Earth Day

By Shawn Dell Joyce

The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, came on the heels of the Vietnam peace movement. This was a volatile era of monumental social change fueled by sit-ins and teach-ins, demonstrations, rallies, and a changing political consciousness. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson modeled the first U.S. Earth Day as an environmental “teach-in.” More than 2,000 colleges and universities, roughly 10,000 primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the country participated.

It was also the first time we saw the famous picture of the Earth photographed from the moon by the Apollo astronauts. It was then that many of us first saw the earth in its entirety, and likened it as U Thant did to a spaceship.

Earth Day “brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform,” noted Senator Nelson. Legendary singer and activist Pete Seeger performed and was the keynote speaker at the Washington D.C. event. Ali McGraw and Paul Newman attended the New York City event.

Senator Nelson gave credit to the first Earth Day for persuading U.S. politicians to pass important environmental legislation. Many important laws were passed by the Congress in the wake of that first Earth Day, including amendments to the Clean Air Act, and laws to protect drinking water, wild lands and the ocean. Many of these laws are being attacked right now in Congress.

“Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level,” Senator Nelson said. “That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself. Earth Day has become the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated in 175 countries by more than 5 million people.”

Celebrate Earth Day this Sunday by attending Trees for Tribs – short for tributaries – with the Conservation Advisory Council. Meet at Wooster Grove Park in Walden at noon, and join other volunteers helping plant the 200 trees and shrubs along the Tin Brook in Walden.  If you can help, call Patricia Henighan at 778-0214 or contact by email

Then, attend a free screening of “FRESH” an independent documentary film at the Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery, from 3 p.m. to 5 on Sunday. Afterwards, will be a discussion with two local farmers about ways to localize our food system and possibly set up a purchasing cooperative.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery, and a nationally-syndicated newspaper columnist.


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