Depending on whom you ask, the Rainforest Action Network is either one of the world's most robust and conscientious group of environmental activists, or they're a pack of clueless radicals hellbent on destroying modern society. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
Rainforest Action Network: The Basics
The Rainforest Action Network, or RAN, was founded in 1985 in San Francisco by Randy Hayes and Mike Roselle. Though they remain headquartered in San Francisco, the organization has an international cadre of staff and supporters in roughly 60 countries worldwide.
According to the RAN website, their mission statement is to campaign "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."
RAN has made a name for itself through media-savvy protests that spotlight major corporations and institutions that profit from logging, mining and other extractive industries in forests worldwide. Some of their targets have included the World Trade Organization (WTO), Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, General Mills, the U.S. EPA, Goldman Sachs, Ford Motor Company and other major financial, commercial and governmental bodies.
In 2010, RAN dumped a truckload of coal waste on the yard outside of EPA headquarters, protesting the agency's foot-dragging on the issue of mountaintop removal, a type of coal mining that rips away the top of mountains to get at the coal underneath, then dumps the waste into local streams and rivers. RAN has also taken its coal-mining protests to the Charlotte, N.C. headquarters of Bank of America, which is a leading financial backer of many mining companies.
The Walt Disney Company also aroused the ire of RAN: the group staged a 2011 protest at the gates of Disney Studios to draw attention to the company's use of paper made from rain forest trees in its book publishing. Protestors dressed like Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse chained themselves to the studio's front gates.
Many of these protests involved unfurling large banners across buildings or other structures, an act that has become a signature of RAN protests, since the banners' large sizes makes them video-ready and visible from a great distance. Tactics like these led the Wall Street Journal to label RAN members as "some of the most savvy environmental agitators in the business."
Do RAN Protests Work?
Rainforest Action Network claims that its protests have succeeded in bringing real change to institutions. After RAN's 1987 boycott of Burger King, the "cancelled $35 million worth of beef contracts in Central America and announced that they had stopped importing rainforest beef.
But RAN's confrontational tactics haven't always met with universal approval, of course. Critics have complained that RAN is abusing its tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization, since it calls for boycotts and direct-action protests. As of 2011, RAN continues to operate as a tax-exempt group that has earned 3 out of 4 stars from Charity Navigator.
As the organization has grown, RAN has expanded its focus to issues beyond rainforest protection. RAN has taken action to address issues like international human rights and global warming; RAN has also come out in favor of the Occupy Wall Street movement, claiming that "the social, economic, and environmental crises sweeping the planet are inter-related symptoms born of the same root causes. Put simply, unchecked corporate power is dangerous and destructive to both people and the planet. Mother Earth is as much a member of the 99% as any one of us."