WASHINGTON, DC—Fire Drill Fridays have been a fixture in Washington since mid-October when Jane Fonda began a weekly climate strike in the nation’s capital inspired by Greta Thunberg and the youth climate strike movement.
On Friday, under gray skies and 50-degree weather that felt much colder with a blustery wind, she staged her last fire drill in the nation’s capital about the planetary emergency we face. But in many ways, it was also the start of something new as Fire Drill Fridays is set to expand around the U.S.
Organizers with Greenpeace have put out a call for others to start fire drills in their communities. As of Friday afternoon, organizers said more than 7,000 people had signed up to lead fire drills, adding another layer to the burgeoning climate movement.
The concept of Fire Drill Fridays is simple: Use Fonda and her friends’ celebrity to draw attention to the climate crisis and young adults, indigenous groups, and others on the frontlines and have been fighting to get the public to give a shit. And toss in a few arrests to really drive the point home.
Fonda took four months off from shooting the Netflix series Grace and Frankie to move to Washington and kickstart the movement. This Friday’s event was the last one Fonda will lead in DC. She’s headed back to Los Angeles to film the last season of Grace and Frankie and has vowed to continue the fire drills there.
This Friday’s iteration featured Fonda alongside famous friends like Martin Sheen, Susan Sarandon, and Joaquin Phoenix, as well as indigenous leaders who have recently opened a new wave of activism. Hundreds turned out on the lawn outside the Capitol to hear speeches and then take to the Capitol steps. Police encroached and issued a warning for people to vacate or risk arrest for holding an unpermitted event.
Organizers said 270 people had signed up to be arrested. Fonda wasn’t among those arrested this time around because she’s gotten her ass arrested enough times by Capitol Police to risk legit jail time, but her famous friends along with climate luminaries like Naomi Klein and everyday folks stood on the steps as Capitol Police pushed the rest of the crowd to the edge of the Capitol grounds.
In many ways, the protests and arrests not only shine a light on the climate crisis, but also our criminal justice system and interlocking inequalities. Fonda has said as much, noting that her status as a white celebrity makes it a lot easier for her to put her neck out and risk arrest. Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, similarly acknowledged the same, telling Earther that “this is exactly what a person with privilege should be doing, using this privilege to amplify the issue.”
It speaks to fact that the climate crisis requires everyone to be engaged at whatever level they can be if anything is to change. And many of the protestors and speakers were aware of that, noting that this is what being an ally in the fight for the fate of humanity can look like.
“We were watching the Stephen Colbert show that Jane Fonda was on last week, and we’ve been wanting to protest for a while,” Savannah Stuitje, a marijuana dispensary worker from Western Massachusetts, told Earther. “We have the privilege of being able to come down here and like, let’s do it.”
Capitol Police ended up processing the arrestees on-site and releasing them from behind a phalanx of Capitol Police vehicles to whoops from the waiting protestors. Fonda stood in solidarity, watching them walk across the Capitol grounds from under the brim of a bright red fedora like some kind of climate Carmen Sandiego. She let out celebratory whoops as well with each batch of protestors released and gave hugs and high fives.
While expanding Fire Drill Fridays to local communities may lack in star power, that’s kind of the point. Fonda’s name and star power gives the movement some oomph, but collective action and building a community is what will keep it going.
“It’s really empowering,” Stuitje said. “It’s wonderful to be here and see so many people showing up from all over the place with everyone supporting each other.”
“The idea is to really build out and support people all over the country, increasing climate protests so that when we get a new president in office, we will have a movement infrastructure to hold that new president accountable,” Leonard said.
Now it’s time to flex and build the movement even further and push for the changes needed over the next decade to ensure our planet isn’t burned to a crisp. After all, getting arrested alone isn’t going to save the planet.