What We Can Learn From the Founder of Earth Day
At Vista Growth, we help courageous leaders realize their dreams. One crucial step towards realizing the dreams of leaders is to get teams and consumers to rally behind them and their vision. This requires a clear objective, passion, and a strategic story, among other things.
With this past Monday being Earth Day, we were curious about how it got started. Unsurprisingly, there was a courageous leader behind it. A Wisconsin Senator by the name of Gaylord Nelson.
During the 1960s, Senator Nelson became increasingly concerned about the health of the environment and the lack of governmental protection. A manufacturing plant could dump their toxic waste into the local river and there was nothing illegal about it. Hard to imagine now, right?! He tried starting with the top and convinced President John F. Kennedy to go on a national speaking tour on conservation in 1963. But even JFK wasn’t enough to bring the issue to the forefront. After several environmental catastrophes, including a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland and a major oil spill in Santa Barbara, Nelson tried again to get the issue of pollution and environmental protection onto the national agenda.
Inspired by the “teach-ins” happening across the country with students and individuals protesting the Vietnam War, the Senator recruited Harvard Law student and activist Denis Hayes to help organize a national day dedicated to the environment. Teach-ins were open-ended, informal lectures and discussions on a subject of public interest. These grassroots efforts generated a massive response. On April 22, 1970 the first Earth Day was held. Nearly 20 million Americans attended the lectures, concerts, and rallies across the country.
As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency was established that same year, and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts were passed. Earth Day has been celebrated on April 22nd every year since. In 1995, Gaylord Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his environmental work.
Every generation has their own method for discussing and highlighting the issues of their time, from teach-ins to rallies to protests to marches. Today, social media has become a digital form of “teach-ins.”
No matter the scale, its critical that a courageous leader gathers enough support for their vision. Then they are one step closer to realizing their dream.
People come and go. Visions endure.