in history. We know that during the civil rights movement. Mahatma Gandhi in India won freedom from colonialism in India with nonviolent civil disobedience. So I decided to do that. There’s a lot of precedent for — of showing it’s successful.

And I didn’t know in the beginning if it would be successful, but I think that it was just — it was the right thing to do at the right time. People, in growing numbers, are coming from all over, who have never before engaged in civil disobedience and risked being arrested. And it’s a very transformative experience, because you are aligning your whole self, your body, with your deepest values. You’re becoming integrated and empowered, and it’s a very beautiful thing to see. And it seems to be gaining a lot of traction. And so I think we’re going to — we’re going to roll it out across the country. A lot of people are asking for help in starting Fire Drill Fridays in their own towns and cities, and we’re going to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Longtime political activist, feminist, two-time Oscar-winning actress Jane Fonda, founder of Fire Drill Fridays. She also stars with Lily Tomlin in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie. Back with her on her activism in the climate movement in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: From the film Agnes of God, starring Jane Fonda. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with my conversation with two-time Academy Award-winning actress, longtime political activist, feminist Jane Fonda, who has organized weekly Fire Drill Friday protests in Washington, D.C. Last Friday, one day before her 82nd birthday, Jane Fonda was arrested for the fifth time, along with 140 others at the Senate Hart Office Building, including feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Moral Mondays founder Reverend Dr. William Barber and many more. I asked Jane about her message to the senators inside the Hart Senate Office Building, where she got arrested Friday.

JANE FONDA: At this point, my message is mostly to the people outside the halls of power. That’s who we have to mobilize. We have to let people know that now is the time. It’s a very interesting, if you will, privilege that we have, those of us who are healthy and alive during this decade. It’s in our hands. We are the decade that can make a difference in how many hundreds of millions of people will suffer, and many of them die, depending on our actions. What a power in our hands! And we need to be in the many, many millions to force our governments in every country of the world to do what’s right. They have to be forced. Even if the best candidate in the world gets elected next November, we have to force them to do what’s right.

And over 500 environmental organizations have supported a call on the next administration. From day one, he or she can have 10 bold actions in the first 10 days, issuing a climate emergency alert, stopping all new fossil fuel expansion, because we can have all the windmills and all the solar collectors in the world, but if they keep drilling and fracking and mining, it’s not going to do any good. They say, “Well, we have to keep fracking for gas because it will affect our national security.” Oh, really? Then why are they sending so much of it overseas? We are now exporting gas and oil. All that would stop on day one, also issuing a gradual phaseout out of fossil fuel, also making sure that the families and communities and workers that would be affected by that would be protected with union jobs, training, benefits, pensions, with all the security that they have now working in the fossil fuel industry then working in a sustainable energy system. Right from day one, a president could call for that. And many, many other things that can happen right as executive orders in the first 10 days.

And that’s what we’re — your original question was, you know, what do I have to say to people in the halls of Congress. Do what you can right now. We don’t have to wait for next November’s election. There are things going on in cities and towns and states around this country — Seattle, Maine, New York, Boulder, many — Oakland, California, where they’re actually beginning to move to renewable energy. And it’s democratic. It’s decentralized. It puts people in charge of the kind of transition that they’re going to make. It’s very, very beautiful, what’s happening.

Once the government is behind them with all of its power, that can be ramped up fast enough. The scientists tell us it can be done. We still have time. We have 10, 11 years, but it can be done. We have the technology. The fossil fuel industry and the politicians that they’ve bought off tell us it’s not reasonable, that it’s just fantasy, that it will destroy us. It’s what they said about the New Deal in the 1930s. You know, they called Franklin Delano Roosevelt a communist, a fascist, and they tried to overthrow him — the big banks and railroads. But he did — he was brave, and he did what he did because people were demanding it of him. And then people discovered it was helping them, so it succeeded, because even people who were suspicious in the beginning started to support what he was doing, because they saw that they were getting help. That’s what the president has to do.

But we’re also encouraging people at a local level to start reducing the carbon footprint of their own households, but, more importantly, their communities and their towns and their cities, because we can do it. See, that’s what’s hopeful about it. The scientists tell us we can. It’s the political will that’s missing, because our government, for too long, and too many other governments around the world have been in thrall of the fossil fuel industry.

And one of the — the COP25, the conference in Madrid that you just left, there was one good thing that happened. It was the first time, in an international conference like that, that they pointed the finger directly at the fossil fuel industry. Up until now, everybody has kind of steered away from that. So that’s an important step.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, the kind of organizing that was going on around it, not so much inside the COP, but outside, all around it.

JANE FONDA: Yeah, right. Right.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Jane Fonda, you went to Standing Rock, the standoff at Standing Rock; going back over time, deeply involved with the antiwar movement, along with your then-husband Tom Hayden, with whom you had your son. You also really helped to fund, mainly funded, the Campaign for Economic Democracy, the California campaign, by your workout videos, and also reached people, to say the least, especially women, millions of women across this country, across the political spectrum. You’ve done Black Panther support. You supported the American Indian Movement, decades of your feminist work, supporting V-Day. You have come out in support of Palestinian rights. You’ve engaged in criticism of both President Trump and President Obama for pipeline building and pipeline politics. So, this movement, the Fire Drill Fridays, coming out of your inspiration from this 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, describe it for us, because this wasn’t the first time, on Friday, right before your birthday, that you got arrested, with over 140 other people, leaders and movements across many different fields coming together around the climate crisis. What? This was like the fifth time that you got arrested, as you get arrested each week. Describe the scene.

