Earth Day 1970: The Way It Was
Left: An Earth Day poster of 1970 by Ralph Bently. I had this poster in my dorm room at college for several years. Annie R
Right: One of hundreds of posters, by hopeful humans worldwide.
Retrospective on the first Earth Day march, by Dr. Annie Rassios, Grevena
Perhaps we should go back to the time of the first Earth Day. It was a very troubled time, more troubled perhaps even than today if you can believe it.
We were stuck in the midst of the Viet Nam war: we were losing our schoolmates to the war, to the first wave of recreational drug use, social unrest and race riots were nearly daily phenomena. The killings at Kent State followed the first Earth Day by just a matter of days, showing how “afraid” the authorities were of “us.”
So there we were, about a hundred of us if I recall correctly, marching from our high school into downtown to “protest” for our love of the Earth: we had all read Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring. Once the local businesses we passed figured out we weren't war protesters (this time), we were accepted, smiled at, treated with somewhat of a condescending acceptance by people passing by in their immense V8’s – this was also the time before the oil crisis, when smog levels were at their worst, when it was perfectly okay to dump mine wastes into streams, and only Lady Bird Johnson seemed concerned that the USA was becoming an eyesore.
20 million Americans participated in rallies and rather innocuous protest marches such as ours under the urging of US Senator Gaylord Nelson on April 22, 1970. There wasn't much we could do about the war in Viet Nam except yell; there wasn't much we could do about civil unrest except to naively believe in the power of love. But maybe, just maybe, we could save the planet. We believed we could just by marching down Main Street.
Hard to imagine, but it was, believe it or not, Richard Nixon who, following the Earth Day protests, created the Environmental Protection Agency and passed the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. Subsequent administrations have been hacking at these ever since. It was the ‘70s when recycling centers began to appear and be utilized and when the “crazy” environmental movement took shape.
The Earth today seems even more threatened than ever before. Maybe that little march of ours in 1970 was useless and silly, but I like to believe that maybe it did help to initiate the age of environmental awareness. We did not save the planet, at least, not yet.
Call me "crazy"...