of Earth Day
Excerpt from Catalyst Conference speech, Univ. of Illinois,
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
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.
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.