By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 28, 2007
For her next act, Jane Fonda has entered the war against the Iraq war. At the tail-end of yesterday's on-the-Mall rally, organized by United for Peace and Justice, Fonda stood onstage with the Capitol behind her and addressed the sun-drenched thousands. "I haven't spoken at an antiwar rally in 34 years," she said. But, "Silence is no longer an option."
The first time Fonda, 69, spoke out for peace, the country was soul-deep in the Vietnam War. In the ensuing decades, as the nation has gone through a slew of changes, so has Fonda.
As a young woman, the daughter of actor Henry Fonda was an actress, a feminist and anti-Vietnam War activist. She morphed into a workout maven, post-feminist arm candy for billionaire media magnate Ted Turner, a vocal Christian and an autobiographer. With 2005's "Monster-in-Law," she defibrillated her movie career.
Yesterday, with her daughter, Vanessa Vadim, and two grandchildren nearby, she was again front and center as actress, feminist and opponent of war.
Her life has come full circle.
She thanked the tens of thousands of protesters for standing up to a "mean-spirited, vengeful administration" and she said she was glad to discover that the soul of America "is alive and well." One huge difference between protests then and now, she told the crowd, is military families and active service people in the present-day movement.
Children in tie-dyed shirts, grandmothers in flowered hats, kids with frizzy hair and muddy jeans danced and hoisted signs and chanted against the war and for impeachment. Despite her showbiz elegance -- blond hair, sunglasses, camel's hair coat and dark over-the-knee boots -- Fonda seemed to fit right in.
She was first known for campy movies such as "Barbarella," which was directed by first husband Roger Vadim, then for higher-shelf films such as "Klute" and "Coming Home," for which she won Best Actress Oscars. She became involved in the political world in the late 1960s, an involvement that continued with her second husband, activist Tom Hayden.
As a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, she cut a controversial figure. She spoke at protest rallies and, in 1972, posed for a photograph with a North Vietnamese antiaircraft gun. The act was viewed by many as unpatriotic, even treasonous, and some called her "Hanoi Jane."
She has since apologized.
"Those people who would try to undermine her credibility will fail. We welcome her back to the peace community," said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chairman of the Out of Iraq congressional caucus.
"She's a high-profile, outspoken American," said actor Sean Penn, while smoking a cigarette before the rally. What she means to the antiwar movement "is the same thing any of the rest of us mean to it. She's one more voting American with a conscience who is against this war."
Getting her to speak at the massive rally was a breeze, organizers said. Leslie Cagan, who works for United for Peace and Justice and is a longtime friend, e-mailed an invitation. Fonda said yes. Fonda has spoken out against the Iraq war at smaller events such as a Canadian lecture series, book signings and the recent National Conference for Media Reform in Memphis. United for Peace spokesman Hany Khalil said yesterday's rally was "one of the first times she has appeared on the national stage."
Kathy Engel, another United for Peace and Justice spokeswoman, said Fonda is important to the cause because through the years, she has been on the wave-crest of women's rights "and a myriad of issues concerning the health of our country. She's a long-distance runner."
Before the march, Fonda spoke briefly to a few hundred people at the Navy Memorial. The event was sponsored by Code Pink, an antiwar group started by women. On the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, three dozen protesters organized by the conservative Web site Free Republic held up signs calling protesters traitors and terrorist sympathizers.
"Jaaaaannnneeeee Fonda has blood on her hands!" chanted one man with a megaphone.
"Thank you so much for being here," Fonda told the Code Pink folks over the noise. "We're going to get it done." Afterward, she hugged civil-rights activist Dick Gregory.
Asked whether she believed her presence might cause more harm than good to this antiwar movement, she snapped, "No." Then laughed. And was spirited away by handlers to the rally on the Mall.
She was one of the last people to speak at the midday rally. As she waited for her cue, she chatted with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). She shook hands with the Raging Grannies, a group of senior citizens who sang onstage, while the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sean Penn and actor-couple Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins milled about nearby.
Vietnam War veteran Orin "Spike" Tyson, 56, motored through the crowd on a Golden Companion Scooter with a U.S. flag flapping on the back. Tyson, a Lansing, Mich., resident who was wounded by shrapnel and a land mine, said he hasn't always agreed with Fonda, "but she has the right to say whatever she wants to say."
It's that freedom, he said, that he fought for.