Earth Week Philadelphia
At Penn, the initiative for making Earth Day crystalized among graduate students from the department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning. In a meeting with other students discussing the issues of the day, Austan Librach, a graduate student at the time, found himself volunteering to spearhead the planning efforts for a series of events leading up to and on Earth Day. Librach chaired the Earth Week Committee, which organized a whole week of action at Penn and across Philadelphia, culminating at a massive gathering of close to 30,000 people at Fairmount Park on Earth Day itself.
The Committee summarized the motivation and sentiment that inspired the group as follows:
“Earth Day is the symbolic focus of all the energy generated by the Earth Week Committee. It is a public event which will attempt to activate ecological consciousness of the entire region, so that each individual may become aware of the interlocking web of life that controls the destiny of all creatures that share the thin film of the biosphere that surrounds Spaceship Earth. It is one of 900 such celebrations; part of a network of conscious events which will begin to transform life on our planet. – a beginning for those who share in it of an awareness of their common destiny; the return of the planet to a mode of life that is positive for all. In essence, an affirmation of that tiny spark of life deep within that links each to all. An awareness that we are all one. Here. Now.”
Hot and Lukewarm
In the years leading up to Earth Week, students around the country had begun to hold accountable those in charge of politics and major institutions. Protests against the war in Vietnam, for civil rights, for social justice, and for women’s rights were common occurrences around college campuses and so at Penn. Students recognized protests and teach-ins as effective means to communicate the problems of the day.
Even though environmental activists and the Earth Day movement itself were decidedly less radical than some of their contemporaries, the University of Pennsylvania preferred to keep its distance. The university seemed unconvinced by environmentalists’ goal of celebrating the earth’s natural beauties as a means of unifying the country behind a common cause. “The goal of Earth Week” claimed Ed Furia (Philadelphia’s Earth Week supervisor) “is ‘to motivate people in the Philadelphia area to improve the quality of their environment, through dissemination of information and through public affirmation of their commitment to survival.”
When Senator Nelson proposed the idea for Earth Day, it was students at Penn that rose to the challenge of creating a city wide event. Students and some faculty were ready to fight for a cleaner environment, but the university administration was decidedly less interested in fighting. They were hesitant to demonstrate their commitment to nature. That hesitation is seen most clearly in the carefully calibrated, and evasive responses to students who demanded the university take a stance. Alumni Jefferson Fordham, wrote to the Penn President Gaylord Harnwell, expressing his disappointment that no official teach-in was being planned by the university. In a response, both the Dean of the Law School and President Harnwell explained that they favored research on environmental issues over public events like a teach-in. Eventually, however, the university shifted its course and allowed several of the Earth Week events to take place on Penn’s campus.
Upon closer examination, it appears that many were exhausted by the 1960s unrelenting political activism and as a result, hesitant to engage in activism. Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly) universities remained suspicious of supporting the cause of Earth Day organizers whole-heartedly. The University of Pennsylvania walked a very tightrope. They simultaneously offered their students room to practice activism but were wary of implementing fundamental change within the school. Consequently, students charged ahead at the behest of many, and sought to make a real difference.
Students, alumnae, and activists continued to harass the administration for their support. In almost all cases, the University replied with compassion, but still remained reluctant to participate. Regardless of the administration’s stance, many faculty members lent student activists their support. Teachers from a diverse array of departments like Fine Arts, Biology, Engineering and more offered their help in any way they could.
By late March, Earth Week organizers had finalized the week’s schedule. Lectures, speaking series, art exhibits and so much more were on the schedule. The only problem: they needed a place to host those events. This is where the University stepped in to help:
Funding for Earth Week
Obviously, the Earth Week Committee needed money. Austan Librach was able to get the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning School to help raising money. Professor Ann Strong was able to facilitated contact with nonprofit city planning organization that contributed $2500. From this initial contribution, the funding of the week began to stray away from the Penn and towards a large city-wide effort. With the money acquired from the nonprofit, Austin was able to hire a team, which included the director of the project Edward Furia.
At the offset of the project, the committee hoped to bring awareness to problems both nationally and locally. They worked to try to find the largest polluters in the city and hoped to hold them accountable for their actions. Though this was the case, it seems as if things shifted when they began to look for larger amounts of money to help continue their efforts.
Ed Furia began to communicate with Philadelphia Gas Works as a potential sponsor for the weeks events, who expressed their commitment to clean air, by pitching natural gasses as a clean alternative to the coal and oil burning. Furia knew the Chief Marketing Manager and was able to set up a meeting between him and General Manager of Philadelphia Gas Works, Charlie Simpon. Charlie agreed to help fund the Earth Week and Furia returned with a check of $10,000. The deal was viewed as mutually beneficial because it promoted Philadelphia Gas Work clean energy alternatives, and the committee would be able to continue its efforts.
Now with more serious money, the Committee began to identify in the region, relying on the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Health, which refused to release that information to the Earth Week Committee, arguing the information was classified as a trade secret.
However, many of said polluters were working with the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce to run a counterattack against Earth Week. In a risky gamble, Austan Librach, Ed Furia and Ira Einhorn exploded a Chamber of Commerce meeting, that prompted the University to distance itself publicly from the alleged profanity hurled at the Chamber’s members by Ira Einhorn.
