Actress and climate change activist Jane Fonda gets arrested – every week

Mandel Ngan, AFP | Actress and activist Jane Fonda is arrested by Capitol Police during a climate protest inside the Hart Senate office building on November 1, 2019, in Washington, DC.

Hollywood royalty Jane Fonda has a plan to save the planet and it is quite an unusual one for an 81-year-old: Fonda wants to get arrested every Friday.


Fonda has already been arrested on the last four Fridays and she says she is ready to be arrested "again and again" at least until mid-January, because after that, she is due in Hollywood to work on the next season of her award-winning Netflix series "Grace and Frankie".

Speaking in a video posted by Greenpeace on Friday, Fonda said “I’ve moved from California to [Washington] DC to engage in Fire Drill Fridays. This is an action every Friday to focus on climate change. We look at a different aspect of climate change every week, and today it is women and climate. Last week, it was oceans and climate.


Every Friday, Fonda puts on her distinctive red coat and gets ready for her Fire Drill. The instructions are to wear something red, carry signs and, if you are planning on risking arrest, to bring a valid, state-issued photo ID along with $50 cash. They add that they will have cash available if a protester cannot cover this.

Last week along with a growing number of fellow activists, Fonda entered the US Senate building. There they sat on the floor chanting in a building where no demonstrations are permitted and many are arrested.

Fonda’s is a peaceful protest and she offers her wrists up to officers, who cuff her and put her in the back of a wagon, along with fellow protesters. They are let off with a warning the first few times, but last Friday Fonda spent a night in her local jail and appeared in Superior Court on Saturday, before being released. Her prison overnights will most likely go on as long as she continues her protest.

“I’m not nervous because I’ve been arrested before,” Fonda said. “I’m doing this because I recognise we are in the middle of a terrible crisis and we don’t have a lot of time. We have 11 years to try to turn this around. If we don’t, the fabric of the global environment will begin to unravel and there will be nothing we can do to change it.”

Seasoned protestor

Fonda was never going to go gently into her autumn years. She is no stranger to adding her name to a cause and has been a political protestor and a vocal feminist for more than 50 years.  

In 1969, Fonda supported the occupation of Alcatraz Island by American Indians. The following year, in 1970, she decided she could not stay quiet about the Vietnam War. Along with fellow actors Donald Sutherland and Fred Gardner, she formed the Free the Army tour, which was a form of anti-war political vaudeville that they toured up and down military towns along the west coast of America, hoping to talk with young soldiers about their deployment.

And then, in 1972, Fonda went to Hanoi, Vietnam, and that photograph was taken. Beautiful young Jane Fonda clapping and smiling as she sat amongst Viet Cong soldiers on an anti-aircraft gun. Even as recently as last year, Fonda apologised to US veterans for this infamous photograph.


“Here is my best honest recollection of what happened, " said Fonda. "Everyone was laughing and clapping, including me. Someone (I don’t remember who) led me towards the gun and I sat down, still laughing, still applauding. It all had nothing to do with where I was sitting. The cameras flashed… It is possible that it was a set up, that the Vietnamese had planned it all. But the buck stops here. If I was used, I allowed it to happen… a two-minute lapse of sanity that will haunt me forever. The photo exists regardless of what I was doing or feeling.”

This momentary ‘lapse’ caused decades of damage to her profile, earning Fonda the nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’, and creating a rift between her and the military and the government that continues to this day.

In 2013, it was revealed that Fonda was one of 1600 Americans being monitored via wire taps between the years of 1967 to 1973 by the US National Security Agency. But nothing will stop this indomitable force, not even the government eavesdropping on her most intimate conversations.

Women’s rights and Israeli occupation

Fonda has been a longtime fighter for women’s health and reproductive rights. In 2001, she founded the Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Reproductive Health in Atlanta in a bid to help prevent teenage pregnancies through education. She has also demonstrated against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

But now her focus is broader. Fonda wants to save the world before it’s too late. She is not someone who can be accused of jumping on a Greta Thungberg bandwagon, however. Fonda’s been fighting the climate war for more than a decade.

She was a vocal critic of Barack Obama when he reversed his own 2008 campaign promises and permitted Arctic drilling along the Alaskan coast in March 2010 as an economic measure. Obama did then reverse this decision two months later, in May 2010, after there was a devastatingly huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Fonda also marched in a historic climate march in Toronto in 2015.


Fonda chose the name for her new weekly demonstrations after Thunberg, describing the climate crisis, said “our house is on fire”.

"There are many ways to fight. But I'm inspired by Greta Thunberg and the young student strikers all over the world," Fonda said.

She believes that this is not a problem that the young should have to solve by themselves. Her generation have been part of the cause and now she feels they need to be part of the solution.

Fonda says that, according to scientists, there is still time to reverse the damage we have done. She is referring to scientific reports indicating that sharp decreases in carbon emissions are necessary before 2030 if the world hopes to prevent catastrophic global warming.

"I'm a celebrity. So this is a way to use my celebrity to get the message out that we face a crisis that could determine whether or not our children and grandchildren have a future that's even habitable."

She certainly knows how to keep the media’s attention. Fonda has been joined in her Fire Drill Friday efforts by a rotating cast of more mature Hollywood celebrities, all willing to get plastic handcuffs slapped on their wrists. Sam Waterston, Ted Danson, Rosanna Arquette and Catherine Keener have already been hauled off into the back of a police van. Mark Ruffalo and Diane Lane are already on the bill for next Friday.


Last week, Fonda went viral accepting a BAFTA award while she was being arrested. Wearing her distinctive red protest coat and defiantly holding up her handcuffed fists, she shouted, “Thank you. I’m sorry I’m not there. I’m very honoured!”

Fonda is willing to risk more than just a photo opportunity of herself getting carted away in plastic handcuffs to raise awareness. After being arrested more than two times in a six-month period, Fonda now potentially faces 99 days or more in jail if she keeps getting arrested.

This political firecracker turns 82 on December 21. Given that this year it falls on a Saturday, Fonda’s birthday breakfast might turn out to be porridge on a prison tray if she keeps spending her Friday nights in prison.

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