Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Day: The One That Got Away

After the Ramparts book came out, I developed a list of high-profile ways that the magazine changed America, as per my subtitle. The best example is probably the Martin Luther King story; he came out against the Vietnam War for the first time after flipping through Ramparts at an airport. On the radio, you don't want to spend a lot of time on set-up or explanation, so that one's a keeper. Everyone gets it.

The one that got away was Earth Day. I didn't get this story into the book, but as Tim Redmond's piece reminds us, Senator Gaylord Nelson, a liberal Republican from Wisconsin, got the idea for a national teach-in on the environment after reading Ramparts on a flight from Santa Barbara to Oakland. The beaches of Santa Barbara had been soaked by a massive oil spill the year before, so the moment was right. The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970, and 20 million people participated.

The Ramparts editors couldn't quite accept the compliment. Their May 1970 cover showed the Isla Vista Bank of America in flames as a result of student anti-war protests. The caption declared that the incineration of the bank "may have done more for the environment than all the teach-ins put together." That one alienated even some longtime supporters.

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