Dare I Say’s first live audience episode, recorded at Saks Fifth Avenue in partnership with AmEx, brings together award-winning actress and political activist, Jane Fonda, and co-founder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Peggy Shepard, to discuss the unignorable climate crisis and the urgency for a collective movement to push forward change.
On September 20, 2019, the Global Climate Strike brought together approximately 4 million people around the world to fight for environmental justice, making it the largest environmental protest in history. Time is running out on how long the disastrous effects of climate change can continue to be ignored by those in charge. Jane Fonda has been arrested five times during climate protests on Capitol Hill as she stepped out of her comfort zone to stand with young people in their fight for a clean future. Here, the actress and activist sits down with Peggy Shepard at Dare I Say’s first live event in New York to discuss civil disobedience, the Green New Deal, resilience, and why it’s important for women to lead the climate conversation.
Hosted by MJ Rodriguez, Dare I Say is a podcast from HarpersBAZAAR.com and Edit Audio Inc. that sits in on unfiltered conversations between the most influential women of our time. They are daring to make the difference we deserve.
With special thanks and acknowledgement to American Express and Saks Fifth Avenue.
00:00 [INTRO MUSIC]
00:18 MJ Rodriguez: Jane Fonda was arrested five times for environmental protests outside the Capitol this fall. She accepted a BAFTA film award while being taken into custody. In photographs, the actor cast a striking figure in handcuffs and a red wool coat. It's a color fitting for the protests, which are inspired by global school strikes and called Fire Drill Fridays. Fresh from her arrest streak, the activist joined environmental justice campaigner and community organizer, Peggy Shepard to record a live episode of Dare I Say, in partnership with AMEX at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City. Peggy has been at the forefront of the environmental justice movement in the US for a long time. She founded nonprofit organization, We Act For Environmental Justice in North Manhattan in the eighties. It helps low income New Yorkers, in particular communities of color, fight harmful environmental policies and now fights for better environmental and health policies on a local and national level. In this first live recorded episode of Dare I Say, Peggy and Jane discussed civil disobedience, The Green New Deal, resilience, and why it's important for women to lead the climate conversation. How can we remedy an empathy crisis that has hurt generations of Americans? Why is the cult of rugged individualism driving climate disaster? What can older generations learn from teenagers? After decades on the front lines, Peggy and Jane have not stopped fighting. They are women who dare.
01:53 Peggy: So Jane, hi. You know we have a lot in common. We're activists that have been arrested, but why have you decided to be arrested and to be active at this moment in time?
02:06 Jane: Over Labor day weekend I felt a great malaise because... I drive an electric car and I do away with single use plastics and I make all those right personal lifestyle choices, but I knew that they're not going to be able to scale up in time to get us where we need to be. It's a good place to start, but it's no place to stop. And so I read a book by Naomi Klein that talked about a Green New Deal and talked about Greta Thunberg. And it inspired me to get out of my comfort zone. As Greta says we have to do and not behave business as usual and as you know better than a lot of people we have spent decades, many decades, more than 40 years writing speeches and books and getting the word out about the science, what the science says. And we've marched and we've rallied and we've played nice and it hasn't worked enough and we only have 11 years left. And so we have to up the stakes and I think we have to mobilize and go into the streets and put our bodies on the line and engage in civil disobedience and risk getting arrested. I don't want to be arrested, but you know, you have to be willing to risk it. So I went, I moved to DC for four months to engage in Fire Drill Fridays because Fridays is the day that Greta and the student climate strikers have chosen to strike for climate. So I want to support them and help lift their message.
03:34 MJ Rodriguez: Teenagers today were born more than a decade after NASA scientists first warned Congress about climate change in 1988. James Hanson told lawmakers at the time that he was 99% sure that human activity was causing temperatures to rise. Teenagers today have inherited the climate crisis. They've grown up in a world where apocalyptic headlines and increasingly volatile weather. It's no surprise that they are extremely intelligent, educated, and now taking to the streets. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg inspired a wave of student protest across the world when she skipped school to strike outside her country's parliament.
04:15 Peggy: And so how do you feel that we really can motivate young people and youth to really be the strong activists that they need because they're going to inherit this climate, this globe...
