Saturday, November 21, 2020

JANE FONDA, WHAT CAN I DO? (About the Climate)





"Please come visit us for our monthly virtual Climate Change Forum from OMNI Center, Sunday, December 6 at 1:30. We'll meet virtually with the following Go To Meeting link, but we want you to know the topics so you can read ahead and participate. Our thoughts for the December Forum will primarily be the Green New Deal and what we can do individually and as a community on a hopefully more positive political stage. 

 Dick Bennett will present Jane Fonda's activist account in What Can I do (A few days ago B&N had 11 copies of the book.).  Dick has also encouraged reading other GND books: Naomi Klein's On Fire: The (Burning) Case of the Green New Deal; Jeremy Rifkin's The Green New Deal;, Aranoff et.alA Planet to Win, Why We Need a Green New Deal; and Chomsky and Pollin's Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal, The Political Economy of Saving the Planet.

 Lolly will present on Christiana Figueres' The Future We Choose. (On 11-21 two copies were available at B&N.)   She was the UN's past head of the IPCC and gives a very positive wish list to address climate change. 

 And then our final activity for the Forum for the year will be to discuss what Ms. Fonda and Ms. Figueres recommend and our additions.   We might make lists of specific topics, write letters, decide to whom to send, and who will do the writing.


Climate Change Book Forum Dec 6 - Green New Deal et al

Sun, Dec 6, 2020 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM (CST)

 Please join our meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.


You can also dial in using your phone.

United States: +1 (669) 224-3412

Access Code:847-722-597



JANE FONDA, WHAT CAN I DO? (about the climate)

For a Forum of one and a half hours, we have two books to discuss and an open discussion.  So here I have summarized and commented upon chapters one through 3.  My virtual talk will cover the chapters on the climate issues she discusses.

This is one of the best books on political ACTION I have read.  Because it is an account of a four-month action, every page is about WHAT CAN I DO?

In this note I’ll describe it generally and then zoom in on chapters 1 through 3.

     The importance of Greenpeace to Ms. Fonda’s sustained protest and the book cannot be overstated.  Here’s a quick summary mainly from Acknowledgments: The first person she consulted with her idea of going to DC for a four-month demonstration for the climate was Greenpeace’s president, Annie Leonard.  All of the planning meetings took place in Greenpeace USA headquarters in DC for the four months.  She ‘made certain we had the speakers we did” for the Fire Drill Fridays and Teach-Ins, by assigning a Greenpeace officer—Maddy Carretero—to help organize every Fire Drill Friday and Teach-In.  Ira Arlook “made sure the world knew” about the rallies.   For the book, all profits go to Greenpeace.  At invitation from Fonda, Leonard wrote the appendixes, Appendix A: “An Introduction to Understanding the Climate Emergency,” on “the science of the crisis and the urgent solutions,” and Appendix B: “Civil Disobedience.”  Who was ever praised better?  “She is a true activist leader who lives her values and always exhibits wisdom, compassion, and generosity.”

      Ms. Fonda’s generosity in giving credit is also shown in her Acknowledgments, where dozens of her heroes for the climate are listed and many particularized.  One of her methods in seeking an effective action is her “repeaters,” who disseminate far and wide her messages and those of the speakers at the Fire Drill Fridays and Teach-ins.  Among these are experts and her celebrity friends, who use their platforms to raise awareness: Gloria Steinem, Eve Ensler, Ted Danson, Ben Cohen, Susan Sarandon, Martin Sheen, Lily Tomlin, Emma’s Revolution, Sweet Honey in the Rock.

      She’s a pro.   And her book shares her lifetime experience as an organizer for peace and the environment.

     She offers seventeen chapters and the two appendices already mentioned.  The first two chapters and the last describe her foray to D.C. for the climate. The first two describe her decision to move to DC to organize (“The Wake-Up Call”), and her initial actions (Chapter 2: “The Launch”).  (Chapter 17, “Fire Drill Fridays: Going Forward”)  

     Fourteen chapters (3 through 16) discuss fourteen topics.   Chapter 3: The Green New Deal; 4: Oceans and Climate Change; 5: Women and Climate Change; 6 War, the Military, and Climate Change; 7: Environmental Justice; 8: Water and Climate Change; 9: Plastics; 10: Food, Agriculture, and Climate Change; 11: Climate, Migration, and Human Rights; 12: Jobs and a Just Transition; 13: Health and Climate Change; 14: Forests and Climate Change; 15: Holding the Fossil fuel Industry Accountable; 16: Stop the Money Pipeline.

