By Nancy Price
The Founding of Earth Day
During the 1960s, the concerns of environmental and anti-war activists began to converge as they’d had enough of corporate environmental disasters, epitomized by Love Canal (1953) and wide-spread harm to nature from indiscriminate use of DDT and chemicals that Rachel Carson revealed in Silent Spring (1962). There were also the assassinations of President Kennedy, Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, and the increasing violence of the War in Vietnam and at home - the tragic My Lai Massacre (March 1967), police brutality at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and the widening carpet bombing, extensive use of Agent Orange, and move into Cambodia.
Finally, in 1969, two iconic disasters galvanized the public and legislators into action: in Ohio, the alarming fire on the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland, long polluted by industrial waste and sewage; and in California, the huge Santa Barbara Channel oil spill, at that time the largest oil “blowout” in U.S. waters that covered 30 miles of pristine sandy beaches and greatly impacted marine life.
It was no surprise that after Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson proposed Earth Day for April 22, 1970, 20 million people turned out to peacefully demonstrate. Anti-war protests continued, however, to escalate at university and college campuses and tragically, less than a month after Earth Day, four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University, Ohio (May 4, 1970).