Later this year, Rainforest Action Network will be celebrating our 30th anniversary — that means 30 years of preserving rainforests, 30 years of protecting the climate, 30 years of defending human rights. It also means 30 years of direct action — taking the fight for people and the planet directly to corporations and banks that need to be held accountable for their actions.
RAN developed this unique — and highly effective — brand of corporate campaigns to not simply change the practices of single businesses, but to create systemic change throughout entire industrial sectors. In September 1986, RAN dropped the first of our many banners as we launched into a long history of peaceful direct actions. You can read more below in this archival article from RAN’s Art Director Toben Dilworth:
Since its founding, Rainforest Action Network has worked to redefine globalization in terms of sustainability. A hallmark of our success lies in our strategy of targeting the financial sector for its complicity in funding destructive projects around the world. While our recent work has focused on Wall Street, RAN was one of the first organizations inside the U.S. to actively campaign against the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) — all government institutions — for bankrolling the systematic destruction of tropical rainforests around the world while imposing mountains of debt on the world’s poorest countries.
Founded in 1944 at the Bretton Woods Conference, The World Bank was originally conceived in order to provide loans for reconstruction throughout Europe in the wake of World War II. Since then, The World Bank has used its financial resources to force billions of dollars in loans on the world’s struggling nations for capitol improvement mega-projects promoted under the guise of alleviating poverty. When countries could not repay the loans, the IMF would mandate ‘structural adjustment programs’ mandating the conversion of natural resources into commodity exports, leading to rapid deforestation and displacement of Indigenous communities.
In September of 1986, RAN helped kick off an international movement challenging the World Bank’s destructive lending policies by convening a Citizen’s Conference and International Day of Demonstrations against the World Bank at its Washington, D.C. headquarters. The conference culminated with a dramatic action – the first act of civil disobedience at the World Bank. While RAN activists blockaded the entrance below, the first RAN banner was hung off the World Bank building, highlighting the connection between global finance and environmental destruction. That banner’s message remains emblematic to this day, a symbol of our tenacity at challenging the world’s most powerful multilateral and private lending institutions, and serving as a harbinger of one of our most successful strategies to date through our Global Finance Campaign’s efforts to transform Wall Street.