Apr 16, 2024

Earth Day Past, Present, Future

The 1960's were a decade of great change and intense social upheaval. It was marked by the untimely and violent deaths of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. It was an era filled with exciting new musical groups, strange yet exciting clothing, big hair, bigger earrings, taller shoes, shorter skirts and unforgettably wide bell bottom pants. It was the era of "Flower Power, Far Out and Feelin' Groovy" and there was someone, and something to watch every where you looked.

I spent my school years from kindergarten through high school on Douglas Island/ Juneau, Alaska and then traveled "south to the States" and college in Corvallis, Oregon after high school graduation in 1968. I remember well the intense and dynamic activism and social awareness many of us experienced during that time.

 My college classes included categories like "Black Lit" and "Poetry of War". It was a strange and intensely exciting new world filled with dynamic changes and my first experiences with social activism and loud protests in my once quiet college campus against 'the war'.

The "war" meant Vietnam and the topic of the 'draft' struck terror in all of our hearts. I'd just met my future husband, Larry Bilyeu, at Oregon State University and he'd already received his official U.S draft card. Classmates from our hometowns--mine in Juneau, Alaska, his from Stayton, Oregon were already looking at a rapidly changing world and uncertain futures.

"What's your number?" was just as common as "What's your sign?" Your number meant your draft number and could signal the end to your college career, your hopes for the future, or even the end of your life.

Our "sign" was always the peace sign, above all else. You saw it everywhere, on everything. It was what we all wanted and what we prayed and lit candles for. Just as much as we cared for our rights, for human rights and for rights to either 'choice or life', we also cared ardently about environmental issues.

It was during the mid 1960s that Congress passed the Wilderness Act, and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas asked, "Who speaks for the trees?" I remember reading in college Rachel Carsons, shocking bestseller Silent Spring (1962). I didn't read it 'just' to learn about environmental issues. It was assigned and mandatory classroom reading!

I remember how much it pained me to think of all of the environmental damage we were so unwittingly creating not only for ourselves, but our children and grandchildren for generations to come.

In was during the sixties, that Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, called for an environmental 'teach-in', or 'Earth Day' to be held on April 22, 1970. Over 20 million people responding to increasing interest in environmental issues, participated that year, alone.

Thursday April 22, is one of several recognized 'Earth Day's' and is celebrated by more than 500 million people and national governments in 175 countries. Senator Nelson, an avid environmental activist, may have taken a leading role in organizing that first celebration, but it is one that is taken up, on many levels, by many ages and groups, today.

Eco-Ball at Riverfront Park, Salem Oregon
A grassroots community advocated project

Seen as more of a 'grassroots' celebration by many, and even protested and disapproved of by others, it is still the the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a half billion people every year. Many cities extend the Earth Day celebration to an entire week, usually beginning on April 16th and ending on April 22nd.

The unofficial Earth Day flag is the photo taken by NASA and submitted by John McConnell.

But according to 'Flags of the World' it is this ecology flag created by cartoonist Ron Cobb, published on Oct. 25, 1969 that is the Ecology Flag.

It was patterned after the U.S. flag with 13 stripes in alternating green and white. Its canton is green with a yellow Theta symbol.

While originally sporting a symbol which combine an 'E' for environment and an 'O' for organism, it 'evolved' into the Greek alphabet letter for Theta. (Theta is historically used as a warning symbol.)

Whatever the symbol, the meaning or the intent, Earth Day remains a day of continued awareness, social and environmental responsibility and a continuing commitment to the stewardship of Earth as our home.

“This is for young and old who care about the Earth, its air, water, land and living things. We must change the attitudes and actions now destroying the Earth into those that will heal and build our planet.”

John McConnell, Speech (1974)

“Earth Day is Nature's Day. A day of drama, dreams and dedication to the restoration, renewal and improvement of Earth's natural beauty and bounty."

John McConnell, "Celebrate Earth Day" speech at United Nations (20 March 1991)


And now:

Past posts:

Bilyeu Homes Inc. Cottage Home Awarded LEED Platinum. First in the Pacific Northwest.

I wore and passed out my quickly made Earth Day eco-pins featuring a version of that eco-flag (made with felt with safety pins ) to family and friends. 

One person even walked up to with with an "Oh my gosh! I haven't seen one of those in years!" It made my day!

Michele Bilyeu Creates With Heart and Hands sharing an imaginative, magical, and healing journey from Alaska to Oregon. Creating, designing, sewing, quilting, and wildcrafting, from "my heart and with my hands"

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