Forty-nine years ago, April 22, 1970, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson a Democrat, and California Representative Pete McCloskey, a Republican, sought to harness the energy of the campus anti-war movement to bring attention to environmental issues. The impetus for the first Earth Day was the oil spill in the Santa Barbara channel in 1969. They selected April 22 because it was just after spring break at most colleges and well before final exams. They called for teach-ins on campus and demonstrations (boomers were good at demonstrations) at raw sewage outfalls, toxic dumps and at the gates of major polluters.
The goal of Earth Day was to bring attention to specific pending legislation, The Clean Air Act and a law creating the Environmental Protection Agency. Nelson said having a massive day of teach-ins and demonstrations was a gamble “but it worked.” Both acts passed with bi-partisan support.
I remember the first Earth Day. I was a Graduate Teaching Associate at the University of Minnesota. I assigned my students to produce radio pieces on environmental issues. On Earth Day we listened to and critiqued them, and discussed the issues they portrayed. One of my graduate school colleagues thought the whole idea was a waste of time, “Mother Nature will always win. If we get out of line, she will punish us. But the earth will endure.” He was probably right but I thought “why wait for nature’s retribution. Let’s work with her.” So, I was a small cog in the first earth day teach-ins and the best of the produced pieces were aired on two public radio stations, WCAL and KUOM, allowing a bit of our teach-in a broader audience.
April 22 is the 49th anniversary of the first Earth Day. I like the fact that it falls on Easter Monday, a day to reflect on resurrection and new life. In Sitka the Raptor Center opened its new interpretive nature trail. The Ride, Sitka’s mass transit system, is giving free rides all of Earth Week, and the festivities kicked off with the annual Parade of Species, sponsored by the Sitka Conservation Society and the Sitka Sound Science Center. It is mostly a kid’s event but adults enjoy it too. On Friday folks dressed up as their favorite species (dogs came as themselves) and paraded down Lincoln Street from Totem Square to the Sitka Sound Science Center where there was a judging of costumes and a bit of science education.
Before the parade started, I watched a couple of stilt walkers strap on the stilts and suit up as high-flying monarch butterflies. Since Sitka is a rain forest and the forecast called for rain, wind and hail I expected to see more jellyfish costumes, easy to make and good for the rain, an umbrella with streamers coming down. But there were not so many jellyfish as last year but that was ok because a benevolent sucker hole opened up over Sitka for the length of the parade.