By Sylvia Neely
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. A lot has changed since April 22, 1970. At that time, on college campuses, people against the Vietnam War were holding “teach-ins” to explain why they were opposed. Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin decided to adopt this idea by holding “teach-ins” on the environment on college campuses. The original name was “Environmental Teach-In.” And they chose April 22 because they wanted a date before the students left for the semester.
But the idea of Earth Day was much more powerful than Sen. Nelson at first imagined. Soon there were many kinds of Earth Day events taking place on campuses as well as in cities and towns throughout the country. It was an enormous success.
I learned all these things and more from historian Adam Rome’s insightful book “The Genius of Earth Day.” Its strength, he tells us, was its reliance on the people. That was actually an accident. The organizers at first tried to exert control, but they had neither the time nor the resources to direct things. So each community developed its own ideas. In some places, there were community-wide events that lasted more than one day.
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