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Exclusive: Jane Fonda Talks Activism, President Trump And Tom Hayden's Legacy

Exclusive: Jane Fonda Talks Activism, President Trump And Tom Hayden's Legacy

America has reached a crossroad unlike anything Jane Fonda has seen in a lifetime of activism.

The 79-year-old activist, two-time Academy Award-winning actress, author and fitness guru said climate change — and the election of Donald Trump — present a threat that’s “totally different” from the years she spent pushing back against the Vietnam War.

“We’re right now facing an existential crisis," Fonda told Benzinga in an exclusive interview over the weekend. "And we don’t have a lot of time left because of the climate situation. If we don’t turn things around before we reach the tipping point, then there’s no going back — it’s like the Titanic.”

Fonda said she finds a reason to be optimistic in protests after Election Day, such as the international Women’s March on Jan. 21.

“We have to do everything we can to, frankly, take back power,” she said. “In my long life, I have seen so many people, including myself, change profoundly. And so I know people’s tremendous capacity for change. So in that sense, I’m optimistic.”

The actress who starred in such films as “Klute,” “Coming Home” and “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” filmed “Our Souls At Night” with Robert Redford last year. The film is expected to premiere on Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX) this year.

Fonda, who lives in Los Angeles, stars in the Netflix comedy series “Grace and Frankie” with her "9To 5" co-star Lily Tomlin.

The Changing Nature Of Protest

The pushback against Trump has brought people into the street who had never marched before and who never considered themselves activists, Fonda said: “That makes me hopeful we’re going to have the numbers on our side.”

Whether she was demonstrating against the killing of Kent State University students by the Ohio National Guard or opposing the proliferation of nuclear power plants, one factor that was absent in Fonda’s earlier life was social media. The presence of platforms like Facebook Inc (NASDAQ: FB) and Twitter Inc (NYSE: TWTR) have undeniably influenced the nature of activism, Fonda said.

“It’s made a lot of things possible that weren’t possible before: Instant mobilization [and] letting people know where the action is going,” she said. “It’s been very, very useful on a lot of levels. There’s also a lot of negative sides to [social media]. We can’t make it disappear; it’s not going to go away.”

Fonda said issues such as the spread of fake news on Facebook must be kept in check.

“This is a horrible word these days, but we have to regulate it,” she said with a laugh.

Speaking Out For Restaurant Workers

Fonda was in Detroit Saturday at the downtown restaurant Colors in support of ROCACTION, a group that advocates for higher wages and improved working conditions in the restaurant industry.

Saru Jayaraman, the cofounder of ROCACTION, told the audience at Saturday’s event that 400,000 of the country’s 12 million restaurant workers are in Michigan — and 70 percent of those tipped workers in Michigan are women.

Restaurant workers face “the worst sexual harassment of any industry in the U.S.” and rely on tips to survive, a practice that originated in feudal Europe, Jayaraman said.

Fonda’s connection to Detroit runs deep: from the Winter Soldier hearings held by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, to her marriage to the late Tom Hayden, a Royal Oak native, to the influence of the late Detroit city councilman and activist Ken Cockrel, which she describes as life-changing.

‘By God, He Changed A Lot Of Lives’

Hayden, Fonda’s second husband, died Oct. 23, 2016 at 76.

Fonda was at the lifelong activist’s bedside in his final days, along with their son, actor Troy Garity, and Hayden’s wife Barbara Williams. The experience was a gift, she said.

“It was a beautiful weekend when he died. He died on [a] Sunday and I [had] left a few hours earlier to go back to work,” she said. “It may seem strange — ‘beautiful.’ We’re all going to die, but there was so much love and so much closure and so much forgiveness, and that’s what you want when you die.”

Fonda and Hayden married in 1973 and divorced in 1990.

Hayden edited the Michigan Daily while attending the University of Michigan; was a founding member of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS; an author of the Port Huron Statement, which catalyzed the New Left movement; a defendant in the Chicago Seven trial after the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention; and later a member of the California legislature.

Fonda spent months helping to prepare Hayden’s memorial, held Feb. 19 at UCLA with more than 1,000 in attendance. In planning the memorial, Fonda said she reread her ex-husband’s speeches and books and revisited some of their work they did together.

“I fell in love with him all over again,” she said.

“All his life, he fought for democracy. That’s what he was fighting for, whether it was through SDS or the Campaign for Economic Democracy in California. He never stopped trying to make things better and changing people’s lives. And by God, he changed a lot of lives.”

Story image: Jane Fonda speaks at a fundraiser Saturday in Detroit for the restaurant industry advocacy group ROCACTION. Photo by Dustin Blitchok.

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