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Why Jane Fonda is putting herself on the line to fight climate change


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: Finally tonight: Jane Fonda has been a household name for decades due to her prolific work on screen and stage, and to her enduring activism as well.

Her cause now? Taking on climate change.

Jane Fonda: You obviously know what this is like, but I have never felt it before.

Walter Matthau: The winner is Jane Fonda.


Judy Woodruff: Two Academy Awards, seven Golden Globes, a prime-time Emmy. The list goes on.

From her start in 1960, on stage and then on screen, Jane Fonda quickly won recognition and stardom, movies from "Barefoot in the Park" and "Barbarella" "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?", "Klute," and "Coming Home."

She became a household name.

Jane Fonda: I'm so happy.

Judy Woodruff: Followed by "The China Syndrome," "On Golden Pond," and "9 to 5."

After a break in the '90s, she relaunched her career in film, on stage and TV.

Lily Tomlin: We made a hell of an accident, didn't we?

Jane Fonda: We did.

Judy Woodruff: As Grace Hanson in her current Netflix comedy series "Grace and Frankie" with Lily Tomlin.

But all the while, activism has been threaded through Fonda's career, civil rights, women's rights, the Vietnam War.

When she was photographed in Hanoi in 1972 sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, detractors called her Hanoi Jane and accused her of undermining U.S. troops. Years later, she apologized and went on to protest the Iraq War and other causes.

Today the now 81-year-old actress is still at it. She moved to Washington to focus on civil disobedience around climate change, inspired by 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg.

Woman: Love you, Jane.

Judy Woodruff: Fonda has been arrested four times in the last four weeks in what's become known as Fire Drill Friday.

Jane Fonda: What we have to do is unprecedented.

Judy Woodruff: She's pushing for legislation advocated by Democratic Party progressives.

Jane Fonda: The Green New Deal is going to do more than the New Deal did. It's going to bring everyone to a fair playing field. We're going to make it happen.

Judy Woodruff: Jane Fonda, welcome to the "NewsHour."

Jane Fonda: It's good to be with you, Judy. We have known each other a long time.

Judy Woodruff: We have. We're so glad that you're here.

So, arrested four times in the last month, spent a night in jail, but not your first time.

Jane Fonda: No, I was arrested in Cleveland in 1970.

Judy Woodruff: And this time in Washington, in a Washington, D.C. jail. What was it like?

Jane Fonda: In Cleveland, all the people that were in jail were white, and they were all black here.

And it was pretty clear that they were in there because of poverty and racism and what grows out of that, mental health issues. I was treated fine, you know? But it made me very sad.

Judy Woodruff: What is driving you to do this? You speak about the climate crisis. What was it that sparked this?

Jane Fonda: You know, I made all the personal lifestyle choices, drive electric car, eat less meat, eat less fish, get rid of single-use plastic, and all that.

And that's good and it's important, but it's not enough. And I knew what I had to do. I had to get out of my comfort zone and put myself on the line, in coordination with the young student climate strikers, the Sunrise Movement and those kids.

Judy Woodruff: What's different about these young activists and what they're saying?

Jane Fonda: Well, their lives are on the line.

I mean, they're -- they recognize that older people, we're robbing them of a future that's livable, and we don't seem to be paying though attention. Kids have been out front of this movement for a long time, you know, the Standing Rock young people and so many of them.

But there's something about Greta Thunberg. It's the fact that she's on the spectrum.

Judy Woodruff: Right, autism spectrum.

Jane Fonda: Yes, Asperger's, and that gives her a focus.

She doesn't get distracted. And when I read what happened to her -- she had been studying in climate. And when she read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that said, we have very little time left, and this is what we had to do, and then she looked around, and nobody was behaving the way they should be behaving.

I mean, she said, if this is happening, people wouldn't be talking about anything else. And she was traumatized and stopped eating and speaking. And that really got to me.