          Each chapter is preceded by a full-page in color of a key person or event at that Fire Drill Friday.

              The opening pages of Chapter 1, “The Wake-Up Call” prepare for the conclusion just now described.  The introductory photo is of the first Fire Drill Friday in the conference room at Greenpeace USA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. with Jane and Annie Leonard, president of Greenpeace, at head of the table.
     Naomi Klein and Greta Thunberg get credit for first awakening her to the climate crisis.  Jane learned about Greta from Naomi’s book.   Because Asperger Greta could not filter out truth, could not compartmentalize the scientific truths she had learned at school, when faced with the inaction of leaders, she became traumatized and mute.  People should be behaving as if their house was on fire, she felt, but instead they acted like business was as usual.  Eventually she rediscovered her voice, and at age 16 started a movement called “Fridays for Future” to inspire school strikes around the world. 

    By the time Jane had read a quarter of Klein’s book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, she was “shaking with intensity.”  Naomi through Greta had enabled her to “take the science into my own body.”  The second thing in Klein’s book that changed her “the clarity with which she conveyed  what the scientists were saying in the [United Nations’] 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).” Here’s the reality:  “Virtually unanimously, the scientists make clear that given the worsening disasters we’re already seeing, and the additional warming that is already baked in because we didn’t act forty years ago, we don’t stand a chance at changing course in time without profound, systemic economic and social change, and they say, as of 2020, we have a brief ten years before the tipping point is reached.  Ten years to reduce fossil fuel emissions roughly in half and then reduce to net zero by 2050 to avoid uncontrollable unraveling of the natural life-support system”(3).  The IPCC scientists know this, Naomi knows this, Greta knows this, and Jane knows this. 

     The scientists believe in addition that “we have the technology to make the transition in time to clean, renewable energy,” and they believe “collective actions taken by social movements on an unprecedented scale” can make the needed transition.   And Jane believes social movements make changes.  She and her husband at the time, Tom Hayden, launched the Indo-China Peace Campaign to tell about the Pentagon Papers and challenge President Nixon to stop the war.  A clear strategy and authoritative evidence were the foundation of that effective mobilizing and organizing.   To Jane, “the Pentagon Papers were to the Vietnam War what I think the IPCC 2018 report was to the climate crisis: irrefutable truth of lying and deceit on the part of people in power” (4). 

     The third thing in On Fire that struck Jane was the way Naomi explained the Green New Deal.   At first, Jane thought Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Markey’s GND Resolution should not have included jobs and environmental and economic justice, because those major subjects would distract us from the climate catastrophe.   But “Naomi’s book made me understand justice is at the heart of solving what led to the climate crisis.”  “The Green New Deal beckons us into a future where everyone can see a place for themselves” (4).  Right then, Jane decided to move to D.C. and camp out at the White House.

     She told two close friends and for several days discussed pros and cons.  Then she took a leap of faith (her “only form of exercise these days”) and  phoned her friend Annie Leonard, the director of Greenpeace USA.   Annie set up a conference call to include Naomi, Bill McKibben, and environmental lawyer Jay Halfon.  They discussed not only possible actions (no camping in D.C.) but actions that might be effective based upon historical examples (TransAfrica v. S. African apartheid).  They agreed on weekly demonstrations followed by civil disobedience.  Jane decided to go D. C. at once, for she had only four months free before filming her last season of Grace and Frankie.

     She flew off September 27.  The initial organizing took ten days, leaving two weeks for the planning.  Annie found a logistics team, who found a digital team.  The sound man with the documentary film company suggested the name Fire Drill Fridays.  About a dozen people attended the first big meeting in D.C. in the Greenpeace office, representing Greenpeace, the Sunrise Movement, Friends of the Earth, Climate Action Network, Hip Hop Caucus, Oil Change International and more (9).  Who were they hoping to mobilize? What would they demand and what calls to action?  They finally settled on three essential demands:

Support the Green New Deal

No New Fossil Fuel Extraction

Phase Out Existing Fossil Fuels with a Just Transition to Renewable Energy.

Their Calls to Action were to be:

VOTE: for the climate in every election and for candidates in favor of the GND.

VOICE: talk to everyone about climate, phone or write candidates, sign and distribute petitions, go to town halls.


