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High schools invite themselves to Earth Day

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This document features a sampling of letters Wisconsin students sent to Gaylord Nelson inviting him to join them for their Earth Day observances.

Nelson was inundated with requests such as these, and did his best to oblige. He spoke regularly in the early months of 1970 and then scheduled a nationwide sprint in the two weeks leading up to April 22. Nelson's schedule for April 14-16 shows him speaking in sometimes 3 states a day.

Apart from Nelson's popularity, these letters attest to the vibrant grassroots nature of Earth Day.

Their Wisconsin authors describe a spike in environmental awareness within schools at the end of the 1960s, the very sense of alarm that Nelson wanted to display for his fellow legislators so blind to their constituents concerns. Earth Day became the catalyst that turned the hang-wringing of students into empowered political action.

But, as these letters suggest, that change from alarm to action did not take too much prodding. Students had been contemplating and experimenting with ways to catch the attention of their peers, their parents, and their representative. Once hearing about it, they jumped at the idea of the teach-in.

When Environmental Teach-In, Inc. opened as a national coordinating office for Earth Day and officially announced its presence, its staff discovered that hundreds of organizers, like the ones in these Wisconsin constituent letters, had not waited for instructions from anyone. They acted.