Founded in 1985 as a spin-off of Earth First!, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) seeks “to protect rainforests and the human rights of those living in and around those forests.” Toward this end, RAN has initiated educational campaigns, organized environmental conferences, and sought to persuade consumers to purchase only goods that it deems “verifiably produced from ecologically and socially sound … operations.” Foremost among the methods RAN employs to enforce rainforest conservation is “direct action” in which the organization targets a company, makes demands, and then initiates a campaign of negative publicity, boycotts, and high-profile acts of civil disobedience that continue until the company finally withers under the pressure and makes concessions. As RAN founder and President Randy Hayes puts it, “We’ll boycott a corporation until the ends of the Earth if we have to. … We now know how to be an effective thorn in the sides of a transnational.”
Staffed by 35 full-time employees in San Francisco (California) and Tokyo (Japan), RAN has an annual operating budget that exceeds $3 million, much of which it uses to fund pressure campaigns such as those described above. RAN identifies six “campaigns and programs” that it oversees:
(a) Global Finance: This campaign explores “ways to reconcile the existing economy with the real limits of the Earth’s ecology … to redirect the global economic system away from environmentally and socially destructive activities and into clean, sustainable, and socially just alternatives.”
(b) Old Growth: This campaign “[w]orks to preserve the Earth’s remaining ancient forests by driving old growth wood products out of the marketplace and by promoting the use of sustainable alternatives.”
(c) Zero Emissions: This campaign “[w]orks to stop global climate change by convincing the auto industry to eliminat[e] greenhouse gases by 2020.” It identifies Ford Motor Company as “the biggest brand and worst polluter in the industry.”
(d) The 12-Step Program: “From extraction to pollution, our oil addiction is a common thread in all of our campaigns. We need to get off this toxic chemical today, and RAN has put together a 12-Step program to do it.”
(e) Rainforests in the Classroom: This program sends a monthly email newsletter to more than 5,000 schoolteachers. It features lesson plans, fact sheets, poetry, poster and letter drives, and contests “designed to encourage decision-makers to think about how their actions will affect future generations.”
(f) Protect-an-Acre: This program was established in 1993 “as a tool to protect the world’s forests and the rights of their inhabitants by providing financial aid to traditionally under-funded organizations and communities in forest regions.” Its projects focus on “gaining legal recognition of indigenous territories, … the development of locally-based alternative economic initiatives, community organization, and resistance to destructive practices such as logging, fossil fuel development, and large-scale infrastructure projects in forest areas.”
In 2004, RAN members took part in a direct action against the logging practices of the Washington-based Weyerhaeuser logging company to protest cutting in old-growth forests. RAN activists scaled a downtown Seattle construction platform to hang a 2,400-square-foot protest banner denouncing the company. Said RAN, “[W]e can not sit back and watch one of the world’s largest corporations destroy our last original forests. These forests are the lungs of our planet and home to some of the most beautiful and oldest living ecosystems. Many of these living systems have existed for over seventy million years. Yet, every day from British Columbia to the Amazon, thousands of acres of these natural cathedrals are logged and turned into toilet paper, two-by-fours, grocery bags, plywood and legion of other products for human consumption and disposal.” RAN also endorsed the Heritage Tree Preservation Act, which seeks to ban all logging in old-growth forests.
RAN was a signatory to a 1999 petition of so-called “civil society” organizations that opposed globalization, big business in general, and “any effort to expand the powers of the World Trade Organization [WTO] through a new comprehensive round of trade liberalization.” RAN also endorsed a May 30, 2000 document similarly condemning the WTO.
RAN has participated actively in the movement against the war in Iraq, and is a member organization of the Abolition 2000 anti-war coalition. At a 2003 San Francisco event titled “Environmentalists Against the War Eco-rally,” RAN demonstrators were joined by representatives of Earth Island Institute, Greenpeace, the Ruckus Society, and the Sierra Club. RAN also endorsed a May 1, 2003 document titled “10 Reasons Environmentalists Oppose an Attack on Iraq,” which was published by Environmentalists Against War.
Other RAN direct actions include: leading a boycott of Burger King, to protest its use of beef imported from countries where forests are cleared to provide grazing land for cattle; participating in protests — which caused over $5 million in damages and led to more than 1,300 arrests — during the 2000 meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C.; and taking part in a 2002 Palestinian Solidarity March which condemned Israel and defended Palestinian suicide bombers.
In an effort to produce skilled activists to spearhead its campaigns, RAN has formed a “Strategic Action Training” program that is “committed to giving activists the tools they need” to battle “the world’s largest corporations.” The training sessions, which range in length from one day to a week, coach attendees in such activities as: direct action planning and implementation; fundraising; media relations; and climbing, so that members can conduct “tree-sit” protests to prevent logging companies from doing their work. Prior to its participation in the anti-World Trade Organization riots in 1999, RAN doubled its training efforts to instruct activists in the tactics of civil disobedience.
Stating that RAN’s efforts are aimed at “those in the industrial North who have their foot on the throat of the rainforest,” the organization’s founder Randy Hayes proclaims his hatred of capitalism, which he calls “an absurd economic system [that is] rapidly destroying nature.”
The Program Chairwoman of RAN’s Board of Directors is Jodie Evans, co-founder of the anti-war group Code Pink for Peace. Honorary Board members of RAN include musicians John Densmore and Bob Weir, actress Ali McGraw, singer Bonnie Raitt, and actor Woody Harrelson.
RAN receives funding from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, the Blue Moon Fund, the Columbia Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Ford Foundation, the Foundation for Deep Ecology, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Turner Foundation.