Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earth Day -- Forty Years Later

Tomorrow, April 22nd, is a day of historical signficance for me. On this day, forty years ago, I sat cross-legged in a Southern California park and listened raptly to my grade school teacher explain about the FIRST Earth Day celebration.

I'm sure to many students that day, it was just another speech from a teacher that went in one ear and out the other. But to me . . . it has colored and changed every aspect of my life from that day forward.

In April of 1970, the Los Angeles County school system was in the midst of a five week teachers strike. Now, for most students, it was a free ticket to play . . an unexpected vacation from the confines of school (we didn't care about striking teachers . . LOL). Things unfolded just a bit different for me though . . . at my school (Rhoda Street Elementary in Encino, California) we had a few teachers who would not cross the picket lines to teach at school, but through their caring and dedication to their students, donated their time teaching kids in the local parks. One teacher in particular holds a special place in my heart . . . I TRULY wish after all these years that I could remember her name. What I will NOT forget, is the lasting values she taught me in a make-shift classroom in the park. Her selfless donation of time to gather her students in the park every day, taught me many things . . . one in particular was about a new movement taking shape . . Earth Day. That lesson has stayed with me my entire life and has shaped everything that I do . . including my own business that focuses on environmentally friendly printing, recycled papers and papers you can plant (yep . . . they GROW as they recycle)

As a ten-year old, five weeks of classes in an open air park was sheer heaven in inself . . little did any of us know of the historical significance that April 22, 1970 would forever hold in history.

A bit of background on Earth Day: In 1969, U.S. Senator and Earth Day founder, Gaylord Nelson, proposed the first nationwide environmental protest "to shake up the political establishmetn and force this issue onto the national agenda. "It was a gamble," he recalled, "but it worked." Senator Nelson was later awarded the Presidental Medal of Freedom -- the highest honor give to civilians for his role as Earth Day founder. Ten years later, on Earth Day 1980, Senator Nelson said "My primary objective in planning Earth Day was to show the political leadership of the Nation that there was broad and deep support for the environmental movement. While I was confident that a nationwide peaceful demonstration of concern would be impressive, I was not quite prepared for the overwhelming response that occurred on that day. Two thousand colleges and universities, ten thousand high schools and grade schools, and several thousand communities in all, more than twenty million Americans participated in one of the most exciting and significant grassroots efforts in the history of this country."
"Sit-ins" in the '70's were the protest medium of "norm". So a political sit in on April 22, 1970 was not out of the ordinary, however, what it acheived was. Millions of Americans, from all walks of life, Republicans AND Democrats, young and old, flocked to parks and the streets to demonstrate, work together and rally against the decay of our environment. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts. I feel so honored to have been included from the inception.
I think that a lot of people have the attitude that Earth Day and the "green" movement that is so rapidly growing is a fairly new thing, and a passing fad. As a person who has celebrated every Earth Day for forty years, I find myself troubled by those who jump on the "green" bandwagon only for financial gain. This is our future . . our very survival on this beautiful blue orb we call home depends on US. How we take care of it now will depend upon how our future generations survive. This means many things . . . reducing our carbon footprint and leaving a cleaner, healther Earth is the first step each of us can take.
There is an ancient Chinese proverb that states "The longest journey begins with the first step" My challenge is to all of you . . take the first step. Change ONE thing in your lifestyle that will make an impact on the Earth . . . reduce, reuse, recycle and remember that EVERY day is a day to celebrate Earth Day!
Peace, love and green thoughts!!