Systems change, rain forests, and racism

Newsome flag
Bree Newsome takes down the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina State Capitol
Brad Schenk, Rainforest Action Network, Jul 5 2015 - 15:00

“What Does ______ Have to Do with Rainforests?!”

This week, RAN posted a message of support on Facebook about the courageous civil disobedience by Bree Newsome in South Carolina. And, as a testament to the social justice leanings of our community, our post was met with predominant support.

However, there was also the de rigeur Internet Indignance.

“Why is an environmental group talking about ____?” “What does this have to do with rainforests?!!” “You no longer have my support!” We always expect these responses.

Yet when we touch on issues involving race in the United States, those responses always seem a little louder. And a lot uglier.

Systems Change: It’s What We Do

Of course, Rainforest Action Network is no stranger to civil disobedience or controversy. For 30 years, one of RAN’s core advocacy strategies has been to challenge corporate power and systems of injustice through peaceful direct action. Draping banners on skyscrapers, activists locking down in corporate headquarters, street blockades -- bringing intense public pressure onto the worst of the worst offenders has proven very effective over the years. And while we are most widely associated with  environmental advocacy, our work over the past three decades has always been focused against  corrupted institutional forces that are responsible for the climate change crisis and rampant human rights violations.

Quite frankly that’s why I work here. Because we as an organization take a macro view of problems in the world and find the levers of change we can grab and, with the weight of justice as our advantage, shift systems.

For us here at RAN, social justice has never been an “extra.” It’s fundamental.  It’s a “Yes, and..”.

Yes we work on the rainforest, and climate change, and the financial systems that fuel destruction, and natural places and their inhabitants around the globe. And… a huge factor in those fights is the systemic disregard for laborer rights -- that’s an intentional part of the profit margin for corporations destroying rainforests.  And… the theft of traditional lands and displacement of Indigenous peoples is treated as a given, otherwise how could market demand be satisfied?  And… forced labor is an allowable risk for massive, global brands, as long as there’s plausible deniability and a murky supply chain that provides cover for makers of chips and ice cream and kids snacks. 

These are our fights, too. These are the human rights issues that are fundamental to our work at RAN. They are non-negotiable. They are deal breakers. If corporations that we target do not acknowledge and address these issues, we continue to campaign and shine a light on their actions until they do.

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