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Nelson speaks on the first Earth Day, Denver 1970

Nelson speaks in Denver on April 22,1970

An original photograph from the Nelson Collection. The Dutton memo suggested that Nelson "stage a series of special projects to build public interest in the teach-in and in environmental problems" (memo, p.7).  Nelson rejected this suggestion. On April 22, 1970 an estimated 20 million Americans participated in local actions and events, such as this speech in Denver by Sen. Nelson.

(At right) Sen. Gaylord Nelson spoke to an overflow crowd in Denver, Colorado on April 22, 1970.

By 1970, politicians were beginning to understand how powerful the television medium was in its ability to deliver both the substance and the style of the issue. For Earth Day 1970 Nelson gave 4 speeches in 4 different states to bring the most coverage possible to Earth Day and to show TV images of mass local action.

His speeches that day had one purpose: to bring Washington D.C.'s attention to groundswell of public concern for environmental quality of life issues. Television images of constiuents and voters in the streets with urgent local issues were certain to bring pressure on politicians who hadn't previously hadn't considered an environmental agenda.

Other than using the media for agenda-building, Nelson had rejected a proposal (the Dutton memo) that suggested top-down organization of a political media product. In section IV of the memo, Dutton proposes that the national organizers should:

"Develop a special name for the teach-in, giving it a simple, unmistakable image. I do not like the possibilities which immediately come to my mind, but they suggest the direction in which some brainstorming might be done: Last Chance Day...Mission: Earth Rescue...Nature Day...etc. The feel of the over-all project should be established implicitly at the outset, then everything shaped to bring that [along]. Even little matters like the letterhead for the mailings should have a flourish appealing to the young--a little far out, fresh, elemental, somewhat irreverant. Get name by November 5th."

Permission to use images from the Nelson Collection, Wisconsin Historical Society