Every year on April 22nd (that’s today, for those of you who haven’t checked your calendars in a while) the world takes a moment to pay a little extra attention to this planet we all share. With environmental concerns growing every day and efforts to find solutions finally starting to hit mainstream awareness, this particular holiday is a bigger deal than ever, but many of us have no idea where it came from or why we celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd.
On June 22nd, 1969, sparks from a passing train set the uber polluted Cayahoga River in Ohio on fire. That spark was also one of the inspirations of the nation wide teach in (a type of protest action in which concern citizens gather and listen to speakers who share information about a particular issue) organized by then U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson on April 22nd, 1970. The first Earth Day. With this protest, Nelson wanted, “to shake up the political establishment and force this issue onto the national agenda.”
Getting people to focus on the environment in 1970 was difficult. America was deeply involved in the Vietnam War and the violence was starting affect people at home – the Kent State shootings would happen just a few weeks after Nelson’s first teach in. People all over the country quietly were fighting for different environmental issues, but until that day in 1970 they hadn’t yet started working together to form the Environmentalist movement as we know it today.
Nelson’s gamble, that the American people would pull together to stand up for their planet, paid off. With the help of national coordinator Denis Hayes and a staff of young volunteers, a massive coast to coast demonstrations were organized.
That first Earth Day drew support from Democrats and Republicans, rich people, poor people, city people and farmers. It was a rare moment of political unity led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water act and the Endangered Species act.
Earth Day went global in 1990 and hit the internet grassroots movement in 2000. Now, in 2010, a year that promises to a host of climate change driven wild weather that will threaten the lives of people across the globe, it’s time to remember that this is one issue we can all get behind – a clean and healthy planet. So teach your kids about the rich history of this day, then teach them to turn off and unplug electrical items, recycle their trash and turn off the water while they’re brushing their teeth. Every little bit counts!