Story by Kellie Chudzinski | Photos by Ted Soqui
Following 14 weeks of climate change protests in Washington D.C., actress Jane Fonda brought her star-studded Fire Drill Fridays demonstration home last week with a rally of about 300 people on the steps of L.A. City Hall.
Those people happened to include Joaquin Phoenix — who two days later spoke of climate activism while accepting this year’s Academy Award for Best Actor —as well as TV producer Norman Lear and actors Piper Perabo, Amber Valetta, Brooklyn Decker, Rooney Mara and Kate Mara.
“I’m excited not just because I’m home, but because I’ve realized [California] is the front line of the climate crisis,” Fonda said. “Literally, what happens here can impact the rest of the country and the rest of the world.”
Co-organized by Greenpeace USA, Fire Drill Fridays protests leverage celebrity participation to amplify the voices of local activists, each time focusing on a different theme. This event specifically called on state officials to halt new permits for fossil fuel extraction and to adopt legislation (Assembly Bill 345) that would mandate a 2,500-foot buffer between fossil fuel production sites and schools, playgrounds, hospitals or homes.
“California’s children are more important than fossil fuel profits,” Fonda told the crowd to cheers.
Alicia Rivera, an activist from the harbor-area neighborhood of Wilmington, spoke of children experiencing health problems that have been blamed on oil and gas production in the immediate area. Less than 10 square miles, the area is home to the third-largest oilfield in the nation and will be the location of a Fire Drill Fridays demonstration in March.
“People are suffering while politicians are sitting on their hands,” Rivera said. “We challenge city council members to come out and see what it’s like to have oil drilling right by your home.”
Josh Pence, an actor and Santa Monica native, was one of several demonstrators willing to risk arrest by occupying the lobby of oil and gas producer Maverick Natural Resources; he and about a dozen others stayed for nearly three hours chanting and singing as Fonda and Lear stood by in support, but ultimately no arrests were made.
“Enough is enough. How many times do you have to be hit over the head with the same [climate change] data?” the “Good Trouble” star said. “There are people forced into activism and others who make the choice because they have the luxury to do so. What I hope to do is support the work of people doing this day in and day out.”
Fonda told the crowd she met with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on the Wednesday before the protest, and that during their conversation Garcetti — who has already pledged to close the gas-fired Scattergood Power Generation Facility in El Segundo — committed to work toward phasing out fossil fuels and limited new extraction permits.
Local activists have been pressuring Garcetti and other elected officials to support shutting down the natural gas storage facility in Playa del Rey, with L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin offering support and calling on the city to investigate residents’ concerns.
Kathy Knight, chair of the Sierra Club’s Airport Marina Group and a 27-year advocate for protecting the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve in Playa del Rey, passed out flyers opposing plans for a large-scale restoration of the wetlands that would involve converting freshwater areas to a low-lying saltwater marshland — a plan that has divided environmental advocates. The group, also part of the push to close the natural gas storage facility, meets Feb. 18 at the Burton Chace Park Community Room to discuss its Ballona campaign.
“Animals can’t stand up for themselves. They can’t go to court and say ‘Hey, don’t bulldoze my home,” Knight said.
Phoenix echoed that sentiment during an Oscar acceptance speech that included a plea for others to stand up against injustices of all kinds, including environmental degradation.
“I think that we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world and many of us, what we’re guilty of, is an egocentric worldview — the belief that we’re the center of the universe,” Phoenix said. “We go into the natural world and we plunder it for its resources.”