04:27 Jane: Right now what I'm feeling is I don't need to motivate them. They're motivating me. They're the ones cause they see that we've taken their future, not we, the fossil fuel industry has, is robbing them of a future and we can't let them shoulder this burden by themselves. So grannies unite. Older people have to get out there and we have to stand along side them. This is a collective crisis that's going to require a collective solution that means all of us together.
04:56 Peggy: Because it is systemic and we know that we can each take the issues that we need, you know, whether it's changing light bulbs, whether it's recycling, we know that we can do all of those things, but we know that it's systemic and that we've got to come together collectively to educate our elected officials and to pressure of the policymakers to really pass the kind of legislation that we all need. But we know that we can't do that with a message of simply reducing carbon or a message of simple, uh, energy efficiency. We've got to really embrace the values that appeal to all of our communities because all of our communities are not whole. They're not healthy. We know that millions of people in this country are living with bad air. They don't have clean water and they are disproportionately impacted by pollution. And we know that the environmental justice movement has really for the last 30 years, worked to achieve environmental protection for all communities. And we know also that when we talk about climate change and you hear people talk about climate justice, climate justice is not just a cool phrase. It's really a term that is focused on the most vulnerable communities and how we've got to take action to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected. Because when that happens, we're all protected. And so we've got a Green New Deal and we know that that's been an important framework that's been proposed. And it's wonderful that she was not prescriptive AOC and the others who have talked about this framework, we know that it has motivated sectors of, of our country to get together and fill in the blanks, what they think is a Green New Deal, what they need for their communities and for their lives. And that's been a very important motivator I think, in this moment.
06:57 Jane: You know, for a long time there's been this wrap that the environmental movement is white and elite. I think even Obama kind of felt that way, but my experience is that that is not the case. And that in fact, people of color who live in the frontline communities have been very much at the forefront of the environmental movement and are the bravest, strongest voices.
07:21 Peggy: Yeah. It's a stereotype that people of color don't really care about the environment because you know, they're really concerned with, with jobs and food and of course we're all concerned with that. But what I've found, and you know, I worked predominantly above 96th street when we have monthly membership meetings. It's not the more affluent Brown stoners who are coming out on these issues, it’s people from public housing. We get so many calls about air pollution coming into their apartments, about odors and emissions from trucks, cars, buses. We have a worker training program for underemployed young men. And we invited them to come to our membership meetings to hear about issues of climate change or toxins in and chemicals or cosmetics. And they were able to understand the issue. They were able for the probably the first time in their lives to talk to an elected official and tell them what they felt and what they needed. And so it's about support. People know what they need. They just need some support to be able to advocate and to be able to maybe have a place to come and use a computer, have a place to come and ask some key questions. Let me just tell you that the upcoming mayoral, public housing tenants are going to be a major factor in who gets elected and we're going to be organizing them. And there's coalitions all over the city to ensure that some of the most vulnerable people are the ones who are going to be part of the solution. And so I would simply say that the most vulnerable when we address them, we lift all of our boats. It's not about trickle down, it's about lifting everyone up together. And that's what creates an equitable and just society.
09:12 Jane: Yeah. Yeah. You know, I think more and more of all movements are becoming more intersectional. You know, for too long we've been siloed, the women's movement, the LGBTQ movement, civil rights movement and we're realizing it's all connected. And I think that's one of the things that a Green New Deal points to and what the climate movement is more and more pointing to. I'm very proud that Fire Drill Fridays have been so very intersectional because we, we've realized there's a mindset that has kind of undergirded this country since its very beginning. The fact that we kidnapped people of color from Africa and brought them to this country, to clear cut, huge tracks of very fertile ground to plant mono crops of rice and tobacco and so forth and treated them as inhuman. That mindset that took the land away from indigenous people and created and committed genocide against them. It's not that different from the mindset that allows people in Flint to drink water that will kill the children and damage their brains and create cancer alley in the bayous of Louisiana, use the workers and then discard them. So to just talk about oil or gas or fracking or coal or methane, without addressing the mindset that allows this to go on for centuries all over the world isn't really going to solve the problem. We have a climate crisis, but we have an empathy crisis. Our social fabric is unraveling just as the Earth's fabric is unraveling, and if we don't fix them both together, it's not really going to solve it.