I knew that what she had seen was the truth.

Judy Woodruff: At the same time, what do you say to the skeptics, I mean, the people who are outright saying, this is hysteria, we can't move this far this fast, we need to be sensible about this, yes, climate is an issue, but...

Jane Fonda: There's only one way to be sensible, and that is to read -- is to study the science.

The scientists know. And just the other day, 11,000 of them issued a warning, saying there is no question that the Earth and its population is facing a dire catastrophe.

Judy Woodruff: Even with that, just this week, President Trump formally pulls out of the Paris climate...

Jane Fonda: Well, I mean, he's the fossil fuel president. His Cabinet is a fossil fuel Cabinet.

He's -- they have been bought off by the fossil fuel industry, which tends to do that, and subverts our democracy in the process.

But our goal here with our Fire Drill Fridays is not to try to convince those kind of people. We're trying to get people who are not used to going into the streets and engaging in civil disobedience and risking getting arrests.

Judy Woodruff: Think back to Vietnam. How is this period of activism different from back then? What's changed?

Jane Fonda: What's changed is that everyone, not just our soldiers who are in a country fighting the people in that country, but the entire world is being threatened. It's an existential umbrella hanging over everything. That's what's changed.

This has never happened before in the history of civilization.

Judy Woodruff: And that's what's driven Jane Fonda to move to Washington and do what...


Jane Fonda: I mean, if you're a celebrity, and you're almost 82 years old, and you have young grandchildren, I mean, I don't know. I don't know what would happen to me if I didn't do it. I -- what would I think about myself?

Judy Woodruff: We said it. You are an 81-year-old woman who still has a phenomenally successful career in entertainment and television.

You're as active as anybody could be in the environmental movement. Is there a message for older women today?

Jane Fonda: When you're older, what have you got to lose? You're not in the marketplace for some guy who's scared of a strong woman, so you can rise to yourself and become who you are meant to be, and you can be brave.

I mean, there are older people with gray hair out there every Friday that get arrested with me that are just so great. And some of them are nuns, and some of them are rabbis, and some of them just people who have come from different parts of the United States.

And they're old, and it's just beautiful.

Judy Woodruff: And is there more -- you think there's more acceptance of that today than there used to be?

Jane Fonda: There's always been. Older people have always been -- older women have always tended to be the bravest.

Judy Woodruff: And so what's your message to other women who are out there wondering, should I step into this or that, that I have been afraid to get involved in?

Jane Fonda: Well, one of my purposes with Fire Drill Friday is to show people the new normal.

This is the kind of thing that has to become normal, given what is going to have to happen. No matter who we elect in November, no matter how progressive and brave they are, it won't work unless we are going to hold their feet to the fire.

Back in the -- during the New Deal, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he said to the people who were in the streets rioting and demanding that he help them rise out of despair, because they were starving and they were so poor, and he said: I agree with you. Now go out and make me do it.

And whether it's Obama or Jerry Brown, so many progressive politicians say to people: Make me do it. Make me do it.

So, that means they can throw up their hands and say: Look, it's not my fault. Look what the constituents are making me do.

We have to be in the streets and shutting down governments, if necessary, not just at the federal level, but state governments, local governments, town councils. We have to be very brave.

And, for 40 years, we have marched and rallied and written and spoken, and not enough has happened. So we have to up the ante a little bit and risk getting arrested through civil disobedience.

But we have to not be afraid. And we have to see this as the way good citizens of the United States need to act. We need to be in the streets making our demands heard.

Judy Woodruff: Jane Fonda in...

Jane Fonda: Judy Woodruff.


Judy Woodruff: ... in Washington, making the case to fight climate change.

Jane Fonda, thank you very much.

Jane Fonda: Thank you, Judy. It's good to see you. Thanks...

Judy Woodruff: And you.

Jane Fonda: ... for having me.

Judy Woodruff: And we heard her say, what have you got to lose?

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