Jane Fonda Explains Her "Fire Drills Friday" Climate Protest Plan: "It's Grannies Unite!"

Peggy Shepard and Jane Fonda - Harper's Bazaar "Dare I Say" Live Podcast - Getty-H 2019
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Harper's Bazaar

"We've marched, and we've rallied, and we've played nice, and it hasn't worked," the actress told an audience at a live recording of 'Dare I Say,' the Harper's Bazaar podcast.

"I moved to [Washington], D.C., for four months to engage in Fire Drill Fridays because that's the day that Greta and the student climate strikers have chosen to strike for the climate," Jane Fonda says, citing Swedish teenage environmental advocate Greta Thunberg's international effort. "We can't let them shoulder this burden by themselves, so it's grannies unite!"

With that, the actor and activist opened up Tuesday evening about her latest public blitz in support of the environment, which has found her arrested for four weeks in a row and, most recently, spending the night in jail last Friday. Fonda joined Peggy Shepard, the co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, at a live recording of Dare I Say, the Harper's Bazaar podcast kicking off its new season in front of a Manhattan audience.

"Not many people can say they've feuded with Megyn Kelly, sat behind Marilyn Monroe in acting class and skinny-dipped with Greta Garbo," Bazaar editor-in-chief Glenda Bailey said, introducing the 81-year-old Hollywood star. "There's only one Jane Fonda: Oscar-winning actress, lifelong activist and the definition of daring."

These days, Fonda is staging protests each week in the capital, even accepting a BAFTA Award held aloft recently while she was handcuffed, shouting, "Sorry, I can't be there." And she's enlisted friends like Ted Danson, Sam Waterston, Catherine Keener and Roseanne Arquette to join her, with Ben and Jerry slated for this Friday and the likes of Diane Lane, Mark Ruffalo and Kyra Sedgwick to come, all the while leading the way in her signature fiery red coat.

"That red coat I bought on sale. I've said it's the last piece of clothing I'll ever buy. Sorry, Saks," she said, bringing a burst of knowing laughter from the crowd assembled at the Manhattan retailer's Le Chalet bar, located within L'Avenue restaurant, for the event, which was sponsored by Saks Fifth Avenue and American Express. "We've got to cut back on consumerism," she added. "This probably isn't the place to say this, but I have to walk the talk. It was so weird walking through Saks to get here and knowing I can't buy anything, but people know that I've said this, and they'll call me out. And that's great."

Fonda said she was inspired after reading Naomi Klein's recent book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. Shepard started off her questioning by noting that they had a lot in common as activists who have both been arrested. She then asked why Fonda decided to take to the streets in protest again.

"We've spent decades, many decades, more than 40 years writing speeches and books and getting the word out about the science, what the science says. And we've marched, and we've rallied, and we've played nice, and it hasn't worked enough," Fonda explained. "And we only have 11 years left, so we have to up the stakes and mobilize and and put our bodies on the line and engage in civil disobedience and risk getting arrested." (UN scientists have warned that carbon dioxide emissions need to be cut by nearly half of 2010 levels by 2030 to save the planet from the worst effects of climate change.)

"I didn't want to be arrested, but, you know, you have to be willing to risk it," Fonda continued. "I drive an electric car and I do away with single-use plastics, and I make all those right personal lifestyle choices. But I knew that they're not going to be able to scale up in time to get us where we need to be. It's a good place to start, but it's not a place to stop. "

Shepard added that the environmental crisis is systemic and often disproportionately affects communities of color. "We know that millions of people in this country are living with bad air. They don't have clean water, and they are disproportionately impacted by pollution," she said. "When you hear people talk about climate justice, climate justice is not just a cool phrase; it's really a term that is focused on the most vulnerable communities, and how we've got to take action to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected because when that happens, we're all protected."

Fonda elaborated. "For a long time, there's been this rap that the environmental movement is white and elite. I think even [President] Obama felt that way. But my experience is that that is not the case and that it affects people in the black communities who have been very much at the forefront of environmental liberty and are the strongest forces."

She added, "The fact is that we have a climate crisis, but we also have a social and empathy crisis. Our social fabric is unraveling just as the Earth's fabric is unraveling. And if we don't fix them both together, it's not really going to solve that."