JANE FONDA: Last Friday, which was also — we focused on the climate crisis effect on health, but we also had a birthday party for me. And I felt it was a kind of a turning point, because behind the big banner that we were all holding, “Support a Green New Deal,” were leaders of so many other movements that are not usually associated with climate — Reverend William Barber, Gloria Steinem, Dolores Huerta, Ai-jen Poo, among others — all coming together to focus on the climate crisis. It was a beautiful experience. We committed civil disobedience in the atrium of the Hart Senate Building. Reverend Barber led us in song. Would that every time we do this there’s somebody who can sing that beautifully with us. It really makes a difference. But there were — you know, we had been there before, with far fewer numbers. So, looking around and seeing the diversity — young, old, black, white, Asian, Latina — everybody was there, so many people singing and chanting together. And there are many layers of balconies going up and so many people from the Senate offices leaning over and throwing us fists and high fives. And we saw Fire Drill Fridays posters in the glass windows of some of the Senate offices. It felt so beautiful.

And then we were arrested, and then we were taken by bus to a detention center. It’s a big warehouse. At first, we were in little cells in the Capitol Hill police department, but then there were so many of us, they had to take us to this warehouse with a lot of folding chairs. And there were about 20 men on one side and about — I don’t know. There were 143 altogether, so there were a lot more women. And maybe it was because it was my birthday, maybe it’s because it was so close to Christmas, but the police let us kind of move around. And so, there were huddles of women talking to each other, organizing, sharing stories.

I can tell you one thing: It was the best birthday party I ever had. We got so much accomplished. So many people came from all over and committed to doing Fire Drill Fridays where they came from, including Dolores Huerta in Kern County, where there’s so much drilling for oil. See, California is seen as a very environmental state, and there’s so much that’s very progressive in California, but we have not cut ourselves off from the oil drilling and the fracking. So, when I go back to California, I’m going to do Fire Drill Fridays there to try to get our governor, Gavin Newsom, to stop already with the drilling and the fracking. I mean, let us, in California, really be climate leaders. But we can’t do it if we continue to drill and frack and export. So, that’s our next goal.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a climate activist confronting 2020 presidential hopeful, the former Vice President Joe Biden: Isaac Larkin, a 27-year-old Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern, questioning former Vice President Joe Biden at a climate town hall.

ISAAC LARKIN: I know that you signed a “No Fossil Fuel Money” pledge. But I have to ask: How can we trust you to hold these corporations and executives accountable for their crimes against humanity, when we know that tomorrow you are holding a high-dollar fundraiser hosted by Andrew Goldman, a fossil fuel executive?

JOE BIDEN: He is not a fossil fuel executive, I’m told. He is not a fossil fuel executive. And the fact of the matter is that what we talk about is: What are we going to do about those corporations? What have we done? And everywhere along the way — for example, I’ve argued and pushed for us suing those executives who are engaged in pollution, those companies who are engaged in pollution. I’ve never walked away from that.

AMY GOODMAN: There you have, Jane Fonda — this was a climate forum that was held by CNN — young people demanding of these candidates accountability, not just rhetoric. Is this where you see the hope?

JANE FONDA: Yes, absolutely. That’s exactly what has to be done. And we have to be vigilant in knowing what they’re doing, where their money is coming from. We have to get this fossil fuel money — well, we have to get corporate money out of politics. So, I think it’s exactly what has to happen.

We have to be very concerned about political candidates that have ties to the fossil fuel industry. Whoever the Democratic candidate is, I feel that my responsibility is to help build a movement that will force them to do the right thing. But I think that the determination of who that candidate will be should depend, in very large part, on their willingness to sever ties to the fossil fuel industry, because as long as they are accepting help and money and a narrative from those fossil fuel powers, it’s going to be hard for them to be independent. If you’re taking money from someone connected to the gas industry, then you’re going to buy into the narrative, as Joe Biden was quoted, you know, in the clip that you showed — “Well, we can’t stop right away.” Well, no, as I said, we can’t stop right away, but we can stop expanding and exporting right away.

And he’s probably someone who believes in the narrative that gas is the bridge energy source between the really bad stuff, like coal and oil — this is the narrative — and when we finally get to renewables. But that’s a false narrative, because natural gas is extremely bad for the environment. Methane, for example, is a terribly dangerous greenhouse gas, that is a byproduct of fracking, not to mention what it does to water, to underground aquifers where water is being polluted. And unusual cancers are being experienced in communities near fracking pits. It is bad. Fracking is bad. We have to do away with it. It is not a bridge source of energy. And people who say, “Well, we need it for natural — for our nation’s security; it’s going to be our nation’s security,” we have the secure form of energy. It’s called solar and wind and geothermal. It’s there. It’s not so expensive. It doesn’t harm the environment. And that’s what we have to move to.

AMY GOODMAN: Two-time Academy Award-winning actress, longtime political activist Jane Fonda, founder of Fire Drill Fridays. She also stars with Lily Tomlin in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie. We’ll see if the climate crisis comes up in their last season. Last Friday, Jane Fonda was arrested for the fifth time, along with more than 140 others, including media legend Pat Mitchell, author of the new book, Becoming a Dangerous Woman. We’ll speak with Pat Mitchell, the first woman president of PBS, in a minute.

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