And Jane suggested education, weekly teach-ins focusing on different aspects of the climate crisis featuring experts and activists.  Karen Nussbaum, labor organizer, suggested they be on the night preceding each Rally.

     In the days following Jane met with leading D. C. student climate protesters and strikers.  They agreed to participate in the first FDF.  “Things were coming together….into a team effort, and other organizations were feeling included and heard.  In fact, it felt meant to be.” (12).

     [And the title What Can I Do? had become urgently clear from the beginning.   Every chapter, every sentence offered answers.  –Dick]




        Chapter 2, “The Launch” Oct. 11,  Rally #1. 

     The opening photo shows the capitol in the background, closer a banner for “Fire Drill Fridays,” and front, Jane, dressed in her signature red coat and black and white checkered cap holding high Naomi Klein’s book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.

     On October 11, 2019, the first pre-rally Briefing was held in the United Methodist building near the Capitol.  She was letting her gray hair grow in (“growing gray felt right for my new (and maybe final) turning point” :this book is also autobiography remember).   She hadn’t slept, afraid nobody would show up, afraid Fire Drill Fridys would not “gain traction and make a difference.” 

     The core team was there, two of the speakers, a dozen pledged to civil disobedience (cd) and to risk arrest with her: Karen Nussbaum, Annie Leonard, Steve Kretzmann, and her step-granddaughter, Vasser Turner Seydel.   A photo of Jane and Naomi Klein appears p. 16.  Jane’s logistical head gave the briefing she   would repeat on all subsequent Fridays.

The March.     Then they went outside to march to the first Fire Drill Fridays.  TV cameras  and photographers greeted them,.  They passed the intimidating Supreme Court building.  Their little group seemed “ragtag,” their chants unimpressive.  She saw ahead to the stage only a small audience.

     The Rally.  Jane devoted her first Fire Drill Fridays (FDF) speech to the imperial, genocidal economic ideology (my words) of US history.   Like warming, US imperialism got under her skin during the Vietnam War.  She quotes two of her sentences, and they are worth quoting:  “The same toxic ideology that took this land from people who already lived here, that kidnapped people from Africa, turning them into slaves to work that stolen land, and justified it by saying those kidnapped and displaced people were not human beings, cut down the forests and exhausted the natural world just as it did the people.  This foundational, extractive ideology of commodification is the same one that has brought us the human-driven climate change that we’re facing today.”  There’s never been a better two-sentence critique of  US capitalism.

     Then the first FDF begins with a young indigenous woman.  Jansikwe Medina Tayac, of  the Piscataway Indian Nation, “welcomed us to her people’s land.”  There’s a photo of her p. 18 (all photos in the book in color).  She reminds us that “indigenous people have been fighting for this earth since the early 1600s.”  Jane writes that the young activists who were striking every Friday supporting FDF were crucial to success;  that after all the European colonizers had done to the original people and to the land, it was remarkable to hear her welcome; and that she had learned of “the critical role indigenous peoples play in fighting climate change” (19).

     Since this was the beginning of 14 FDF, Jane spoke again to explain why she was there.  She wanted “to ensure that the climate crisis remains front and center.”  She spoke of Naomi Klein ‘s book, On Fire, the inspiration for Fire Drill Fridays, of and Greta Thunberg and other student strikers (see p. 2).  Jane listed their four demands (p. 20): 1. Pass a New Green Deal, 2. Stop fossil fuel expansion immediately, 3. End fossil fuels within 30 years, 4. A fair deal for workers and communities most impacted by the transition.

    She explained too the second mission of FDF: education—Teach-ins by scientists, experts, representatives from frontline communities, celebrities on aspects of the climate crisis.  She stressed the urgency of the crisis.  From her core team to her expanding audience, the “repeaters” amplify the messages.

     Next she introduced another young person, Jerome Foster, who emphasized our “one planet, and one globally interconnected nation,” exhorted the audience to vote and write their reps, and led a chant.

      Biologist Sandra Steingraber followed to denounce fracking  and to lament “all that we had lost and what we’d be losing the in the near future.”  She spoke to the young people facing that future, relating her own youth with cancer to the present.  And she spoke to Jane, who had not before made the connection of “the bodies of marine animals that died 400 million years ago…being weaponized to destroy the bodies of sea creatures living in our oceans now,”  or the connection of oil companies, the chemical industry, waste, waste disposal, and plastics (23).  

