Monday, 22 April 2013

The First Earth Day 1970.....

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, a college student sniffs a magnolia blossom through a gas mask in New York City. Such street theater--along with teach-ins, rallies, and other events promoting environmental awareness--drew an estimated 20 million people.

Corky Parker, now director of sustainability for in Seattle, was a teenager when she attended a 1970 Earth Day event in New York. She jokes that she was "more excited about wearing a yellow crocheted miniskirt" her mother had made for the event than any consciousness raising. But, Parker said, she ended up majoring in environmental economics in college and credits the 1970s environmental movement with awakening the country.

"Now it's called sustainability, or green, [but] it's still the same thing," Parker said via email. "Finally the masses are getting it. Now we know 'being ecological' is not separate from business, or health, or community. But it is a part of everything we do."

In 1970, with nine staff members (pictured: Judy Moody and Denis Hayes on April 22, 1970) and a $125,000 budget, a Washington, D.C.-based group organized the Environmental Teach-in, which would become became the first Earth Day.

With then senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin as their champion, the staffers brought together volunteers in dozens of cities and college campuses around the country.

Hayes, who had dropped out of Harvard Law School the year before to join Senator Nelson's project, also chaired the Earth Day anniversary celebrations in 1990 and 2000.

"[Hayes was] the one who did the unglamorous, wearisome job of starting it up," Ralph Nader told the New York Times in 1990. "[Hayes] is an orchestrator of environmental events which were national ... and now are global."
The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, drew crowds of thousands in cities, on campuses, and in public parks, such as this one, around the U.S.

Artist Pablo Solomon, taught earth science at "an inner-city school" in Houston in 1970. Earth Day events in Texas, he said, gave him hope that his lessons might find their way into the world at large.

"I can remember how excited I was that there was going to be this effort to draw attention to conservation and environmental preservation on a global scale," he said in an email. "The young people that went to the Houston school in which I taught were lucky to see nature on a vacant lot, much less on a rainforest scale. But even they seemed to understand what a good thing it would be to live in harmony with nature.

"At that time the Houston Ship Channel was so polluted that it would literally burn on the surface and chemical vapors released from the oil refineries would peel the paint off of cars overnight."
On the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, students and activists gather along the polluted Milwaukee River to hear a rock band at the Performing Arts Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Wisconsin's then senator Gaylord Nelson spearheaded what was then called a nationwide Environmental Teach-In. Although then president Richard Nixon made no public remarks about Earth Day, by December 1970 his administration had created the Environmental Protection Agency.

Following the first Earth Day, Nelson told the St. Petersburg Times of Florida in 2000, "There were 28 major legislative enactments in the next ten years," including the Clean Water Act and two revisions to the Clean Air Act. "It was a big leap forward."
Students from the Convent of the Sacred Heart School in New York City sweep up the city's Union Square as part of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.

At the time, Pablo Solomon was teaching earth science at a high school in Houston, Texas, where he participated in local Earth Day events.

"I can actually remember many people of my parents' generation remarking that [sweeping up] was the only act of Earth Day that resulted in anything," Solomon said via email. "People of that generation would comment, If those hippies got a haircut and clean clothes, the world would be better."

David Jones, who now lives in Johnson City, Tennessee, was a fourth grade student in North Syracuse, New York.

"We had a young, 'hip' teacher. She told us all to bring in grocery bags to school for something called Earth Day," Jones recalled in an email interview. "That day we all went out on the school grounds and picked up trash, etc.

"There wasn't that much to pick up. There were more kids than trash, really. But it brought the care of the environment into my consciousness and left a lifelong impression on me about the power of people coming together and working together on a cause."

Approximately 7,000 people gather on Independence Mall in Philadelphia on the first Earth Day--April 22, 1970.

Designer Harvey Hirsch, now based in New Jersey, was a student at New York's School of the Visual Arts when an ad agency approached his class for creative ideas to increase the impact of the first Earth Day.

"One of my ideas was to shut Fifth Avenue down to cars and trucks for the day," he recalls via email. "I was not sure they had the power to do that, but eventually they were able to close Fifth Avenue from Central Park to 23rd Street. ... That seemed to be the catalyst to making the Earth Day concept gain traction."
Earth Day staff member Judy Moody works the phones on April 9, 1970, in the Washington, D.C., office for what was then called the Environmental Teach-in. With just nine staff members, the office relied heavily on volunteers and organizers in other institutions.

Rozanne Weismann, now with the Alliance to Save Energy in Washington, D.C., was a young staffer at the National Education Association. "I got the nation's teachers and schools involved without authority because I naively had no idea that one young person on her own couldn't move an organization," she said via email.

As an NEA staffer, Weismann wrote articles for teacher-education journals around the country, providing ideas for Earth Day-related classroom activities. Her boss, she said, was not pleased. "But," she adds, he later backed off, because "he got all sorts of compliments from teacher members around the country about this activity."
Looking hung over from the first Earth Day, litter-filled parks like the National Mall (Washington Monument pictured) in Washington, D.C., on April 23, 1970, partly negated the previous day's environmental message.

"This is sadly the reality of too many environmental activists," said artist Pablo Solomon, who participated in Houston's 1970 Earth Day events.

"The crowds again are often people looking for something to do or have an axe to grind on some other issue. People should practice what they preach."     

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