Actress Jane Fonda is using her celebrity to help women farm and domestic workers raise their voices on Capitol Hill.
The 80-year-old actress was in D.C. this week with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Farmworkers Women’s Alliance and the National Women’s Law Center to meet with lawmakers and ask them to pass laws to protect working women.
“They’re very forthcoming, they’ve been very forthcoming and willing to not just say, ‘Yes we’ll co-sponsor,’ or ‘Yes, we’ll sign on,’ but ‘We want to strategize as a coalition of lawmakers about how we make this as robust and important as possible,’” Fonda said of the members she met with, including Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.
“Cory Booker was extremely interested in helping strategize,” Fonda said. “The meetings were very fruitful, they really were. And we have more today.”
During her roughly 60-year career, Fonda said she never thought women in Hollywood would have the power to call for such a change.
“When the Me Too and Time’s Up movement burst forth almost a year ago in Hollywood, I never thought I would live to see a day when women were actually heard,” she said.
Then the Alliance of Women Farm Workers wanted to join the movements, she said.
“Almost immediately, we in Hollywood received a letter: ‘Dear sisters,’ from the women farm workers — I can’t tell you the affect that that had on all of us.”
Fonda said she has been cognizant of women workers since she worked on the 1980 movie, “9 to 5,” when three secretaries get revenge on their sexist bosses, and she researched women living that reality.
“Because I was producing the movie, I interviewed office workers myself and if you talk to enough — whether it’s farm workers, domestic workers, restaurant workers… just talking to them and you have to learn to be a good listener,” she said.
When asked if she would do another movie but about farm workers, she said, “I can certainly envision it, yes.”
“If somebody can come along and make other movies or television shows about these things, all the better and I know that it’s in discussion,” she said. “If we made another ‘9 to 5’ today, it would be very different because the offices today are not the same. These are contract workers now who have no benefits and no protections at all. That’s why what these policies that we’re fighting for yesterday and today are so important.”
She stressed how celebrity women need to elevate other women struggling for rights.
“What is so moving is that for the first time, for a lot of women in Hollywood, understanding what women are facing across sectors is starting to happen and it’s very, very important,” she said. “The domestic workers and women farm workers...these women, often women of color, often migrants, immigrants, are very, very vulnerable and they work in a very isolated way and their voices are not heard. We in Hollywood realize that we have the privilege to stand alongside these most vulnerable workers.”
She characterized it as a “beautify synergy” with women in Hollywood recognize the realities of more vulnerable workers.
As the daughter of Henry Fonda, who played Tom Joad in the 1940 film rendition of John Steinbeck novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” she said she’s been surrounded by the issue of workers’ rights her whole life.
“As I’ve spent these days on the Hill and I’ve heard the women farm workers speak, it occurred to me that my father, Henry Fonda, who was an actor, is very present with me,” she said. “The year that I was born, 1937, my dad made ‘Grapes of Wrath’ and it was a movie that I grew up with that had a big effect on me before I was even grown up.
“They were white men coming from Oklahoma, but still they were fighting for dignity and rights.”
One reporter asked for her opinion of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and how women’s rights would be affected with him on the court.
“I’m afraid that if I answer your question, that’s going to be the take away with the press here and I don’t really want the focus to be on that,” she said. But, she added, “I think it will be a catastrophe frankly if this nomination goes through… women’s rights, workers rights, will be shunted to the side and that’s just the beginning.”