It has been mostly forgotten but Earth Day was announced in Seattle at a environmental conference in September 1969. Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The Wisconsin Senator remembers: “The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air – and they did so with spectacular exuberance. For the next four months, two members of my Senate staff, Linda Billings and John Heritage, managed Earth Day affairs out of my Senate office. ”
On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day is observed in Seattle with teach-ins at the University of Washington and at the Seattle Center. A noon rally at Westlake Mall drew only 50 or so participants, but later that evening, some 3,000 persons crowded together at Seattle Center to look at exhibit booths, view films, listen to speeches and panel discussions, and to collect signatures and money. Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman challenged the audience to go to the next demonstration in buses instead of in private cars, to fight pollution.
A little over six years after graduating from Roosevelt High School I return to the school in north Seattle. I found the kids, a month after the announcement of Earth Day, excited about this new ecology movement that was just getting under way. It’s hard to believe now but littering, air pollution, gas guzzling cars, etc, were not much of issues until the ’70s. In October 1969 we were still some seven months away from the first Earth Day but you could feel the momentum building.
KJR, Norm Gregory, September 1969