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  • Wed, 20, Nov, 2019 - 5:00:AM

Jane Fonda’s activism is anything but performative

Jane Fonda in 1975 / Image by Bert Verhoeff / Anefo / Wikimedia Commons

The terrible things to come out of the Trump presidency are insurmountable. Some are tangible, like the appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the American Supreme Court, others philosophical – like, say, the perhaps irreversible emboldening of an extremely bigoted section of society. 

The list is too long to even halfway cover, and there’s no way of ranking which horrible thing is worse than which. But somewhere deep down that roll-call is the way the Trump presidency has inspired elite, moderately liberal celebrities to ‘get political’.

Let me reiterate, this is nowhere near the top of the list of atrocities to come out of this administration.

But it is terrible.

Sometimes referred to as the blue-tick crowd (given their verification status on Twitter), the group is largely made up of rich white Americans with very little skin in the game. For them, the abhorrence of a Trump presidency is mostly symbolic. For them, ‘resistance’ is convenient branding. They’re the types to say if Hillary won we’d be at brunch right now… and not understand what's so tone-deaf about that.

Jane Fonda is not one of those people.

For Fonda, activism has never been synonymous with branding – in fact, in the 60s and 70s, her progressive leanings detrimentally punctured her ‘brand’. Fonda was an activist, specifically focused on anti-war efforts, long before Trump made it a thing – and decades before it was a common, Instagrammable, side-project.

Beyond being viewed as a radical, Fonda’s unfortunate photo on a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, taken during a non-partisan fact-finding mission to the region, which she explains here, put her out of work for four years.

In the year 1970, the actress so agitated the Nixon administration, they arranged to have her arrested on a trumped-up drug charge, from which this iconic mug shot was born. 

Fonda, like Rosario Dawson and Susan Sarandon, is an activist. She’s not a political clout-chaser. She’s a frontlines activist, who also happens to be an actor. 

In 2016 she publically withdrew her money from Wells Fargo, one of the world's largest banks, over their choice to fund the Dakota Access Pipeline. Gathered outside their headquarters with members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, she told them: "I reject the notion of my money helping to support your investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is an inherently dangerous and unjust oil pipeline that threatens air and water quality.”

Fonda has reinvented herself so many times, it makes Madonna look... ordinary. She’s been a mullet-haired punk, a lycra-donning workout guru, an Oscar-winning actress (twice), and a Dame-like elder. But I think her activism can be symbolised by two iconic photographs: her defiant 1970 mug shot (get the T-shirt), and the gleeful pap shot of her 2019 arrest with Ted Danson. The pictures are set 49 years apart. They tell a long tale.

At 81 years old, Fonda was apparently inspired by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg to step up her activism, saying in more than one interview: what have I got to lose at this point? In 2019 she founded Fire Drill Fridays, a weekly climate demonstration on Capitol Hill. Each week she risks arrest, trots out celebrity friends, and most importantly, invites climate experts to participate, agitate, and educate. She’s moved to Washington DC for four months in order to do so – only planning to leave when she needs to film her hit Netflix show Grace and Frankie.

Because, in her 8th decade, Jane Fonda is as in-demand as she's ever been.

The very least she deserves is our respect.


  • Jane Fonda /
  • Activism /
  • Actresses /
  • climate /
  • Protest /
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