‘Ted Danson was radiant': Jane Fonda recalls her celebrity friends’ reactions to arrest at climate protests

Jane Fonda, Rosanna Arquette, and Catherine Keener appear together at
Jane Fonda, Rosanna Arquette, and Catherine Keener appear together at

Ted Danson was “radiant”, Sam Waterson “can’t recommend it highly enough” and Gloria Steinem gave an autograph in plastic zip-tie cuffs.

Jane Fonda’s new book, published on Tuesday, recounts the reactions of her celebrity friends as they were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience during protests she organized to draw attention to the climate crisis last year.

In late 2019, Fonda moved from California to DC and joined forces with fellow activists to lead weekly climate demonstrations on Capitol Hill, in what became known as “Fire Drill Fridays”.

The strategy led to the two-time Oscar winner, 82, being arrested five times. And she was not alone: Celebrity friends, community leaders, climate scientists and members of the public all risked arrest alongside her for the cause.

Fonda is blunt about the value that celebrity presence can bring. “Whether we like it or not, our society is very celebrity focused, and having a famous person publicly join a movement helps bring the press out and expand the reach of the message,” she writes in What Can I Do?, part-memoir, and part how-to guide for tackling the climate crisis.

At the third Fire Drill Friday last October, which focused on the changing climate’s impact on oceans, Fonda was joined by Cheers star Ted Danson, 72, who sits on the board of conservation group, Oceana.

Danson said he joined the protests due to the urgency of the crisis - despite having made a promise to himself to take life at a slower pace when he turned 70.

“Ted Danson and I joined many others to engage in civil disobedience. I caught sight of his face as he was handcuffed. He was radiant,” she wrote.

“It was still daylight when we were released into the care of jail support. I got out before Ted, and when I went to hug and thank him, he took my face in his hands and said, “No, thank you, Jane. This has been important.” And the way he said it, and the way he made me look him in the eye, let me know that something had shifted in Mr. Danson.”

He wasn’t the only one. Sam Waterston, Fonda’s co-star on the TV show, Grace & Frankie, and a self-described moderate, was elated by his first ever arrest in his late seventies.

In his own short essay for the book, he noted that he “came out of getting arrested a different person than I went in”.

“As I’ve said before, I’m not a radical. In a radical situation, though—and the climate emergency is a radical situation—radical action is the moderate thing to do," he wrote.

“That’s what it feels like to get arrested over the climate emergency: thinking, and then acting, anew. I can’t recommend it highly enough.”

He didn’t stop there: Weeks later, Waterston was arrested with students at the Harvard-Yale football game, who were protesting their college’s fossil fuel investments.

“He sent me a photo someone took of him in handcuffs looking up with a big grin. ‘Now look at what you’ve done!’ And Sam came back to D.C. with his sister Ellen for the twelfth Fire Drill Friday and did it again,” Fonda wrote.

A bevy of other A-listers showed willingness to be cuffed and detained to highlight the climate emergency - Robert F Kennedy Jr, Sally Field, Abigail Disney, Amber Valletta, Piper Perabo, Diane Lane, Catherine Keener, Rosanna Arquette, Susan Sarandon and Abigail Disney.

Joaquin Phoenix and Martin Sheen "were among the last” to be released from detention following their arrests at one of the last Fire Drill Friday demonstrations before the coronavirus shutdown.

Another of Fonda’s co-stars, Lily Tomlin, joined her at a protest two days after Christmas. “The Grace and Frankie Christmas Arrest Special!” Fonda quipped.

As the protest got underway on the Capitol’s steps, Fonda was forced to step away due to her several priors.

“I left the steps after the third warning from the police, but Lily stayed, having committed herself to risking arrest. I watched and cheered as my beloved pal got handcuffed and led away, a smile on her face,” she recalled.

When the protests occupied the rotunda of the Hart Senate Office Building, writer and longtime activist Gloria Steinem was among the numerous arrestees when she was approached by a starstruck fan - “a young black policewoman”, Fonda wrote.

The officer “approached Gloria Steinem, shyly pulling out of her pocket a copy of the U.S. Constitution (they are all required to carry one), and whispered to her, “I may lose my job over this, but will you sign my Constitution?”'

Bound by plastic cuffs, Steinem obliged.

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