11:00 MJ Rodriguez: The five largest oil and gas companies spend nearly $200 million a year lobbying to delay, control and block policies that fight climate change. Before the 2018 midterms, oil companies and industry bodies spent $2 million on targeted Facebook and Instagram advertisements. With the federal elections right around the corner, the advertising budgets and stakes are only going to escalate. Climate policy is desperately needed after years of rollbacks of environmental legislation.
11:35 Peggy: You know, I think the environmental community over the years has really worked and all of the high donors have worked to support climate legislation, but it hasn't happened and we have to really evaluate why has that not happened? We can't be timid. Our elected officials work for us. We cannot be timid about government accountability. We've got to ensure that anyone running for office, that they have to be towing the line on the agenda that we think is going to make a safe and healthy life for all of us.
12:03 Jane: You said we know all of this and yet we can't get it through government. And I think the reason we can't get it through government is because so much of the government on the Senate side in particular, I'm talking about Republicans, are bought off by the fossil fuel industry. They spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying. It's the fossil fuel industry that's preventing it. Even though two thirds of Americans want a binding climate treaty, you know, for a long time the environmental movement has talked about the alternative sources of energy and investing in solar and wind and all that. And that's very important. But they've avoided, you know, including some of the people that have been leaders in Congress of the environmental movement. And I won't name names and they're really good people, but they don't really talk about fossil fuel. Even the Green New Deal doesn't really talk about fossil fuel. Talks about a just transition, but it doesn't nail the people responsible. They are killing us. All of the wars are fought for oil. They're murdering climate activists. They're killing people all over the United States because of their toxic dumps that go into vulnerable communities of color. We pay for them $16 billion every year. We pay to subsidize the fossil fuel industry according to the, to the scientists 45% of the fossil fuel industry wouldn't even be profitable without our tax dollars. How can we be, how can we be supporting the very people that should be on trial for crimes against humanity and nature and we're paying them. So let's stop it. Let's stop. They're undermining American democracy by buying off our elected officials.
13:46 Peggy: And this is happening worldwide. Decades ago that Ken Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria, was killed protesting a Shell oil facilities in Nigeria.
13:57 Jane: And somebody was just one of the leaders of the environmental movement in the Amazon was just killed.
14:01 Peggy: Absolutely. Peru, all throughout South America.
14:05 Jane: 157 a year.
14:08 Peggy: Indigenous people trying to hold onto their land. Are being killed. And that's what advocacy does in other countries. But it's not happening here. And we've got to be brave and we've got to be strong. And you know, there's some people who say climate and equity don't go together. Why? Why are we talking about equity and climate? It’s all about you know, green house gas reduction. Well we know that is not true. There's people who say, well, when you talk about justice or climate justice, it's sounds like you want something from me, no, we just want it to be live a healthy and a safe life. And so we also have to think about high donors that are Democrats who are supporting climate change policies that don't really reflect all of our values.
14:56: Jane: What, what do you mean by that?
14:56 Peggy: So they don’t think that Green New Deal is where we should be going. They don’t think that job re-training or jobs for underemployed people are part of the climate policies that we should be thinking about. For instance, let's talk about Katrina in New Orleans. Totally, that city has been socially disrupted. There is not a right of return. So people who had to be refugees and migrate from New Orleans could not come back because there's something called climate gentrification. New people moved in, guess what they did? They stopped the public schools, they created all charter schools. They tore down the public housing.
15:41 Jane: It's called disaster capitalism.
15:43 Peggy: So those people had nowhere to return. So when we think about climate change policy, what is the right to return? When we think about the wildfires, the folks in Alaska who have to retreat from the ocean front where they get their subsistence. We're talking about a very transformative dynamic that’s happening in this country. And it's happening right now. We experienced Sandy. And if you lived close to the ocean, you might not still be back in your house or If you lived in public housing, where we have extensive public housing at the waterfront, you might still be living with mold today. How about the disabled? So the most vulnerable communities, those communities will be exacerbated by climate change, whether it’s extreme heat, whether it's wildfires, whether it's drought. It's important that we have national and global policy, but we've got to think about right here in New York city, you know, are we a sustainable city? Can we withstand another Sandy? I think the answer is no.
