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Earth Day is more than just a day for our kids to plant trees and learn about recycling at school. In 1970, the first Earth Day was a day of grassroots political protest against rampant uncontrolled pollution of our air and water. It was perfectly legal to dump hazardous waste into streams and spew dark plumes of toxic smoke into the air. And this is exactly what companies were doing.
The environment was not yet part of the national political discourse. US Senator Gaylord Nelson had been working in vain for years to change that. Finally, his idea for a day of environmental teach-ins galvanized people all across the country who were concerned about the environmental degradation they were seeing locally. As interest grew, Nelson resisted trying to organize the event from Washington, preferring to let people celebrate Earth Day any way they wanted. He wanted Earth Day to be a celebration of grassroots action.
Twenty million people from all walks of life self-organized to protest on behalf of our planet on that day. Amazingly, they did this without the benefit of cell phones, twitter, or facebook. If you want to get a sense for the historical context and the truly revolutionary nature of the ideas, listen to Nelson’s Earth Day speech in Milwaukee on April 21, 1970.
It worked. By the end of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was established and the Clean Air Act was law. The Clean Water Act followed in 1972. The air and water in the United States began to recover.
How are you going to celebrate this milestone on April 22? How about trying to go without disposable plastic for a day? Pack Litter-less Lunches and use your reusable bags and bottles. If there’s an environmental issue that needs attention, find others who are also concerned and get together to do something about it. In the spirit of Gaylord Nelson, go ahead and celebrate locally, any way you want. Let us know how it goes!