Are you old enough to remember the original Earth Day, April 22, 1970? I am. I was in middle school. I really didn’t know what it was about, but I had a feeling that it was meaningful, especially for my generation.
I mostly remember picking up a lot of trash. I remember stacks of newspaper for recycling that were taller than I was. Our school was going to celebrate Earth Day with a parade. I lived in California, so our theme had something to do with clean oceans and beaches. Some of my friends had older brothers and sisters who were already attending college. From them I learned that college campuses were planning protests, not parades. Second-hand stories about disabling gas tanks and spray-painting gas-guzzler cars filtered their way to me. I didn’t understand how that was going to help the earth.
Young people were angry about a lot of things, and they wanted everyone to know it. They were angry about Vietnam, about smog and the price of gasoline, about inflation, civil rights, women’s rights, racial discrimination, and several other injustices. Their anger empowered the protest marches and gave expression to their restless desire for change. From the 1970s generation, we learned to question authority and steer clear of the status quo. Once I learned what the protests were about, I was no longer interested in my school’s parade. It seemed childish. Suddenly, I was in a hurry to grow up.
You probably already know the history of Earth Day, who started it and how it’s message quickly spread around the world. If you don’t already know it, you can read about it online. It’s a big deal now and every media outlet dedicates symbolic time to it – for one day. In 2020, the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day was preempted by the pandemic. This year, the Ukraine war is on everyone’s mind, as it should be.
Earth Day is an important day for me – not because of my relationship to Gaia or because I see less progress than I imagined fifty years ago, but because it is a way of belonging. It is a day of solidarity that almost everyone can agree on. Earth Day has become the largest civic event in the world. Around one billion people from over 190 countries will participate in at least one Earth Day event. Earth Day encourages me to nourish myself by helping to restore the resources and environments I care deeply about.
This year’s events include parades and protests much as they did in 1970. People wore gas masks back then to bring attention to poor air quality. Today we wear masks for a different reason. Ecosystems are still in dire need of attention lest they fail, deforestation is happening on an epic scale, and the climate crisis is far worse than we ever imagined. Initiatives to protect the planet continue to be offered, though most will be voted down. But you know what? Earth Day is proof that we can come together. We can care for each other, and invite our earth mother to love us. So this Earth Day, regardless of what else you do, remember to spread the love.
P.S. I couldn't find the middle school photo I was looking for, but here is one from Earth Day 1992. I'm leaning on a 4 ft. wide model of planet earth that I received as a gift. It was originally made for a movie. It was already old and weathered when I received it -- the continents were slipping, the green paint was giving way to brown, and the white-peaked mountains were fading. As a joke, we called it Global Warming Gaia.