16:49 Jane: There's so much heat baked in already because we didn't start early enough when we knew, when the fossil fuel industry knew what they were doing right? 30, 40 years ago, they knew so it's going to get worse. No matter what we do. The question is can we prevent it from passing the tipping point beyond which it's out of our control, where the, the, the ecosystems just begin to unravel faster than we can handle it. And large parts of the earth become uninhabitable. Habitable for not for cockroaches. And there were plenty of those in jail. I can tell you. But, but for more for human beings, you know, I'm reading articles that said it. There are parts of California that are becoming uninhabitable. I mean it's, it's here. This isn't the future. This is right now. We have to demand that the fossil fuel industry leaves $11 trillion on the ground, stranded assets. They're not going to do that willingly. We're going to have to force them. And even scientists who are nerdy and neutral usually are saying, there is no way in hell that we're going to accomplish this without mobilizing numbers of people on an unprecedented level to make demands, closed down government is necessary. What I'm doing is rehearsing. I'm trying to get people with my Fire Drill Fridays get used to it. You know, I have lots of my friends are coming in. They've never been arrested before. Get used to it, man. All of us are going to have to be, I mean, Saks Fifth Avenue, forget it. No, really forget it. When, when when we have back to back floods, cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, rising sea level back to back to back, where there's no time to recover in between what's going to happen to the economy and democracy. Democracy can't thrive in chaos. What thrives in chaos is tyranny. I just read the other day that if we do everything right, maybe there'll be 150 million climate refugees finding, looking for a place to live and if we don't, it'll be like 450 million people. Migrants, mass migrations. This is what we're looking at is happening right now. It's real. This is real. I'll be dead. You know, you're young, but people who are old, we can't. We have nothing to lose. So we have to be as brave as we can possibly be so that when we die, we will know that we did everything we could, right?
19:26 MJ Rodriguez: The Green New Deal is a blueprint for a fairer, greener future inspired by Roosevelt’s New Deal. It makes the case that climate disaster can be addressed at the same time as economic inequality. It wants to use this moment of crisis to radically solve several interlocking problems at once. It proposes jobs for millions to restore US infrastructure, a universal healthcare system and the spread of community-led renewable energy systems. The Green New Deal is being championed on Capitol Hill by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Canadian activist and journalist Naomi Klein, who has reported from the frontlines of climate breakdown for decades, has also been a long-time advocate.
20:14 Jane: One of the beauties of the Green New Deal is calling for fairness and justice and careful transitions on a human human level and the elevating of low carbon jobs to a level where you can earn a salary to support yourself and you're not part of the gig economy if you're a teacher or a nurse or a home caregiver and all that. One of the values is this is because it makes us a more resilient society. If we are a resilient society, we can better withstand the onslaughts that are coming even if we start doing the right things right away.
20:46 Peggy: One of the things we’ve started to do at a grassroots level is to develop a climate action plan in our community. And so we started a Northern Manhattan climate action plan. We mobilized 400 community residents to really determine what were the challenges and to help them understand the challenges they could face and then talk to them about how they might resolve those issues and be part of that solution. And then make recommendations to the city. I believe that every single community in this country should have a resilience plan and that this should be discussed. You should be having these conversations because social cohesion is going to be such an important factor when we have emergency situations. I've been able to work with six very progressive green organizations, large national green groups like Sierra Club or Earthjustice or Center for American progress, NRDC. And they've come together with environmental justice advocates to develop a common climate plan and climate platform. And we have been in Congress lobbying on that. And because we've got so many new women and young people of color who've been elected to Congress, they are hungry for this information. They are hungry for the briefings and the support to understand how they should be addressing some of these issues. So this is a very exciting time. But again, we know that these large environmental climate infrastructure issues really require the political moment and we have to be ready for that because we expect that we will have a new administration and we've got to be ready for that. I think somebody said that they're 85 regulations that have rolled, been rolled back by the Trump administration from the EPA. And our first job is going to be roll back the rollbacks. Roll back the rollbacks. That's what we've got to have.
