Backstage with Rainforest Action Network

by Andre Carothers, Chairman of the Board

It was 1985 and I was on a mission. Working to save the planet, save whales, stop nukes. I can’t exactly remember which, but time always seemed to be running out. Ronald Reagan and his pious, robotic legion of tyrants were dismantling everything we held as good and green. The movement needed a new approach…we needed a new sound.

At least six people told me, “you gotta meet Randy Hayes.” So I finally called him. “Sure,” he said, “meet me at my office.”

So I made my way to his office, which turned out to be a slightly seedy alehouse in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. And there was Randy…elbows in, neck forward, surrounded by a circle of the west coast eco-underground. I remember getting the once-over: “Is this guy okay?”  

And then we went straight to the 100-year-plan. Belly-laugh jokes alternated with blueprints scrolled on the back of bar napkins. We were like a garage band dreaming of playing uptown.

It was clear from the beginning that Rainforest Action Network was going to be a different kind of animal. Rainforests, bulldozers, direct action, brand vulnerability, pickets, lock-downs, media mind-bombs. That night was the environmental movement’s Big Bang. Hot and dense, followed by rapid expansion, and then gradual coolness. The ascent of RAN.

Fast-forward 25 years. A barnstorming tour of corporate smack downs--banks, timber companies, Burger King, big box stores--all with the RAN boot mark on their corporate derrieres. The sharpest team of campaigning ninjas in the business, grabbing some of the most important environmental victories of our time against unimaginable, insurmountable odds.
Today, that garage band is playing big arenas, but still hasn’t lost its edge.
I am one of the lucky ones. It has been an activist dream to be backstage for most of RAN’s first quarter-century, because there is nothing like watching this group take the stage. Usually, the house lights are low—no point in tipping everyone off before the show starts--but then a power chord and the spotlight blazes. RAN is out there. A thin green line on the horizon. A phalanx of buffed campaigners, arms linked, jacked into the internet, talking like MBAs and moving like Mick Jagger.

Who wouldn’t want to be in this scene? Sure, it may sometimes stoke pitch-fork level outrage over the state of our planet, and you may end up padlocked to a fence with Bonnie Raitt and a 32-year-old RAN-ster who left business school to man the barricades.

But not only does this band make social change meaningful, they also make it rock n’ roll.

Here’s to the next 25 years of making music together.

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Lindsey Allen is a world-class campaigner with more than a decade of experience and an unmatched track record pressuring and inspiring some of the world’s largest corporations to protect rainforests. Allen has spent her career preventing commodity expansion into globally critical forest areas, and has played a central role in achieving some of the most significant corporate policy commitments to protect forests over the past decade.
Rainforest Action Network campaigns for the forests, their inhabitants and the natural systems that sustain life by transforming the global marketplace through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action. The strength of this Network stems from the bold activists, engaged donors, dedicated online advocates, frontline allies and vigilant organizations that work with us to challenge corporate power and to stand for thriving ecosystems around the globe.