50 Years: Looking Back to the Original Earth Day

Fifty years ago, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson brought together six organizers from across the country to plan the first Earth Day: one of the largest “teach-ins” across school campuses in history.

Original organizers of Earth Day in 1970, from left: Denis Hayes, Andrew Garlin, Arturo Sandoval, Stephen Cotton, Barbara Reid, and Bryce Hamilton.

Bryce Hamilton was responsible for recruiting high school classrooms to join in the national Environmental Teach-In by sending suggested activities for classrooms. These ranged from encouraging teachers to bring the environment into their lesson plans on April 22, from organizing a field trip, to writing anti-pollution skits.

Hamilton was surprised to find himself overwhelmed with the response: hundreds of letters from youth of all ages asking how to get involved in the day.

By the last week of March, 1970, it was projected more than 10,000 elementary and high schools across the U.S were signed on to be involved.

“There was a big focus on pollution.” Hamilton said. “At the time, it was overall awareness of what we were doing to the environment: the air, the water, the wildlife. It was the earliest stages of the whole country really coming together, at all levels.”

We ask ourselves now, what does Earth Day mean, in 2020?

Hamilton says it’s about the people and the systems in place. “We shouldn’t look at environmental justice separately. We need to talk about that; every time we’re talking about the environment, we need to consider those who are being harmed the most.”

To honor the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, our team is hosting the virtual Eyewitness: Earth Day Storytelling Slam — an opportunity to uplift and share a diverse range of voices in the climate movement, including those that have often been excluded in the mainstream environmental movement. During moments of difficulty, grounding ourselves in our community and movement can help uplift us.

Join us as we come together to unite for climate action and share personal experiences of climate change and musical performances.

The lineup of storytellers and performers include Ben Santer (atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), DJ Cavem (eco-hip hop artist with a mission to rap about climate change, food justice, and plant-based foods), Jessie Diggins (Olympic Cross Country Ski Gold Medalist), and more voices from Minnesota and beyond.

We’re also celebrating the publication of our new book, Eyewitness: Minnesota Voices on Climate Change, with a storytelling slam! Eyewitness is a piece of literary activism, featuring a collection of stories, poetry, and art from Minnesotans on their experiences of climate change. Books will be available for order after the slam.

Take a sneak peak into the book!

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