Earth Day 2013: A Political Day of Action


When I think about how distant young people are from politics, I think of the environmental movement. Only recently did I discover how far off my generation is in terms of helping to save the environment.  Today, we are more connected than ever, and yet the activity and motivation to help effect change within an issue we all claim to care about are at an all time low. We are taking no action and that has caused this issue to  be untouched in Washington. This has been a complaint among young people for some time now, with all of us wondering what the hell Obama is doing in terms of Climate Change. The issue in Washington, though, didn’t start there; it began with the people’s lack of motivation to change policy and fight for a cleaner future. It’s the same exact story, dating back to 1970 when the environmental movement started, just in reverse.

1969– Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin was the first to call attention to environmental issues, when he made a speech in Seattle on polluted waterways and the need for conservation efforts. He proposed a national Teach-In day, where young people would listen to speakers and take immediate action on these issues. A year later, an unimaginable thing happened, as these issues soon were at the forefront of young people’s agendas.

On April 22, 1970, …the teach-in, dubbed Earth Day, generated more than twelve thousand events across the country, many of them in high schools and colleges, with more than thirty-five thousand speakers. “Today” devoted ten hours of airtime to it. Congress took the day off, and two-thirds of its members spoke at Earth Day events. In all, millions of people participated. This activity was largely uncoordinated. Earth Day had a tiny national staff—a handful of young activists—and there were no big environmental groups around to get behind it. The staff imposed minimal central direction over the local activity, and chose not to put on a main event, like a march on Washington.

The agenda in Washington also shifted after the national teach-in day. The political progress that followed was rapid and effective. There was the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of ’72, and the EPA was created. Environmental issues were noticed and received by our government as a top priority for the nation. Voices from the young generation were heard and their political activism was noticed. What followed was progress for the country. Today, I find that we are separating environmental issues from politics. I wonder if this was caused by a broad distrust we have in our government, a basic layer of apathy within our generation, or are we trying to solve these massive issues in a different way? Sure, millennials are all about organic gardening, reusable water-bottles and fuel-efficient cars, but where is the call for change in environmental policy and regulation? To  help our Earth-in-crisis we need to start fighting for change, and I wonder if an Earth Day in 2013 mimicking the 1970 national teach-in day would help prompt the change we need.


Caroline Gray, 18


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