On Friday, actress and activist Jane Fonda was arrested in front of the White House in a demonstration against the climate crisis for the third consecutive week. Fellow actor and environmentalist Ted Danson was arrested alongside her in what Fonda has referred to as the “Fire Drill Fridays,” a series of protests outside of the Capitol. According to CNN, 32 other protesters were arrested for unlawfully demonstrating in an intersection and were charged with “crowding, obstructing or incommoding.”
In an interview with CNN, Fonda stated that after being inspired by Greta Thunberg and Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: the Burning Case For a Green New Deal, she was spurred by the urgency of climate change and the realization that she wasn’t doing enough for the cause. She explains it is a “collective crisis that requires collective action,” and that although simple measures such as using reusables and recycling are good places to start, there is much more to be done.
Now that she's made the move from California to Washington D.C., she intends to be arrested outside the White House every Friday in an effort to raise awareness for the climate crisis, which she calls a “ticking time bomb.”
Making it her mission to push for more priority on climate issues even if it means halting the government, Jane Fonda has remained true to her word. While being arrested on Friday, she simultaneously accepted her BAFTA award, expressing her gratitude at the cameras capturing the moment as she was led away.
Each Fire Drill Friday is directed towards climate activism and policy, with a different focus every week. Last Friday’s protest was entitled “Oceans Can’t Wait,” and the next one, on Nov. 1, is called “Women Can’t Wait.” It is meant to highlight the impact that the climate crisis has on vulnerable and marginalized populations, including women.
The Fire Drill Fridays website lists five demands, which “center and uplift those of youth climate strikers across the country.” These include calls for a Green New Deal, the phasing out of all fossil fuel extraction and use, respect for indigenous land and sovereignty, environmental justice, protection and restoration of biodiversity, an end to deforestation by 2030, and implementation of sustainable agriculture. The movement was inspired by Greta Thunberg’s opening line in her speech at the 2019 World Economic Forum: "Our house is on fire.”
Demonstrations on behalf of the climate have been occurring across the globe, including those by the UK-based group Extinction Rebellion (XR), which calls for international, nonviolent, civil demonstrations to push governments to form policies to address the full extent of the climate emergency. Although the group has received significant attention as a predominant voice for policy changes in the UK, Extinction Rebellion has also been criticized by politicians and citizens alike for its more radical methods of demonstration.
On October 7th, XR protesters disrupted London’s public transport by standing on trains and blocking doors during rush hour. They were met with unhappy commuters who began throwing things and dragging the protestors off forcefully. One protester had to be defended by passersby as a commuter angrily began a physical altercation. This sparked outcries from the public, as they took to social media to express their disapproval of protests that seem to be unreasonably extreme. Extinction Rebellion made a public apology to those whose lives were disrupted that morning and reaffirmed its commitment to non-violent actions to advance the climate crisis movement.
In the same vein as Jane Fonda, many celebrities have been increasingly involved in the climate crisis, figuring that their power and platform could serve to amplify the environmental cause. Although many act as representatives of the public’s sentiments—posting pictures from the climate strike on social media or taking to twitter to voice their support of climate advocacy—several have made environmental activism a priority.
However, there are downfalls to the focus they receive. Celebrities may promote trends and fads that are merely causing surface-level change, and as only snippets of their lives are public, they may preach one thing but cause detriment to the environment—think fossil fuels and private jets. Their supposed advocacy could also be seen as a publicity stunt or a way to better their reputation.
Moreover, it is important to address their privilege. Jack Harries—a Youtube Influencer, documentary film-maker, ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund, and heavily involved activist in Extinction Rebellion—posted an Instagram photo the other day in response to the mixed reactions that XR has received over its numerous protests. Harries explained that even with the disruptions these strikes cause, it is important to keep the ultimate goal in mind.
The comment section under his photo was filled with countless messages concerning the fact that many of these rebellions have been started by upper or middle-class people who can afford to take off a day of work and sacrifice their income for a strike, while people of lower incomes would likely suffer if they did so. Others argued that the only way for the legislature to recognize the extremity of the climate crisis is to cause disruptions that are as confrontational and personal as Extinction Rebellion halting the London public transportation system.
A-list celebrity or not, many are beginning to understand the power of individual action and the unquestionable influence that collective demonstrations have on issues as widespread and crucial as that of the climate crisis.