It’s not often that you get to see Jane Fonda up close or watch Lily Tomlin be arrested. Those moments were just part of my experience as a vegan demonstrator at the Fire Drill Friday protest December 27, 2019.
Who Are Those Women, Anyway?
When I excitedly told a millennial that I had (almost) rubbed elbows with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, he responded with a blank stare. While their names might be unfamiliar to younger people, both of these women are notable actresses of considerable fame. Many boomers will remember watching Jane in numerous movies and “feeling the burn” during Jane Fonda’s Workout videos. And we recall how funny it was to watch Lily as the brash telephone operator named Ernestine on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. But their careers are far from over, and you can currently watch their antics as the co-stars on Netflix’s Grace and Frankie.
What Are Fire Drill Fridays?
Jane Fonda organized Fire Drill Fridays to bring awareness to the climate crisis. Inspired by Greta Thunberg and frustrated with governmental inaction on climate change, Jane moved to Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2019 and started four months of weekly protests on the grounds of the Capitol building. Jane believes (along with many of us) that humankind is facing a life-threatening crisis. As a well-known actress and activist, Jane knew she could use her fame to obtain press coverage and public attention. She scheduled the protests on Fridays in solidarity with the young people who have participated in School Strikes for the Climate all over the world.
Joining a Group of Vegan Protesters
So how, exactly, did I end up at a Fire Drill Friday demonstration? I’m not a frequent protester, but I am seriously worried about climate change. And I was an easy sell when my friend Elissa Free (also a Main Street Vegan Academy graduate) invited me to join her group of vegan protesters at the demonstration. Knowing that animal agriculture is a significant contributor to climate change, although often ignored in favor of transportation and deforestation, Elissa wanted to ensure veganism would be promoted during the protest.
Eager to join in, I arrived on the lawn of the Capitol the morning of the 27th and found the Fire Drill Friday area. It featured an elevated stage with a big Fire Drill banner and was cordoned off and surrounded by video cameras.
Soon Jane and her entourage arrived and climbed up to the stage. Our group sought out some prime real estate to the right of the stage, hoping that the cameras would catch Elissa’s sign, and that strategy worked. Elissa’s placard featured an eye-catching photo of Greta Thunberg, along with the words: “I AM VEGAN. I don’t eat any animal products. I don’t use any animal products for ethical, environmental, and climate reasons.”
And then we waited to hear what the speakers would say. One by one, Jane and the other speakers made earnest comments about the need to take decisive action to address climate change. To our delight, Jane did eventually mention meat consumption, stating “It’s hard, though, but we’ve gotta eat less meat. I mean, not everyone can go vegan.” And of course, our group then chanted, “Yes, you can!” Jane continued, “That would be good. But you know, like once a week maybe, meat, not every day.”
From my perspective, that moment alone was worth the long Metro ride into town from my home in northern Virginia.
Then Came the Arrests
Following the speeches, Jane led everyone to the steps of the Capitol building and we began to chant about democracy and climate action. Eventually the police used a bullhorn warning us to disperse. By the time they got to the second warning, I was happy to retreat and watch from a distance as Lily and other leaders of the protest were handcuffed, using what looked like plastic zip ties. Jane declined to be arrested on this particular Friday, having spent the night in jail after a previous demonstration.
At that point our group of vegans greeted other like-minded people who had attended the demonstration. We were particularly pleased to see Gene Baur from Farm Sanctuary, who was holding a sign that said, “Save Forests, Eat Plants, Go Vegan.”
Then, with all of the excitement over and the noon hour arriving, there was nothing else to do except head for lunch–at a vegan restaurant, of course.
Leigh Scott is a vegan chef and food blogger at www.olivethethymekitchen. Following a 25-year career as an environmental educator, she earned her culinary certificate in 2016 from the School of Natural Cookery in Colorado. Leigh has recently completed Rouxbe’s Forks Over Knives course, and she specializes in whole-food, plant-based cooking. She also serves on the boards of the Veg Society of DC and Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry. Leigh earned her VLCE certification at Main Street Vegan Academy in 2019.