Jane Fonda is mad at Joe Biden
A conversation with the famous actress and climate activist, who also visited Northern Minnesota this week to oppose Line 3.
IN A CAR, MOSTLY, Northern Minnesota—Everyone who opposes the Line 3 tar sands pipeline project in Minnesota knows who Tara Houska is. If they don’t, they probably haven’t been opposed very long.
A tribal attorney and member of the Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe, Houska has had a camp set up near the pipeline’s construction route for the last three years. The group she founded, Giniw Collective, has been involved with most of the indigenous-led direct actions against the project.
The day before Jane Fonda came to town, I asked Houska what she was expecting from the 83-year-old actress and climate activist’s visit. Was she hoping Fonda might stay overnight at camp? Perhaps chain herself to a piece of Enbridge equipment and get arrested in the process?
Houska shook her head. “Jane is elder status,” she said. “She’s earned it.”
The biggest thing Houska and other Line 3 opposition leaders wanted from Fonda’s visit was media attention—hopefully, enough to attract more people to come to Minnesota and stand with water protectors against the project. Whether that will play out remains to be seen. But Fonda’s visit certainly got the amount of attention they were looking for—even if not all of it was good.
HEATED caught up with Fonda on the second day of her trip to Minnesota to oppose the Line 3 pipeline. We chatted about her run-in with the police; Enbridge’s tweetstorm against her; and her frustration with the Biden administration, among other things. Though we were both in state, it turns out Minnesota is big, so we had to make it work over the phone. It was still cool, though. Our conversation is below, lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Emily Atkin: Hi, Jane, it's Emily.
Jane Fonda: Hi, Emily.
EA: How's it going? How are you feeling?
JF: I'm feeling fine. We're not sure what we're going to be doing today, maybe seeing some of the pipeline on the rice fields and the maple sugaring. What are you doing?
EA: We're on our way to an area where there was an accident during pipeline construction. Some equipment broke through the ice and a guy got trapped and almost drowned. Some water protectors are holding ceremony near there.
JF: It's so great that you're being so thorough in your reporting.
EA: Thanks, this is the first in-person reporting trip I've done in the last year. Feeling a bit rusty.
JF: It’s a good place to come.
EA: What was the driving force that brought you to Minnesota?
JF: I opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, and I went to Standing Rock. I'm also friends with [Winona LaDuke], and when she came to a Fire Drill Friday rally in November of 2019, she talked about Line 3. I had not heard of Line 3, and after that I really wanted to come up here.
But then COVID hit. So I've just been waiting until I could get vaccinated, and my vaccination happened to coincide with the fact that it’s thawing early and Enbridge is moving with great alacrity to lay the pipeline. They said, “Come now! This is the time.”
EA: I saw your post that said you were “freshly vaccinated.” When were you able to do that?
JF: Maybe three weeks ago I got my second one.
JF: Thank you.
EA: What has been the most moving or revelatory moment of your trip so far?
JF: Hearing what the police paid by Enbridge are doing to the water protectors. We got a little taste of it yesterday when they stopped [Mara Verheyden-Hilliard] and [Katie Redford] for no reason. Well, they gave a stupid reason with no basis in reality. But the police car was sort of waiting for us, and the minute Mara and Katie pulled out they were pulled over.
We pulled over to wait for them, it took a long time to process their identification, and they ended up not being ticketed. Then we drove 12 miles to the press conference and the police car followed us the whole way. It was just a little taste of what these the local water protectors are getting every day.
Have you spoken to Mara?
EA: We’ve been in contact. I haven’t spoken to her yet. [Note: I spoke to her shortly after for a story about Enbridge’s relationship with the Minnesota police.]
JF: She's with the Center for Protest Law and Litigation, part of a pioneering center based in Washington. The litigation that she's preparing is very important.
But hearing the stories of women put in cages; strip-searched with men watching; asking the woman that was strip-searching them to please close the door and the woman wouldn’t do it. The water protectors being handcuffed and put into crammed cells in painful positions. Then they’re getting followed and pulled over for nothing so they can have their IDs taken. They're keeping records, gathering all these identities and all their information. It's really terrible.
EA: What was it like watching it happen in real life? I'm sure you had heard about it beforehand, and then all of a sudden you're pulled over on the side of the road.
JF: I was sort of glad that I experienced it. We witnessed it firsthand. This is a public police force that's been privatized because every minute they spend harassing the water protectors—and assaulting the water protectors—they turn in an invoice and they get paid. They're making a fortune off this.
EA: I don't know if you've seen this, but your presence here has garnered some media attention to the Line 3 fight.
JF: That's why I'm here.
