For several weeks actress Jane Fonda has been hosting speakouts on environmental issues every Friday on Capitol Hill. Called Firedrill Fridays, the first one was held on October 11 and the last will be held on January 10.

Each features a rally on the southeast quadrant of the Capitol lawn followed by a short march and mass civil disobedience in a different location.

The theme varies. On November 29 (the day after Thanksgiving) it was Food Justice and Agriculture.

On December 20 it was it was Health.

Held the day before Fonda’s 82nd birthday, birthday greetings were prominent.

Some rallies have a host of celebrities. These draw the largest crowds. On December 20 about a thousand people came to see:

Gloria Steinem

Delores Huerta

Rev. William Barber II

Ai-jen Poo

When the rally broke up, the celebrities lined up behind a banner and led a few hundred people to the HART Senate office building.

They lined up to go through security screening.

Jane Fonda is wanded by the Capitol Police

As people came in they congregated in front of the sculpture in the HART atrium.

They chanted and sang until the US Capitol Police told them the time had come for those who didn’t want to be arrested to leave. The cops gave the usual three warnings.

Some of those waiting to be arrested stood, others sat on the floor.

Except Rev. Barber. Someone brought him a stool.

Most arrest avoiders went to the balconies from which they could view the scene below. The USCP would not allow photographers to use the 2nd floor balcony directly in front of the demonstration so we jostled for space on the 3rd floor balcony.

Arrests began around 2:00 p.m. and ended around 3:15. Police looked at ID, patted each person down, and put on white plastic handcuffs which can be tightened at the officer’s discretion. Those who don’t co-operate could find their cuffs too tight. Items which could be thrown, such as apples, were removed. So were any signs.

Most of the luminaries were arrested toward the end. Gloria Steinem, 85, was arrested a little before 3:00. Delores Huerta, 89, joined us on the 3rd floor balcony to watch the others.

This was Jane Fonda’s fifth arrest. She ceased after her 4th because the USCP impose greater penalties on those who are arrested frequently in a short period. They are usually kept overnight and given a court date while the rest pay and leave.

Some protestors were handcuffed in front and some had to put their hands behind their backs. The cops decide which to do based on age, disability, and perception of risk. Women were generally cuffed in front and men behind, but not all. All had a colored wristband attached to identify the arresting officer. All were escorted to the designated holding area by an officer.

There they were searched for any contraband — drugs and weapons — that might have escaped the security screening. Non essential items, such as purses and phones, were taken away and bagged. No one else was allowed within 50 feet of the search area.

Rev. Barber, who walks with difficultly even with a cane, was the last to be arrested. Arrestee #138 was the only one not handcuffed.

This was the biggest of the Friday arrests — too big to be processed on site. The USCP took them to its garage two miles away. There they sat in the cold for up to eight hours while the cops did paperwork. The only available toilet was a lone port-a-potty in the colder outdoors. When someone needed to use it, the cops removed the cuffs, then replaced them on exiting.

Once processed, most arrestees are released with the equivalent of a traffic ticket. They pay $50 cash and they’re finished. Otherwise, they have to go to court. Three were held overnight. Despite her multiple arrests, Fonda was given a post and forfeit ticket. She was the last to be released, at 10:45 p.m., right before her 82nd birthday.

All were met by “jail support” who gave them snacks. There is no nearby public transportation to the K St. garage. It was a very long day.

Copyright © by Diane Perlman. Used with permission

Copyright © 2019 Jo Freeman. Jo Freeman has published eleven books and hundreds of articles. She is currently finishing a history and memoir of working for SCLC in 1965-66.