A Day for the Earth, but Which Part?

A scene from the 22nd Annual Convention of the United Auto Workers, held in April 1970 to correspond with the first Earth Day

Via the History News Network:

Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the first Earth Day, the largest demonstration in U.S. history.  Millions of Americans took part on and around April 22, 1970, with events at nearly every college in the nation, in 10,000 secondary and elementary schools, not to mention community centers, parks, and places of worship.  The public outpouring catalyzed Congressional support for a raft of epochal environmental legislation.  Perhaps even more important, Earth Day participants—who were more often than not supporters of diverse causes—discovered a kinship with one another, and together began identifying themselves for the first time as “environmentalists.”

But as the modern environmental movement took shape in Earth Day’s wake, a crucial question remained unanswered.  What, precisely, constituted the environment?  Earth Day’s founder, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, lobbied for an expansive definition of the word.  “Environment is all of America and its problems,” he explained to his audience in Denver on the first Earth Day.  “It is rats in the ghetto.  It is a hungry child in a land of affluence.  It is housing not worthy of the name; neighborhoods not fit to inhabit.”  His nascent environmentalism was largely indistinguishable from his Great Society liberalism.  Accordingly, he lobbied for the creation of thousands of federally funded conservation jobs, as well as for the reallocation of resources from waging war in Southeast Asia to cleaning up domestic pollution.  “The objective,” he concluded, “is an environment of decency, quality, and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.”

This broad view of what environmentalism would be, one that bound it tightly to social justice initiatives, appeared elsewhere on the first Earth Day.   (more…)

Posted by Brian on April 22nd, 2010 • • Comments Off
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