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Voices Carry - Earth Day 50th Anniversary – A New Call to Act

Suzanne Hartman, APR, PRSA Fellow, PRSA Puget Sound Board of Directors

It’s hard to believe that it has been 50 years since a rather brazen 25-year old Harvard graduate student, Denis Hayes, was tapped by former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson to head up a national Earth Day. It was 1970, and Hayes, this early environmental advocate from the small town of Camas, Washington, was picked to lead a ground swell of growing dissatisfaction with the state of the environment in the U.S. Rivers and lakes were polluted – in fact, a river in Ohio was on fire. The air was filled with industrial pollution. And policy-makers in Washington, D.C. were doing little about it.

So how could a handful of environmental soldiers lead the charge to fight for a better environment? Communications. They convinced reporters throughout the U.S. to write stories about the deteriorating environment – and they even included their address in the news releases so that they could hear back from people. Remember – this is before the days of emails, internet, texts, smart phones and YouTube or FaceBook! No, these warriors would send out mimeographed responses to the letters they received – some 50,000 of them.

That first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 resulted in 20 million people across the country showing up to be heard and demanding that our environment get cleaned up. Imagine planning an event for that kind of a crowd?

Perhaps getting people to the event was the easy part. Now, just like with any good communication plan, organizers had to ask themselves, “What kind of results did we get?”

A lot! Legislation that was unthinkable in 1969, soon became a tsunami of new bills to protect the air, water, wildlife, lands and habitat. Between 1970 and 1976 monumental actions took place, such as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Legislation was passed that included the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and much, much more.

Today, while air quality, water quality, habitat and wildlife resources have seen dramatic improvements here in the U.S., the same cannot be said throughout the rest of the world. And, today, the U.S. faces the very real challenges of climate change and resource sustainability.

Puget Sound PRSA has joined the Northwest Earth Day 2020 efforts. And while there won’t be a 50th Anniversary in-person celebration similar to the one that launched Earth Day 1970 – at least not on April 22nd - there is a virtual movement taking place called Voices Carry. Our own Cassidy Davis of the Puget Sound Chapter’s Board of Directors is one of 50 voices who represent a renewed effort to bring focus worldwide to issues of sustainability, resiliency and combatting climate change.

You and your organization can get involved, too. Visit www.earthdaynw2020.org to find out more about how to get involved and to view our PRSA “Voice.” To get in touch with the Puget Sound Chapter, email (what email do you want to use?)

Denis Hayes continues his quest for environmental actions that will improve our planet and create a more sustainable future. Denis did return to school – in fact, he went back to Harvard and received his law degree. Today, he is the Executive Director of the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle.

Join the Earth Day Northwest 2020 movement, www.earthdaynw2020.org

 

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