22:48 Jane: But we got to go away beyond Obama. You're too young to remember the New Deal. But I was, I came in on the tail end of it and my dad was a major FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt supporter. In fact, the only time I ever saw him cry was when Roosevelt died. But you know the New Deal, it was this major, well they call it the Great Depression and people were by the tens of millions starving and desperate in the streets. There was of course labor unions were much more robust then and labor was just up in arms demanding that that Roosevelt do something and Roosevelt said to them, I agree with you, now go out and make me do it. And we got to keep that in our minds because the job is so unprecedentedly difficult. Even if we elect the right person, unless we hold her feet to the fire, we're not going to be able to get it done. We have to make the new president and Senate and Congress and governor and state legislature and board of supervisors and mayors. We have to make them do it. We have to be in the streets organized.
24:00 MJ Rodriguez: Climate crisis impacts everyone but not equally. Women are more vulnerable to its effects. They are more frequently caregivers and providers of food for their families, making them more vulnerable to flood and drought. Women generally have less access to the resources they depend on. They typically have less socio-economic power. They have less access to resources, less input in public discourse and decision making and are more likely to have restrictive rights and education. Women in the global South are often discouraged from acquiring life saving skills, like learning how to swim, or how to climb trees. According to the UN, 80% of climate refugees are women.
24:49 Jane: Why are women in the leadership of the climate movement?
24:52 Peggy: Because women understand how these issues affect their families and their neighborhoods and they're already community leaders and they have been leading the charge all over our cities. Now when it comes to getting to the top job, there aren't a lot of us in those top jobs, but I think that's changing and it's going to change as more women support other women. One thing we've got to just recognize and acknowledge is that women don't always support women. And that's a real problem because if we were doing that, we would have elected a woman president by now.
25:28 Jane: Well, this country was based on individualism, right? Rugged individualism. And the way you know someone is a mature adult is they don't need anybody. How, I don't know how babies ever get born. I don't know sperm how do sperm male sperm ever find the egg. Cause men never ask directions. They don't go to the doctor when they don't feel well. It's like, individualism. And I think that the reason that women tend to be leaders in the collective social arena is because we are less vulnerable to the disease of individualism. And can I give you my theory of why that's true? Okay. It's evolutionary. Back in hunter gathering days, the guys go out as individuals with their spears to get the meat. Most of the time they don't get it. And so somebody back home has to make sure that stomachs are filled with berries and roots and nuts and they gather around the campfire and the grannies take care of the kids while the younger women go out and get the staples that's going to keep the families alive and they are together and they need each other to survive. The women need each other generationally and they talk among themselves where are the best nuts, where are the roots? And so women were the bearers of knowledge. And elders were respected and we needed each other in a circle around that campfire. It's in our DNA from back in those millennia ago during the time of hunter gatherers. And so we are so important right now because what's happened over the decades since Reagan, the whole notion of collective, the commons, civil society, that whole notion of the collective is foreign in this country and it's being diminished. It's being privatized, and we women have in our bones, the consciousness, the sense of the importance of the commons. We know that we need each other. We know that we have to stick together. And this climate crisis couldn't have happened at a worse time because it's a collective crisis and yet the public sphere is being shrunk. So this is why women are so precious right now, and we have to support each other and love each other and not compete with each other because our survival and the future of our children depend on it, right? Yeah.
28:00 Peggy: I think that women historically been used to oppression, people, right. That shuts some people down but it also makes others fight harder. And so I think we’re used to fighting for what we need, for our families, for our communities.
28:15 Jane: I mean, you know, recently I was at the lynching museum and the peace and reconciliation museum in Montgomery. And of course I've several times I've been to the Smithsonian African American museum in Washington and whenever I go there, I think, man, that you survived and that you are still leading is to me so miraculous. And it's why you're so strong, you know? And yet, you know, when I was in jail, when I was in jail, I was in jail in 1970 in Cleveland. It was all white. I was in a cell with a white woman kicking heroin. And the big thing everybody was, everybody was black last Friday. That's Jim Crow. And it's, it's racism, it's poverty, it's lack of resources for a social safety net, lack of mental health facilities and these things. I kept thinking as I looked at these people in the jail with me, it's only gonna get worse as the climate crisis exacerbate, is exacerbated. Homelessness, joblessness, inequality cannot be addressed without solving the climate crisis.