The Committee threatened to publish information about local companies and their contribution to pollution and argued that such a fall out that would result from an anti-environmentalist campaign would hurt polluters more than their Earth Week organizers. Instead, the Committee suggested companies could spend the money on endorsing Earth Week and in return they would be granted a seat on the committee and their contributions to Earth Week would be noted.
Several days after the proposition was made, the Committee received a phone call from the Chamber of Commerce pledging $30,000 in support of Earth Week. Moreover, companies agreed to release their polluting records. From there, the committee was able to plan, advertise and attract large amounts of attention in the time leading up to Earth week.
Student Reactions to Corporate Funding
Penn students were quick to question the Committee’s loyalty and commitment to the environment. They worried that financial dependence on corporations would affect participation and tarnish the message of the day. And it was clear, as one student noted, that some of the planning reflected corporate interests. Initially, the Committee had discussed a march towards the city’s refinery but after the refinery contributed funding to Earth Week said march fell by the wayside.
As Walter Cronkite explained in his coverage of Earth Day, it appeared that once checks from the polluting companies were cashed, the Committee called off all marches and demonstrations against local polluters. Not surprisingly, the records reviewed reveal no mention of such a bargain.
In the week leading up to the main events on April 22, a series of teach-ins were held all over the greater Philadelphia region. They took place at various universities and colleges including University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College, Temple University, Drexel University, Bryn Mawr College and Villanova University. Speakers elaborated on environmental issues and encouraged the public to further their understanding of environmental problems. The Committee had lined up some high profile speakers. Ralph Nader explained eco-tactics and Dr. Paul Ehrlich expounded on the dangers of overpopulation.
Declaration of Interdependence
At 1:30pm on April 21, the day before the main event, a large crowd of more than 7,000 people gathered in front of Independence Hall to witness the signing of the Declaration of Interdependence, a document that took its wording from the Declaration of Independence. In this version, the document stressed the need for humans to hold each other accountable for their actions and to end the widespread denial of our harmful involvement with nature. It further urged a return to a more symbiotic relationship between humans and their environments. The document was read by Ian McHarg, professor and chair of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania and subsequently was signed by several people including keynote speaker Ralph Nader, Senator Hugh Scott, and member of Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Thacher Longstreth. The cast of Hair sang “Air”.
The Grand Finale: Fairmount Park
In Philadelphia, the main event was a massive festival at Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park. A crowd of about 10,000 marching the 3 miles from the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum to a portion of Fairmount park, swelling to somewhere between 25,000-30,000 people over the course of the day. People listened to politicians, intellectuals, academics, activists, rock bands, and poets who collectively exposed the prevailing environmental problems that faced the country. Speakers like Councilman David Cohen and others connected the issues of the day like racism, war and environmental degradation together and urged the young people in the crowd to speak up and use their voice to make a change. Cohen viewed all of the subjects as linked problems and urged those in the crowd to view them together as opposed to separate problems. Senator Muskie called for President Nixon to take action.
Muskie questioned whether the $10 billion set aside for the environment was adequate, demanding that the government instead commit $25 billion to start the process. Muskie directly addressed youths and encouraged them to hold elected officials accountable. The Senator exclaimed “A total strategy is the only way to achieve an environmental revolution.” Such a strategy would entail voting people into office who were committed to upholding environmental standards and committing purchasing only from companies that were environmentally friendly.
While the topics were gloomy, the day was a celebration. There was a sense of hope and purpose that was captured by Allen Ginsberg concluded the ceremony around 7pm, reading poetry in the light of a candle.
According to articles and first-hand accounts, Earth week was a huge success. It garnered wide support and was lauded by the University and press. Ultimately, however, its tangible success was lost on many. The week undoubtedly celebrated earth and raised awareness through education, but its tangible outcomes were less apparent. Unlike the civil rights movement, which worked towards civil justice reform like the 1968 Civil Rights Act, or the Anti-war protests which sought an end to the draft and the war- earth week focused on awareness. That awareness, however, likely sparked student’s interest in environmental activism and helped to encourage reform. Nonetheless though, it is hard to pinpoint the exact outcomes that it produced.
Around the country
Around the country, members of the public heeded the call for action According to news reports, 2,000 colleges, 10,000 schools, and 2,000 communities participated in the events, drawing a crowd of roughly 2 million participants. As Walter Cronkite noted, the majority of Earth Day practitioners were young, white and middle class individuals.
Lehmkuhl, Vance. “Earth Week 1970: A Shift in the Wind (Updated).” Https://Www.inquirer.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 21 Apr. 2010, www.inquirer.com/philly/blogs/earth-to-philly/Earth_Week_1970_A_shift_in_the_wind.html.
Furia, Edward. “Exquisite Irony: The Funding of Earth Week.” Earth Week The History of the First Earth Day and the 1970 Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia Official Site, earthweek1970.org/history/funding-earth-week/.
“CBS News Special Report On Earth Day.” 22 Apr. 1970.
April 22, 1970 (page 13 of 84). (1970, Apr 22). Courier – Post (1950-2010) Retrieved from https://proxy.library.upenn.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy.library.upenn.edu/docview/1917900890?accountid=14707
Gillan, Beth, and James C Young. “30,000 Mark Earth Day At Fairmount Park Rally.” The Philadelphia Inquirer , 23 Apr. 1970, pp. 1–5.
Rome, Adam. The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation, Macmillan, 2013, pp. 111–115.