Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Earth Day

Gaylord Nelson and Denis Hayes, do these names ring a bell. Today would simply be another spring day, if not for the actions of these two men. At a time when America was ripping itself apart over war and civil rights, these two managed to draw together nearly 20 million Americans from all walks of life, from all political leanings, and all ages to focus on making the place we live more livable.

Democratic Senator from Wisconsin, friend of small business and consumer advocate, Gaylord Nelson was the founding force behind Earth Day. In the early 1960's, Sen. Nelson became increasingly concerned about the way we were treating our planet; oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage and toxic dumps. He was esp. concerned about the total lack of interest in the political community with anything to do with the environment. He was convinced that if the public could be harnessed to focus on the environment, the politicans would open their eyes. After a conservation tour by President Kennedy in 1963, visiting 11 states in 5 days, but resulting in no ground swell of public support and no sense that the political community had an inclination to address even obvious environmental concerns, Sen. Nelson knew that he had to find a different way to fan the few sparks of public concern into a blazing bonfire.

In 1969, while speaking on the West coast, he saw the means to fan the flames. He observed some "teach-ins" in protest of the Vietnam War and realized what was needed was a massive grassroots movement that would provide Americans with the venue to express their concerns and if they could infuse this movement with the energy of the anti-war protestors, the environment would force its way into the politicans' vision. Sen. Nelson announced in Sept. of 1969, that there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on April 22 to bring the environment to the forefront. He made it clear that the invitation to this demonstration was open to all Americans. Once the media got a hold of this story, it spread across America with a fury.

The organizing for this nationwide demonstration started out with just two of Sen. Nelson's Washington staff, but as Americans caught the fever, the organization soon outgrew the senator's office. A coordinator of events was needed and Sen. Gaylord tapped Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University student, Denis Hayes. His work on this campaign resulted in 2000 colleges and universities, about 10,000 primary and secondary schools and hundreds of communities giving the environment and responsible living a resounding voice!

Let's keep resonsible living and the environment on the front burner.

Happy Earth Day

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