Nelson's teach-in idea makes Time magazine

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In this page from the October 8, 1969 Congressional Record, Gaylord Nelson announces a "national teach-in on the crisis of the environment" and reads to the Senate two of the first major notices to appear in the press about his proposal.

Nelson had sent these same clippings out in to editors across the country two days earlier. He had first suggested the idea of coordinated college-campus events on "The Crisis of the Environment" just over two weeks earlier in a speech in Seattle to a fledging conservation group. His remarks were reported in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and relayed by AP and UPI wire stories.

The Milwaukee Journal editorial reprinted here was likely the first opinion piece to mention the teach-in in a major newspaper. That it deems the plan "not a bad idea" is unsurprising. The paper supported Nelson consistently, was reliably liberal across the board, and had been a supporter of the local Socialist Party earlier in the century. It came earlier to environmental journalism than many of its peers, earning a Pulitzer for its 1966 feature series on pollution, "The Spreading Menace."

But getting the teach-ins written up in Time magazine was the real coup. Time was a leading popular periodical with 3 million readers in 1960. Like the Milwaukee Journal, it had been steadily reporting on ecological matters for a few years. In 1965, shortly after running a piece titled "Ecology: Time for a Transfusion," the October 1 feature story details the "worldwide use and misuse" of water. The cover of the January 27, 1967 issue presents an aerial view of downtown Los Angeles obscured by a cloak of smog. And articles, columns, and letters appeared regularly since the middle of the decade covering the latest findings about environmental threats, chiefly air and water pollution.

However, this short story in Time about Nelson's teach-ins sticks out from its other environmental coverage. Here the angle is not the degradation of the planet but the activists looking to do something about it. The author makes a subtle, playful reference to the campus uprisings of recent years–a connection press coverage in the coming weeks would explicitly question.

By the end of November 1969, the teach-in would receive much more extensive coverage in Newsweek, the New York Times, and other major media outlets.

However, for many Earth Day organizers, these first notices were all the encouragement they needed. Before Nelson had assembled his coordinating team in Washington or even set a date, students and citizens around the country got to work planning what would become the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.