     That ended the Rally/Teach-in and began the March behind the FDF banner while chanting: “Tell me what democracy looks lie.”  The press walked backward in front of them, and past the police along the sides.  Gradually those who intended to risk arrest had moved ahead of the others: her granddaughter, Vasser; Carroll Muffett of the Center for Internatonal Environmental Law; Steve Kretzmann, director of Oil Cange International; Media Benjamin co-founder of CODEPINK; Annie Leonard, director of Greenpeace USA, several of the student strikers.   They walked up the Capitol steps, were warned once, and twice, and at the 3rd officers began cuffing the protesters (24).  It evoked the memory of her first arrest in 1970 against the Viet Nam War full of trepidation.  Now she was energized by full awareness and engagement resulting from “putting my body on the line and aligning myself full, body and spirit, with my values.”    And there was another difference, but it too was affirmative:  She was unable to step up unassisted into the police van with her arms tied behind her. 
     Similarly all the arrested seemed empowered.  And the chanting continued until the last were in the van.

     Processing at the police station was familiar, except, because her new red coat was new and the pockets sewn, she had put her money and driver’s license in her bra, and the officers laughed as they freed her hands to retrieve them.  She shared a cell with Vasser, Sandra, Medea, and Wendy, and conversation about climate’s universal influence, when “I got more ideas for upcoming teach-ins.”  And it turned out that both Medea and Sandra had known her ex-husband Tom Hayden from way back, Sandra from the student protests of the Vietnam War at the University of Michigan, including the takeover of a building by Tom (editor of the university’s newspaper) and 3,000 other students.  That event inspired the new concept labeled “teach-in” (instead of a walkout or a sit-in) which swept the country and has stuck.  Tom became a leader of opposition to the war.  These thoughts lead to mixed personal memories of Tom.

     As one of the last to be released, she had time to reflect about the month leading to this moment.   She was learning the rules of protest and arrest in the US capital.  She was proud of what they had accomplished so far and especially of their “respect for the land, for youth, and for science.”  But it was “not nearly enough.”  She had “so much…to learn.”

     About four hours after her arrest she was released to the warm welcome of her team--Debi, Annie, Maddy, and Karen, and others offering claps and chips.       In retrospect, for all the arrests “jail support” was always there.  That day “cemented for me how important it was to work across movements.”  “’If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.’”  “The more  I was learning about the climate crisis, the more I knew that building a community was how we would grow the army that was needed to change the way this country does business—literally, and for the long haul.” (29).






        Chapter 3, “The Green New Deal,” Rally #2, Teach-In and Arrest #1 

   The opening photo shows smiling actor Sam Waterston cuffed and being led away by a policeman.   Each week’s structure is basically the same; in Chapter 3:   1) Jane’s narrative of the Fire Drill Fridays,  commentary on the problem of warming and the economic system and the response of the Green New Deal, 2) the Rally, 3) the Teach-in, 4) March,  Civil Disobedience, Arrest.  

     Glancing ahead to the Teach-In, we meet actor Sam Waterston and Joanna Zhu of the Sunrise Movement.   Then Jane describes the organizing of the first Teach-In: the posters, documentary crew, the digital team, the iPhone, her notes—and the first Teach-In is launched (p. 32).  Jane spoke first for the Green New Deal.   One of sources of skill is her ability to tell her two stories at once: Her four-month effort to present to the world warming and resistance to it, and her physical and mental struggle to learn both the science and process of reporting.   Her first sentence is a key to understanding the “Green New Deal”:  “’The Green New Deal is not a policy or even a bundle of policies.”  But she lets that sink in by cutting immediately to her uneasiness with the tiny camera on the tripod in front of her that she hope would reach thousands of people, and then she reveals she introduced Sam Waterston as Sol Bergstein (“I was so jacked up”), the name of the character Sam was portraying in a tv drama.    And then she finished her GND statement: “The Green New Deal is a framework…an integrated, systemic response to the multiple crises of climate, of democracy, and of equality.” 