29:27 Peggy: Absolutely, and there isn’t climate justice without environmental justice. When you’ve got communities that are targeted and we call it environmental racism, targeted for pollution because they’re less powerful, they may not have a strong voting block, they may live in areas that are less affluent. That makes them ripe for pollution. There’s a community in Florida that has 18 small communities of hundreds, 18 landfills that they are dealing with. You know, I went down to New Orleans once and I was an advisor to a project and I was like ‘oh well you know just go to your department of Health and ask for these statistics and that data.’ It’s not even collected. So why do you think the first thing that Trump did was to stop collecting certain data? To take data off of websites? To ensure that, you know, perhaps when you’re looking at housing affordability you’re not focused on race or ethnicity. It’s all because they want to ensure that we don’t have the information to fight back. And when you’ve got a vulnerable community, when you’ve got environmental racism, and you then have extreme heat or sea level rise, storm surge. Those communities will only be worse. And so that’s what’s happening around this country. And it can happen anywhere. And it is happening. And I think that’s the thing that we have to remember. This isn’t something that’s going to happen decades from now. This is something that’s happening right now. And that’s what we have to understand and that’s why we’ve all got to take action.
31:11 MJ Rodriguez: The climate crisis is a collective crisis that requires a collective response. For years, the most popular environmental strategies centered around the individual and their personal choices. Neoliberalism promoted the idea that purchase power was more important than challenging systems of power. But times are changing. The climate justice movement has blocked pipelines, children are striking from school, and activist groups are blocking bridges in major city centers.
31:43 Jane: We could make all of those individual changes and they're important. I mean, I try to take really fast showers. My hair is shorter so it's easier now that red coat that I wear at the fire drill, it was the last piece of clothing I will ever buy. I'm sorry Sacks, but you know, we got to cut back on consumerism. Huh? This is a terrible place to say that. I'm sorry, but I, you know, I can't say it unless I walk the talk. So that's it. But um, you know, when I drive an electric car and all that, but it can't be scaled up fast enough to do the job.
32:18 Peggy: You know, we all worked for organizations. Some of you work for corporations, have they divested from fossil fuel investments? That's an important tactic that we can all take up. We all need to be thinking about those issues. And of course we've got to get the vote out for the presidential because it's gotta be anybody but Trump.
32:40 Jane: I mean, we all know that whoever the democratic nominee is, we'll do everything we can to help her or him. But let's, let's try to get the bravest visionary elected to office, right? They've got to have such courage to stand up for the forces that are coming at us.
32:59 Peggy: We've got to get big money out of politics. That's, that's why lobbyists can really influence our elected officials. We talk a lot about campaign finance reform. Um, it's made a big difference here in New York City. We used to have a city council that did not look like this room. And we now do because of term limits and because we have really made our voices heard, we've come out and referendums and voted. So here we are. And I hope that you can bring some of your other colleagues along because this is a long struggle. It's an important one. It's going to impact all of our lives, and we need all of you in that fight.
33:38 Jane: Yeah. I, it's, I'm following in the footsteps of the, of the young people. We have to walk outside and get together with other people who are marching and engaging in civil disobedience and creating a ruckus. Nothing good ever happened anywhere in any country without people creating a ruckus. Right? It’s a relay race, right? We're passing the baton to you. We're holding onto one too. You know it's a ripple effect. You know, we're here because we want to motivate you all to do more and become part of this and not just listen to us.
34:16 Peggy: And thank you.
34:16 [AUDIENCE APPLAUSE]
34:21 Jane: I can't stand up. The chair is too low.
34:24 [AUDIENCE LAUGHS]
34:27 MJ Rodriguez: This episode was made possible by AMEX and was produced by Steph Colbourn and the team of womxn and gender non-conforming producers at editaudio. Stay tuned for our next episode where we sit down with Evan Rachel-Wood and Chanel Miller to talk about sexual assault.