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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.'

Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has always been a darling of progressives, a group many people respect for all the right reasons. RAN successfully challenges corporate power and remains focused on the grassroots. The organization is global in the most profound sense, tackling devastating deforestation in Indonesia, for example. At the same time, it remains anchored in domestic politics. Currently RAN is running an aggressive campaign against mountaintop removal, an ecologically destructive process used by the fossil fuel industry in its relentless pursuit of dirty coal.

RAN is nimble, youthful, savvy, strategic, and has the privilege of a deeply involved and well-connected board of directors. Over the years, RAN has exercised a creative aggressiveness that larger, more mainstream environmental groups seem to lack. On top of that, RAN likes to have fun. Revel, its annual fundraising event in San Francisco, is legendary for late-night dancing and Grateful Dead themes.

This year is RAN's 25th anniversary. Its Revel event, tonight at City View in San Francisco's Metreon, marks a turning point. The organization has come a long way from the early stages when Randy Hayes, the first director, and his visionary and audacious allies, created a unique, in-your-face operation -- one that made effective use of militant protest and creative PR to put the organization on the map. Now RAN is widely known, well funded and respected, but still mostly true to its roots. Honored at the event tonight will be Amy Goodman, who along with Michael Moore ranks among America's most influential progressives, Robert Kennedy Jr., Teri Blanton from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, for the struggle against coal and for sustainable energy, and Rivani Nopor and Uki Serara, for being true defenders of the rainforest.

In many ways tonight's spotlight will also be on Rebecca Tarbotton, RAN's new executive director, the first woman, and first Canadian, to take over as leader of the organization. Tarbotton follows in the footsteps of the highly respected New Jersyian Michael Brune, who moved up the environmental food chain by taking over the helm of the Sierra Club.

Tarbotton is taking over at a time of fading hopes and increasing frustration, as climate change has receded from the national agenda. Beyond all reason, the entire Republican Party has adopted the absurd position of climate change deniers. As we head into the midterms, many signs point to an electoral disaster for the Democrats, and the short-lived honeymoon of large Democratic majorities in both houses will quickly fade, as will many of the items on the environment and social change agenda.

Still, despite the expected national policy gridlock, the RAN strategy of holding corporate feet to the fire is paying off. Its campaign highlighting the role of many large banks in coal extraction has yielded some key dividends, particularly the creation of a sector-wide bank policy statement known as the Carbon Principles, which puts limits on the financing of new coal-fired power plants. Tarbotton, who was RAN's global finance campaign director, cut her teeth going head-to-head with some of the banking industry heavies.

Charismatic, articulate and straightforward, and seemingly possessing the infamous RAN chutzpah gene, Rebecca Tarbotton, 37, seems the perfect person to grapple with the conflicting needs and aspirations of environmentalists who may be feeling on the edge of despair. She has the intellectual chops to take on major policymakers and corporate leaders, while she is hip and crunchy enough to be a role model for the idealistic young RAN campaigners.

On the eve of Revel, with considerable buzz in the RAN offices in downtown San Francisco, Tarbotton sat down for an interview with AlterNet.

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