In recent weeks, 81-year-old Jane Fonda has made headlines across the nation for her activism in Washington D.C., where she’s been arrested alongside other celebrities through Fire Drill Fridays, her movement to protest government inaction on climate change. It should come as no surprise that Fonda is lending her star power to this issue, given her lifelong track record of political activism about war, gender, indigenous rights, and environmentalism. Here’s what you need to know about what she’s fighting for—and how you can get involved.
What are Fire Drill Fridays?
When 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg said in a speech at the World Economic Forum, “Our house is on fire,” Fonda decided to act. Inspired by youth climate strikes, as well as by Moral Mondays (weekly civil disobedience strikes organized by Reverend William Barber starting in 2013), she founded Fire Drill Fridays, a weekly demonstration on Capitol Hill demanding action from politicians on the current climate emergency.
Each Friday protest has its own theme, with scientists, activists, and community members coming together to share their stories and expertise. On Thursday nights, Fonda hosts live-streamed “teach-ins” with experts on various climate-related topics, including oceans, gender, and environmental justice.
Fire Drill Fridays has five demands: a Green New Deal, a promise of respect for indigenous land and indigenous sovereignty, environmental justice for those displaced by climate crisis, protection and restoration of biodiversity, and a commitment to sustainable agricultural practices.
How many times has Jane Fonda been arrested through Fire Drill Fridays?
Fonda has been arrested four times during her Fire Drill Fridays protests, with no intention of stopping. In her Fire Drill Fridays mission statement, she writes, “I will be on the Capitol every Friday, rain or shine, inspired and emboldened by the incredible movement our youth have created. I can no longer stand by and let our elected officials ignore–and even worse–empower–the industries that are destroying our planet for profit. We can not continue to stand for this.” Nov. 8 marks Fonda’s fifth Fire Drill Friday.
What are the legal consequences of Jane Fonda’s arrests?
As Fonda tells The Hollywood Reporter, “It’s not scary. You don’t necessarily have to get arrested, but even if you do, it’s a misdemeanor. It’s not a felony. You pay 50 bucks and you get out.” That said, as the arrests for “unlawful demonstration” snowball, so too do the consequences. On the occasion of her third arrest, Fonda was given a court date; however, as she was arrested a fourth time before her court appearance, she was jailed for a night. At a certain point, Fonda can be incarcerated for 90 days, though she’ll be given three warnings before it comes to that. She has vowed to step away at the third warning. It’s unclear when the warnings will be levied, as the proceedings are largely left to the discretion of the police, according to Vulture. Should Fonda continue to be arrested several times for the same offense, the Attorney General can deny her the option of posting bail and file charges for “incommoding” (inconveniencing or distressing the public), which carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. However, the Attorney General can also decline to file charges.
After her fourth arrest, Fonda spent 20 hours in jail, mentioning that for seven hours, “It was just me and the cockroaches.” She also said of her night in jail, “The most disturbing part of it was seeing the people in jail and realizing that this country doesn’t choose to put enough resources into social safety nets and mental health services because so many of the people are there because of poverty and racism and mental health issues. And that made me very sad. And it was also interesting that back in 1970 in Cleveland, all the other prisoners were white. Last Friday they were all black. It’s the new Jim Crow.”
Who has been arrested with Jane Fonda thus far?
The first celebrity to be arrested alongside Fonda was Sam Waterston, her Grace & Frankie co-star. Up next, it was Ted Danson, who sits on the board of directors for Oceana, an organization committed to protecting oceanic biodiversity. At Fonda’s third weekly protest, she was arrested alongside actresses Catherine Keener and Rosanna Arquette.
What other celebrities are set to protest alongside Jane Fonda?
This week, Ben & Jerry’s co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield will accompany Fonda to her fifth arrest. For decades, Cohen and Greenfield have advocated for cutting military spending; they plan to discuss the military, war, and climate change at the protest. Next week, actresses June Diane Raphael and Brooklyn Decker (who play Fonda’s daughters on Grace & Frankie) will appear, as well as the showrunners and writers behind the show.
In the coming weeks, Fonda promises appearance from actresses Lily Tomlin, Diane Lane, Kyra Sedgwick, and Taylor Schilling, as well as civil rights leader William Barber. Actors Don Cheadle and Mark Ruffalo have been invited, but haven’t returned Fonda’s calls.
Why the red coat?
As for that eye-catching red topcoat Fonda wears every week, she said, “The team and I decided at the very beginning that we should all try to wear something red. I racked my brain—I didn’t have anything red. I don’t usually wear red. So I decided that the last article of clothing that I will ever buy is a red coat. Sure enough, I found one at Neiman Marcus on sales for $500. And that’s the coat. I’m speaking out against consumerism and so I have to walk the talk. And so that’s the last thing I’ll buy.”
Fonda has worn the coat every week, though she parted with it one occasion: in jail.
“There was a woman who was very cold and I loaned her my coat,” Fonda said in an interview shortly after her release from jail. “But I did have to take it back. It was my mattress.”
How can anyone who’s interested get involved?
If you’re located in the Washington D.C. area, you can join Fonda and other activists on Capitol Hill at 11:00 AM every Friday. If you’re not D.C.-based, you can follow along on social media, live stream Teach-Ins, and take action in your local community.
In addition to spearheading Fire Drill Fridays, Fonda has sought to make eco-friendly changes in her lifestyle–you too can do the same. Fonda said, “I drive a hybrid electric car. I’m getting rid of all single-use plastic. I eat much less meat, and much less fish because one of the things I learned at the Fire Drill Friday that focused on oceans is we have to eat less fish because the fish stocks are just dropping precipitously. And also swordfish — you know, those big, top-of-the-[food chain] predator fish — are so filled with toxins now that we really have to cut back. It’s all fossil fuel related. Obviously I’m trying to recycle, although that’s hard to do in Beverly Hills. I take a train instead of flying.”
However, Fonda is quick to caution that small-scale action isn’t a total stopgap. “Making those individual lifestyle changes is very important, but it’s not enough,” she said. “They can’t be scaled fast enough to make a difference. It’s only a start, not a stop.”