EA: Right. But it’s also attracted the attention of Enbridge's astroturfing group, Minnesotans For Line 3. They put out a bunch of tweets saying things like, “Jane Fonda should have gotten the Grammy for Biggest Hypocrite for using a fossil fueled airplane plan to come to Minnesota.”
I was wondering if you had seen that and if you wanted to give a response to it.
JF: I was not aware of it, but it's certainly not the first time that I've been accused of hypocrisy because I drove a car or took a plane to get somewhere.
The fact is, we are facing an existential climate crisis that could mean the virtual end of a future for our children and grandchildren. Taking a plane to call attention to a tar sands oil pipeline—and eventually, hopefully, stopping it from going forward—is far more important than any carbon emissions from a plane.
The fossil fuel executives are flying all over the place on private planes. We'd be at a terrible disadvantage if they were flying and we were walking or biking, or whatever what they think we should do.
What we have to do to stop the development of new fossil fuels, and start a phase-out. And we have to do it quickly. That's why I came here as soon as they told me it was urgent.
EA: What are you hearing from people on the ground here? What are they saying is the most important thing others can do?
JF: The most important think people can do is to go onto StopLine3.org and send a letter to President Biden. Public pressure is invaluable. He is a good man. He listens. He has pledged to address the climate crisis and center his work in justice. This is a perfect example of where the two come together. And I do believe that if enough public pressure is brought by people calling and writing him, that it will be stopped.
EA: Is it a disappointment to you that he hasn't spoken out about it yet?
JF: You know, I start to get angry. And then I try to put myself in his shoes, and imagine all of the issues and problems and crises coming at him from all directions.
And look, it's complicated. There's no question that it's not a simple issue. And I think that he will, hopefully soon, get around to canceling all of pipelines that need to be cancelled. [The Dakota Access Pipeline] needs to be cancelled. The Byhalia pipeline needs to be cancelled. There are several that Trump approved on his way out, and they should all be stopped. Biden could do it in one fell swoop.
EA: How are you feeling generally, just being on the ground here? What is your mood? Are you worried? Are you invigorated?
JF: I wanted to come here for a year and a half, from when I first heard Winona talking about Line 3. And now I’m here, I'm eating their wild rice—which boy, if you haven’t had yet you’ve got to, it’s so good. It’s the only place it grows, as I’m sure you’ve heard. So now I'm finally here. I want to pinch myself. I feel so lucky.
EA: There’s a sense from the people opposed to your visit that you’re an outsider who has no care for the actual place she’s visiting. A real “she's not from here” vibe.
JF: I'm not from here, but I'm a citizen of the world. And one more pipeline of tar sands oil is going to make the climate crisis that much worse. It's going to affect all of us.
It's not like the climate crisis is bordered by a state boundary or a national boundary. This is a global issue. So any place that fossil fuel is being developed, we have to go there, and we have try to stop it.
Obviously, I can't go everywhere. But this is where I came. I could have gone to a few other places, but I knew that a celebrity had not yet come here. So I hope this puts the Line 3 issue on the map in a way that it hasn’t been before. In that way I feel that I’m doing my duty.
EA: Is that a veiled call to other celebrities to get out here, too?
JF: Yes. Come. It's very nice to be able to stand with these women and listen to their stories, to the huge role that the wild rice plays in their lives, economy and culture. We had a gathering of grandmothers on the first night that we were here, and it was very moving. They had felt very isolated from fighting this pipeline for years, and were grateful because they knew our visit would bring attention to this issue. That felt really good, but the women themselves were also so interesting and fierce and strong and brave.
At the press conference, there were a lot of people drumming and singing, and it was very, very moving. And then a big otter appeared in the snow, like it came to listen. It was really magical.
EA: There are otters out here?
JF: Yeah, a big river otter.
EA: That’s awesome. I love river otters.
JF: It was really beautiful. You know, so many of my guests at Fire Drill Fridays have been indigenous women. And I've been profoundly moved by the fact that, in spite of all that indigenous people in this country have been made to suffer, so many are still reaching out saying, “Listen to us, this is the way you have to go forward. This is the way to live in relation to the earth.” They're still trying to help us, stupid white fools that we are. It moves me very, very much.
EA: What is your plan on Line 3 moving forward?
JF: I'll be returning to Los Angeles and continuing Fire Drill Fridays, but I will also be talking to the Biden people, writing to Biden, and writing to various groups about what can be done.
EA: You can talk to Biden people?
JF: Well you’ve got to have an inside/outside strategy, right?
JF: The pincer movement.
EA: I know you have to run. Is there anything else you want to add?
JF: I appreciate your interest in this issue and all the time you're taking to get the whole story. I'm very grateful to you.
EA: Thank you. I’m grateful for your time as well.
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ICYMI, from Twitter:
Just wanted to make sure you saw this.
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