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How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation

by Adam Rome

Pub Date: April 16th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0809040506
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The story of how April 22, 1970, began the tradition of Earth Day and helped to create the modern environmental movement.

On that date, Rome (Environmental History and Environmental Nonfiction/Univ. of Delaware; The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism, 2001) writes, a national teach-in took place, involving more than 12,000 events and many thousands of people from all walks of life. The prime mover was Democratic Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who issued the call for the event in November 1969, established a bare-bones national coordinating operation and secured funding. However, he refused to set any all-encompassing agenda or single national objective, leaving the direction of events and form of activities in the hands of local organizers. They succeeded beyond all expectations. The author has interviewed more than 120 participants, employing materials cross-checked through meticulous archive work. Rome discusses the relation between the Earth Day teach-in and the anti-war movement, as well as the women's movement. In those days, nuclear fallout from atmospheric testing was one of the main drivers of campaigns to clean up water supplies, ensure the safety and wholesomeness of milk, and protect children. The author details the political coalition that backed Nelson and its relation with Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. He profiles selected events and speakers, the press corps relations to events, and the interaction with the Nixon administration, which later passed groundbreaking legislation. Activities on campuses were the major focus, and student organizing was the primary, but not exclusive, energizer.

A fascinating treatment of both environmentalism and the structure of activism at the time.