Joaquin Phoenix and Martin Sheen were among the activists arrested on Friday as Jane Fonda led her final climate D.C. protest, weekly events that have drawn Hollywood figures and other activists in an effort to build support for much greater action on climate change.
Fonda did not join the dozens of others who were arrested for occupying the steps of the Capitol, but she and actress later went to participate in another climate demonstration at a Chase bank branch nearby.
Still, the demonstration drew one of its largest crowds. Capitol Police said that 147 were arrested, compared to 16 in the first week of the protests in October. Those arrested were charged with crowding, obstructing or incommoding, and then released.
At a rally beforehand, Phoenix talked about one of the issued he referenced in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, after winning for The Joker: the impact of dairy and meat production on climate change.
“Sometimes we wonder what can we do in this fight against climate change, and there is something that you can do today and tomorrow, by making a choice about what you consume,” Phoenix said. He said that “there are things I can’t avoid. I flew a plane here today, or last night rather, but one thing I can do is change my eating habits.”
Sheen called Fonda “one of my heroes nearly all my adult life” and said that, “Clearly, the world will be saved by women. Thank God they outnumber is men.” He then read Rabindranath Tagore’s poem Where the Mind Is Without Fear.
Fonda plans to return to Los Angeles on Saturday to begin the final season of Grace and Frankie, but will participate in future protests being planned now for California. Greenpeace USA will help organize the demonstrations, with the first planned for Feb. 7 in Los Angeles, and continuing each month. Organizers say that Fonda then plans to continue full-time climate activism after Grace and Frankie wraps production in July.
Fonda moved to Washington temporarily to help organize the weekly protests — called Fire Drill Fridays, and inspired by teenage activist Greta Thunberg — with an eye toward drawing attention to the need for urgent action on climate change.
She has been arrested five times, and spent the night in a D.C. jail at one point. Her weekly guests, who have included her Grace and Frankie co-star Lily Tomlin, Sam Waterston, Ted Danson, Diane Lane and Sally Field, also have been arrested as demonstrators blocked streets or Capitol steps.
Has it worked? The protests have had to compete for attention in the velocity of major breaking news events in DC. On one Friday last month, the climate rally took place across the street from a House office building where the Judiciary Committee had just voted to impeach President Donald Trump. Typically, the protests have taken place on Fridays when lawmakers have already left town for the weekend.
But Fonda has drawn extensive media attention, talking about her activism an appearance earlier this week on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, stories in The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Washington Post as well as a Q&A at the National Press Club. The rally and protests have been livestreamed,
Perhaps the greatest sign that the demonstrations have cut through the noise is that Trump himself addressed Fonda’s activism. At a rally in November, he said, “They arrested Jane Fonda, nothing changes. I remember 30, 40 years ago they arrested her. She always has the handcuffs on, oh man. She’s waving to everybody with the handcuffs.”
Fonda, though, has generally tried to keep the events focused on the climate crisis. She has steered questions from reporters, on issues like the 2020 election and impeachment, to things like the need for a Green New Deal. Last weekend, she did join a rally in D.C. to protest a potential war with Iran, but she tied it to the threat of climate change. On Friday, she told the crowd of climate activists that the climate and antiwar movements should work in concert.
A spokesman for Fire Drill Fridays, Ira Arlook, said that since the demonstrations started on Oct. 11, about 350 people have been arrested at least once, and the figure rises to about 400 total arrests. That figure did not include the 147 arrested on Friday.
He said that one indication of the impact of the protests has been that “at least several hundred people” from around the country have told them that they want help doing local Fire Drill Fridays. He said that Greenpeace will take over the job of running the demonstrations in California and helping people start their own local protests.