History of Earth Day

Excerpt from Catalyst Conference speech, Univ. of Illinois, 10/6/90,
Former Senator Gaylord Nelson.

For years prior to Earth Day, the critical matter of the state of our environment was simply a non-issue in the politics of our country. The President, Congress, the economic power structure of the nation, and press paid little attention to this important issue regarding our future.

The challenge was to think up a dramatic event to focus national attention on the environment. In 1963, an idea occurred to me to persuade President Kennedy to give visibility to this issue by going on a nationwide conservation tour, spelling out the deteriorating condition of our environment, and proposing a comprehensive agenda to address the problem. The tour began that fall of 1963; Senators Hubert Humphrey, Gene McCarthy, Joe Clark and I accompanied the President to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. This action flowered into Earth Day.

Late July 1969, while on a conservation tour out West, there was turmoil on college campuses over the Vietnam War. Protests, called anti-war teach-ins, were widely held on campuses across the nation. On a flight from Santa Barbara to the Univ. of California, I read an article on teach-ins, and thought... why not have a nationwide teach-in on the environment? That was the origin of Earth Day.
I returned to Washington in early August, raised funds to get Earth Day started, prepared letters to 50 governors and to mayors of major cities explaining the event and requesting that they issue Earth Day Proclamations. I sent an Earth Day article to college newspapers and one to Scholastic Magazine, reaching most of our grade and high schools.

In a speech given in Seattle in September, I formally announced a national environmental teach-in to happen spring of 1970. Wire services carried the story nationwide. The response was dramatic with telegrams, letters and telephone inquiries. Using my Senate staff, I ran Earth Day activities out of my office. By December, we opened an office in Washington.

Earth Day was achieved. The objective: a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment to shake the political arena. An estimate twenty million people participated in peaceful demonstrations across the country. Ten thousand grade schools and high schools, two thousand colleges, and one thousand communities were involved truly astonishing grassroots explosion showed that people cared. Earth Day became the first opportunity to join in a nationwide demonstration to send a big message to the politicians - "wake up and do something".

Grassroots is the source of power. If we are going to move the nation to an environmentally sustainable economy, you and that young generation right behind you are going to have to do it - and I think you will.

Earth Day Every Year

Earth Day went for twenty years before expanding the scope internationally. For the 20th anniversary, Earth Day was celebrated by more than 200 million people in 141 countries.

A new organization, the Earth Day Network, has been founded. The mission of the Earth Day Network is to increase awareness, responsibility and action toward a clean, healthy future for all living things using Earth Day as a catalyst. The focus is people. The commitment is environmental.

"If the environment is a fad, then it's going to be our last fad... We are building a movement, a movement with a broad base, a movement which transcends political boundaries. It is a movement that values people more than technology, people more than political boundaries, people more than profit." April 22, 1970, Denis Hayes, organizer of the first Earth Day and Chair of Earth Day Northwest.

Affiliated groups include:

Earth Day Canada, Earth Day New York, Earth Day Illinois, San Diego Earth Day, Earth Day Northwest, Earth Day Hawaii, EarthWays, St. Louis, Clean Air Council,/Philadelphia Earth Day '95, Earth Day Greater Boston, Stamford Connecticut Earth Day, Earth Day Georgia, EnviroBaldwin, Fairhope, Alabama, Ecology Action/Earth Day Austin Texas, Michiana Earth Day, Earth Day Arizona, Northern Nevada Earth Day/Environmental Leadership, Reno NV, GLOBE Ecology Coalition, Long Beach CA.

In addition to formal affiliates, the Earth Day Network supports and works with other local volunteer groups around the country. Groups receiving support in 1995 have included: Earth Service, Inc., Los Angeles, Our Planet Dallas TX, Friends of Sugar Creek, Crawfordsville, IN, Eco-Kansas City, Community Recycling Center, Champaign IL, New Bedford MA Earth Day, and Citizens for a Better South Florida, Miami.

The Earth Day Network is working with other organizations throughout the U.S. Please inquire about contacts in your area. Network Affiliate agreements, Sponsorship policies and Earth Day Organizing Surveys (to list Earth Day activities as part of the annual events list) are available by request.

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