By Brandon Pytel
The climate movement isn’t just for teens and tweens: As 81-year-old actress Jane Fonda demonstrated Friday, the youth climate strike movement also has a place for octogenarians.
On a chilly November morning in Washington D.C., Fonda protested climate inaction for the fifth week in a row, striking as part of her weekly Fire Drill Fridays. Hundreds joined the two-time Academy Award winner outside the United States Capitol Building, including Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of the ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s.
According to Fire Drill Friday’s mission statement, “The climate crisis is not an isolated issue — it involves every part of our economy and society.” With that in mind, Fire Drill Fridays assigns each week a different climate-related theme. Friday’s topic was the connection between drivers of war and drivers of climate change.
“The Iraq War was largely fought for fossil fuel,” said Fonda outside the U.S. Capitol Friday. “The climate, the environment, millions of people and species are being killed because of oil.”
The U.S. military is the largest institutional user of fossil fuel in the world. American armed forces use more fossil fuels than entire industrialized nations, including Sweden, Portugal, Norway and Denmark.
Additionally, the U.S. military encompasses the largest single expenditure for the U.S. government, with a $685 billion budget in 2019 — that’s nearly as much money as the next eight-largest spending countries combined. Ben Cohen suggested redirecting some of that military spending to instead fight climate change.
“Our national security is a decent environment, and we can make that happen,” said Cohen on Friday. “We’ve got the money to do it. There’s nothing standing in our way except for a lack of political will from the people in that building over there,” he continued, pointing to the Capitol Building.
American political activist and author Jodie Evans was also present Friday, addressing hundreds of those attending the Capitol demonstration.
“The struggle for peace and the struggle for a livable planet are connected,” said Evans.
The Fire Drill Friday event showcased not just war and its impacts on the environment but also the multidimensional, multigenerational effects of climate change. Climate change affects all classes, races and ages (though not equally), and these effects are far-reaching, influencing homes, jobs, security and the economy.
That all-encompassing approach to climate change — both its impacts and solutions — reflects Fire Drill Fridays’ demands, which include a Green New Deal, respect of indigenous land and sovereignty, environmental justice, protection and restoration of biodiversity and implementation of sustainable agriculture.
In Friday’s talk, Fonda stressed a fair transition to union jobs for workers who work in the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel industry will leave $11 trillion in stranded assets in the ground, she said.
“If we don’t create and demand a more equitable, fair, democratic future, then what are we talking about?” said Fonda, referring to the Green New Deal, a U.S. House Bill popularized by progressive U.S. Democrats. “So, this [transition from fossil fuels] has to be holistic and fair.”
Fire Drill Fridays’ demands reflect the stances of other organizations, including Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion and Fridays For Future.
“We’re all supporting each other,” 17-year-old climate activist Jerome Foster II told me at the event. “It’s one big movement.”
Foster is a member of Fridays for Future and strikes every Friday in front of the White House. He said that Fire Drill Fridays was planned in coordination with climate activism organizations, including Fridays for Future. Foster also founded the group OneMillionOfUs, a nonprofit whose mission is “to mobilize one million young people to register and turn out to vote in the 2020 election,” he said.
“What we advocate for is climate justice, immigration reform, gender equality, racial equality,” said Foster. “Those are nonpartisan things. Those are human rights.”
Echoing Foster’s commitment to voting, Cohen stressed the importance of advocacy and mobilization in the fight for climate action.
“We need to be coming together in groups like this all around the country, and we need to keep on doing it,” Cohen said. “It’s a multigenerational commitment… It is our earth, and it is our country.”
Though Fonda has been arrested the last four weeks, she avoided handcuffs on Friday. That’s not to say police weren’t present: Police cars and officers lined the 2.1-mile march that followed speeches outside the U.S. Capitol.
That march included a stop at the Supreme Court (“to support the Dreamers,” said Fonda) and concluded at the White House — where U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration just formally announced the country’s plan to leave the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
“It’s going to take everything that you have to fight this battle,” said Krystal Two Bulls, an organizer from Ogala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne. “You’re going to need to be brave and strong.”
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