In 1970, national organizers adapted the successful strategies of the anti-war and the civil rights movements to mobilize 20 million people against pollution and environmental degradation. This first Earth Day—which included everything from tree plantings to freeway occupations—set the stage for the creation of Environmental Protection Agency along with the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. Nevertheless, the diverse grassroots movements that made Earth Day possible were quickly sidelined by corporate sponsorships and nonprofits that substituted the politics of systemic change for individual responsibility.
But the radical spirit of environmental activism has never gone away. In 1990, a coalition of Greens, anarchists, and Leftist youth (many influenced by municipalist Murray Bookchin) decided to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Earth Day by "exposing corporations wrapping themselves in the façade of environmentalism and identifing them as criminals responsible for scorched-earth business practices." A decade before the Battle of Seattle and two decades before the Occupy Movement, fifteen hundred activists descended on Wall Street, shutting down the financial center of American capitalism.
Although the narrative battle for Earth Day may not have been won (as millennials, we grew up hearing a lot about recycling and almost nothing about environmental racism), green resistance is stronger than ever thanks to working class, Black, and Indigenous organizers around the world. Today we celebrate the grassroots climate activists, the water protectors, the animal liberationists, and everyone who dreams of an ecological future!
- The History of Earth Day: From Radical Roots to Elementary School Classrooms (Teen Vogue, April 20, 2020)
- Remembering the Earth Day Wall Street Action (CounterPunch, April 23, 2015)