     She was pleased with what Sam, Joanna, and she said, but she pauses to summarize (pp. 33-4) their take on the GND.  (I urge everyone to read it, make a copy and carry it around. )  That doesn’t prevent her from elaborating for two pages on “the crisis as a  chance to create a world of new possibilities for fairness, prosperity, and good health.”   She differentiates potently the “environmentalists,” who would “reduce the demand,” blaming the people, from the present climate resistance, who would “reduce the supply,” blaming the profit-seeking corporations (we will never slow the warming until we end fossil-fuels use and fossil-fuels production)(p. 35).  (This is as clear a single paragraph on that distinction I have read.)  One more comment deserves attention: All of the good ideas being advanced—more local innovations, more bicycles, more heat pumps--, are not enough: “the power and resources of the federal government” are necessary if we are to “scale up” the necessary changes “fast enough.  Hence, it’s too late for moderation” (36).   And then she reports Sam’s live-streamed Teach-In speech on moderation, empathy, resilience and the GND.

     You’ve seen the “sidebars” in magazines—related small essays inserted into a main composition?   At this point (pp. 39-40), the pages colored green, Jane offers us a quick history on “We’ve Done It Before: The New Deal,”  a time of “tremendous social unrest :  drought, hunger, protest, riots.  She has a personal connection you will recall: her father Henry starred in the move The Grapes of Wrath about that crisis. and she has a particular focus.   The public demanded the President make necessary changes, and Roosevelt replied: “’I agree with you.  Now go out and make me do it.’”  And they did, and he did.   And Jane is trying to push our leaders to create a New New Deal. 


     Rally.      The second rally enjoyed a big increase in attendance.  Jane opened with her hopeful sketch of the New Deal.: “’…change is coming, by disaster or by design….The Green New Deal provides the design to bring us all into a sustainable future.’”  Followed by young people telling about feeling traumatized by the prospect of a warming future.  She introduces and honors their ogranizations.  Abigail Leedy representing the Sunrise Movement was delaying her college plans to work fulltime for a Green New Deal.  Jasilyn Charger, who ran from Standing rock, ND, to D.C. to deliver a petition to theArmy Corpos of Engineers to stop the Dakota Access pipeline.  Charlie Jiang, a Greenpeace climate campaigner, who dropped plans to study physics in order to support a Green New Deal.  And Jane concluded the rally with a pitch to all to vote, listing a several ways to question politicians votes regarding rising temperature.

    March, Civil Disobedience, Jail.  And then the march to block a major intersection, carrying a “Green New Deal” banner.  There she was surrounded by journalists, some hostile (“Hanoi Jane”!).  Her daughter Vanessa Vadim accompanied her, longtime friend Paula Weinstein of Tribeca Film Festival, actor Katherine LaNasa, and Sam Waterston of course, and some twenty others.  All intended to engage in civil disobedience.  Bringing together the older celebrities (Jane was 82) with the inspiring youth and climate activists, “Fire Drill Fridays was helping to amplify the voices that needed to be heard.”   After three hours of detention with disobedients from all walks of life (a manicurist and her daughter, from Delaware, a  professor from a midwesterm university. a Pakistani woman) they were thumbprinted and paid their fines.

     Sam, a moderate in politics who had never been engaged in civil disobedience, or spent time in jail, seemed particularly affected.   Three weeks later he was arrested for protesting fossil fuel investments at the Harvard-Yale game.  His sidebar, “A Moderate’s View of Civil Disobedience,” appears, again in green, on p.44.

     What Can I Do?  Of the seventeen chapters, fourteen end with a call to action.  It’s quite an accumulation of protest ideas and experiences.    At this second Fire Drill Fridays, Jane is enthusiastic over the growing public interest in plans “as ambitious as the science requires.”  But the Green New Deal resolution, introduced by Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “is just the start,” and she discusses a few of  “the many ways to get involved” the book offers (46-47, but really the whole chapter, and all the chapters).   In fact, the entire book amounts to a compendium of ideas for changing from a fossil fuels capitalism to a sustainable world.READ AN EXCERPT



Justin Worland.   “'Civil Disobedience Has to Become the New Norm.' Jane Fonda on the Fight Against Climate Change.”  Jane Fonda interviewed by Time, 9-3-20. 


Looking Forward:

This is the first part of a two-part review of Fonda’s book.  The second part will be presented by Dick during the virtual Forum on December 6.   I will summarize main aspects of the 13 chapters (4 through 16, from oceans to the money pipeline) that discuss the topics she considers most important to understanding warming and how to reduce it.  The most important thing you can do is buy and read the book.  We are up against almost half of the electorate utterly ignorant of the causes and effects of warming; while the other half is only half-awake.  

No comments:

Dick's Wars and Warming KPSQ Radio Editorials (#1-48)

Dick's Wars and Warming KPSQ Radio Editorials (#1-48)