Earth Day: from the Blue Hills to the Golden Gate

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This document from the Nelson Collection is a sampling of Earth Day events on university campuses in California, Kentucky, Indiana, and Utah.

Earth Day teach-ins, almost without exception, were the creation of local students and citizens, and so the events represent an extraordinary variety. Yet as can be seen in this document, there were some commonalities among the college programs.

Most common was that an "Earth Day" event was hardly confined to just April 22. At large universities, Earth Day often lasted more than a day. In this document, schedules show that UCLA and Berkeley held Earth Weeks, as did the University of Wisconsin and many other schools. (Later, an annual Earth Week was also encouraged by Nelson to keep environmental education alive and active.) The University of Kentucky ran a two-week slate of events in advance of Earth Day. Other schools' observances did not line up with April 22 at all, as was the case with Hanover College, described here as running activities from April 30-May 2.

Another common feature was the breadth of speakers and speeches for the heart of Earth Day programs. Since teach-ins began as a venue for faculty to speak on politics, it is not surprising that the panels described in this document are full of local academics. However, Earth Day's profile attracted more than professors. Prominent public and local intellectuals made the rounds. Senators and Congressmen traveled from Washington to appear in their home districts or other places to which they were invited. Many federal administrators and professionals from environmental fields joined in Earth Day. This document showcases also the involvement of several labor leaders and, trailing behind the grassroots initiative, representatives of industry, looking to add their perspective to a day for the environment.

Most interesting were the number of local people who were called on to give - or spontaneoulsy felt the desire to give - speeches for their local Earth Day events, people who were not in the habit of public speaking. Many municipal officials from previously unnoticed departments like water and sewage, as well as local doctors, educators, and community group members, cut their environmental movement teeth at local Earth Day 1970 podiums.

Earth Day or Earth Week organizers usually arranged some opportunity for participatory action as well. Whether a march, aimed at influencing voters and legislators, or a working environmental education, such as UC Berkeley's gardening clinic - all were intended to change individual behavior.

Many Earth Days ended festively, with film screenings or musical performances.