Earth Day 1970 in Ann Arbor

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While the idea of a national teach-in day on the environment was Gaylord Nelson’s, he was not the first to conceive of an environmental teach-in.

Independent of Nelson, some students at the University of Michigan (where in 1965 the teach-in format had been pioneered) began in September 1969 sketching out just such an event. The parallel efforts would eventually reinforce each other.

The Michigan coordinators paid close attention and drew inspiration from the activities being planned for Earth Day. In return, they served as forerunners in two important ways for Nelson and his partners. The Michigan students got a head start on planning, so Nelson saw them as a valuable asset in discussions about the architecture of his national teach-in.

In November 1970, Nelson tapped Michigan co-organizer Douglas Scott to serve as one of the three students on his nine-person steering committee. Scott brought with him this memorandum (at right) which described the planning of the Michigan teach-in programs. Nelson's Senate staffer, John Heritage, who was assigned to the teach-ins, sent out replicas of this memo to citizens who wrote to Nelson asking for tips on how they could get involved.

The Earth Day coordinating group established by Nelson, Environmental Teach-In, Inc., sent out their first memo about organizing teach-ins a few weeks after Scott's arrival, incorporating some of the Michigan methods: holding a open-invitation information session, connecting with campus administrators, and surveying local ecological problems.

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor poster for 1970 teach-in

The University of Michigan was ahead of the curve again in the spring of 1970 when the time came to host Earth Day events.

While Nelson chose April 22 precisely to be most convenient for college schedules, it fell in the middle of Michigan's final exams. So organizers there, called Environmental Action for Survival (now ENACT), moved their teach-in back to March 11-14.

This early event allowed the Environmental Teach-In, Inc. staff to publish a report on its proceedings in the March 26 issue of its Action: April 22 newsletter, which was instrumental in networking together some of the nation's hundreds of separate organizing efforts and schools.

More sources

Tobin, James. "Earth Day Eve." March 10, 2010. Michigan Today online, University of Michigan