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RAN, at 25, Keeps After the Banks

As Rainforest Action Network turns 25, new director Rebecca Tarbotton says they are fighting 'the biggest battle that has ever been fought.'

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DH: You’re quoted somewhere saying that one of the things you like is 'rattling the cage of corporations.' What does it take to rattle the cage?

RT: It’s interesting how easy it is to rattle the cage of a big corporation. I think what makes RAN really unique is that we don’t just do an all-full-frontal assault. We actually identify, very strategically, the leverage points that we can use to get the biggest effect. We are only 35 people; we are not a big dog. So that’s the  reason we are able to punch above our weight class.

We’re really careful about where we point our spear. For instance, we were working on mountaintop removal, when we first tried to get it on the radar of JP Morgan Chase. They said to me "It is not our job; we are a bank." (Most banks say that about everything, actually.) And we found out their entire employee registry and phone members associated with them. We had our members do an action alert and call through to every single employee, and by the time the day was over I think that every employee had gotten three or four calls at their work desk from RAN activists, saying "we’re really concerned about mountaintop removal."

JP Morgan Chase was furious, and it was because we identified a point; we managed to get inside with a minimum of resources on our part and make a maximum impact. It was inspiring to our members because they got to call people and explain an issue to them that was actually a concern to them and the people were very receptive. They don’t know what JP Morgan Chase is doing on mountaintop removal. So it quickly got up to the top level.

Usually what rattles a cage is when senior management hears about something. And it’s not always what you’d expect. But it can be as simple as showing up at somebody’s door.

DH: Have you always had chutzpah? Have you grown into this notion of putting a stick in the eye of corporations or does it come natural to you?

RT: I grew up with a really strong sense of justice, but I don’t actually know where it came from exactly. I grew up doing things like peace marches, and every time I tell that to people I feel like it sounds like a cliché.. I grew up in Vancouver, BC. It’s a liberal, very progressive city in Canada. I grew up with a very strong sense of social democracy.

But I always grew up with a couple of possibly sounding contradictory feelings that I don’t feel actually are contradictory. I have always felt passionately about speaking truth to power and not being afraid to say what you see is a wrong, and confronting issues head on. But I have always also valued communication. So RAN’s "inside-outside" strategy is something that really appeals to me and feels very personal to me. I very much identify that RAN never goes to bang down a door until we have attempted to sit down at a table politely with a company.

DH: Are you different from CodePink in that way?

RT: CodePink is superb at getting on the radar of their target, superb. I don’t actually know a lot about how they do their negotiation side of things. I think that CodePink is always so great at really drawing attention to an issue, and they have managed to really create a brand that specifically identifies with that, so I have a lot of respect for the way they do that.

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