Meredith Gaglio

Ecotopia,  RAIN.

Ecotopia, RAIN.

We wish to share with people information that is: workable . . . novel . . . successful . . . practical . . . perceptive . . . loving/humorous . . . integral . . . cosmic . . . down-to-earth . . . fitting . . . appropriate . . . sane . . . infertilating . . . hopeful . . . encouraging . . . non-redundant (don’t reinvent the wheel) . . . way over there there’s someone else doing what you’re doing . . . we try to find seeds . . . RAIN helps things grow . . . interests that dovetail . . . information rather than opinions . . .

RAIN: A Monthly Bulletin Board 2, no. 1 (October 1975)



When the “Rainmakers,” led by Steve Johnson, Lee Johnson, Tom Bender, and Lane de Moll, described their editorial vision for RAIN magazine in 1975, they conveyed a midcentury shift in the Appropriate Technology (AT) movement as it grew from a disconnected array of grassroots organizations toward a more cohesive, nationally recognized solution to the United States’ energy crisis. Their statement also represented a transformation in the journal itself. Initially sponsored by ECO-NET, a federally funded Portland, Oregon-based environmental education network, RAIN originated as a free “monthly bulletin board” for AT practitioners of the Pacific Northwest, with an emphasis on its Portland home. But, as the above quote shows, the publication quickly changed course, engaging with and establishing links between the groups “over there”—that is, across the United States—and their Oregonian compatriots. For its readership, RAIN provided a dynamic, often prescient, and remarkably expansive characterization of the AT movement

In the summer of 1974, Steve Johnson, a freelance writer recently employed by ECO-NET, established RAIN magazine, aided by his colleagues Anita Helle, Mary Wells, and Lee Johnson. The first issue of RAIN, wryly named for Oregon’s frequent precipitation, was a practical resource for local AT enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest region.1 Compared to future iterations of the journal, which incorporated philosophical essays, political commentary, and in-depth discussions of topics ranging from the economic value of trash or the basics of composting toilets to the United Nations Conference on Discrimination Against the Indigenous Populations of the Americas or the history of androgyny, the earliest editions of RAIN were extended informational pamphlets. Despite the elementary nature of the periodical, “reader response was immediate and dramatic,” exposing the dearth of communication networks available to appropriate technologists. Practitioners of AT “were hungry for news of each other’s projects and for leads to often-obscure books and magazines being published in their areas of interest,” and Johnson, via RAIN, began to develop a structure for mitigating their demands.2

Upon the initial success of ECO-NET’s twenty-four-page “monthly bulletin board,” Johnson, Johnson, Helle, and Wells began to extend the scope of their journal. In the fifth edition from February 1975, the staff demonstrated an urge for conceptual growth. At this time, they introduced pullout instructional supplements entitled “Roughdrafts,” meant to be a monthly “series of RAIN-sheltered print tools designed to shape more positive and practical alternatives.” Although short-lived, these new features clarified the Rainmakers’ mission and, along with a secondary commitment to expanding the magazine’s coverage beyond the Pacific Northwest, prefigured RAIN’s forthcoming transformation into the preeminent “print tool” of the AT movement.3

By the spring of 1975, the RAIN foursome also began to pursue an institutional change, seeking independence from the government-supported ECO-NET program. A newly established connection with Tom Bender and Lane de Moll, who hailed from Oregon’s progressive State Office of Energy Research and Planning, proved serendipitous. Bender, an architect, and de Moll, a community organizer, were also in search of opportunities to expand the reach of their community resource operation, “Full Circle.” They consolidated their organizations under the title “Rain Umbrella, Incorporated” and purchased a Victorian home in Portland as a live-work headquarters, aptly called “Rainhouse.”

De Moll and Bender’s first collaboration with RAIN came in April of 1975, but they did not become part of the editorial staff until October of that year. Their presence was clear from the beginning, as the magazine’s “catalog-type entries grew more polished and feature articles became more prominent.”4 Notably, RAIN’s subtitle changed from “A Monthly Bulletin Board” to “Journal of Appropriate Technology” after only four issues, demonstrating its transition from a locally oriented magazine to one with national aspirations. Between 1975 and 1980, despite multiple editorial transitions, RAIN maintained its signature content, tone, and structure, and it grew in popularity, if not subscribers, nationwide.

As mainstream support of appropriate technology increased, Bender, de Moll, Johnson, and Johnson, all of whom had only recently departed from government positions, did not eschew the institutional sphere, despite the AT movement’s aversion to bureaucracy; instead, members of RAIN took on advisory roles in government projects and kept their readership apprised of the positive and negative aspects of corporate and governmental AT policies. RAIN’s simultaneously critical and receptive approach was one key to its success, and its editors strove to provide a comprehensive, intricately constructed periodical that would convey the multifaceted nature of appropriate technology. Their journalistic aim was not to present an objective view of AT, per se, but rather to introduce the complexities and contradictions of the movement.

During the late 1970s, as federal and state AT programs were enacted, many appropriate technologists, including RAIN’s editorial staff, found them to be, for the most part, misguided and insufficient. As a result, the AT movement began to change. Throughout the journal’s publication, the Rainmakers frequently described RAIN as being in a state of transition due to its shifting staff, financial support, or organizational ties, but, at this moment, the shift became ideological as well, reflecting the evolution of AT and its practitioners. RAIN’s content became more overtly political, and the editors urged readers to reignite the radical, political spirit of their countercultural beginnings to push for institutional change

This upheaval in content echoed that of the movement more generally and so continued RAIN’s commitment to supplying readers with the most up-to-date information on AT in a straightforward, honest way. Yet the original editors struggled to align their own priorities with their established roles as Rainmakers. In early 1979, Lee Johnson surrendered his post; Bender and de Moll, meanwhile, lingered through October of that year. By the close of 1980, RAIN could boast an entirely new collective of AT practitioners. Carlotta Collette, formerly of the Minnesota Center for Local Self-Reliance, John Ferrell, a solar activist, and Mark Roseland, a social ecology professor at Wesleyan University, with the assistance of former Rainmakers during the early months, oversaw a smooth transition within the journal. Much as Bender and de Moll predicted, this next team introduced fresh content to RAIN, befitting the magazine’s second decade.

However, overwhelmed by attempting to sustain the weakening movement in defiance of Reagan-era policies, the editors gradually diminished the geographical scope of the journal, increasingly focusing, as it had upon its foundation, on the Pacific Northwest and Portland specifically. Upon Steve Johnson’s return as an editor in late 1980, RAIN was beginning to return to its starting point. During his tenure, the editorial staff reduced the magazine’s annual number of issues and even eliminated “Journal of Appropriate Technology” from its title. RAIN officially continued into the 1990s, revealing the ways in which certain aspects of AT practice, such as community organization, persisted through the 1980s, while others, such as small-scale solar or wind energy programs, faded from view.

1 John Ferrell, “The Magazine from Ecotopia: A Look Back at the First RAIN Decade,” RAIN Magazine 10, no. 1 (October/November 1983): 5

2 Ibid., 6.

3 Steve Johnson, “Introduction to Brainstorming,” RAIN 1, no. 5 (February 1975): 10.

4 Ferrell, “The Magazine from Ecotopia,” 7.