A crowd of people gather near a large poster that shows a speach bubble from planet Earth that reads 'Help!!', on the occaision of the first Earth Day conservation awareness celebration, New York, New York, April 22, 1970.
Earth Day began as the brainchild of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, who tied the teach-in concept used by contemporary Vietnam War protesters to the environmentalist movement. After proposing the idea of a nationwide environmental teach-in in September 1969, Nelson formed the nonprofit Environmental Action, Inc. to act as a planning group for the big event, set for April 22, 1970. He hired law student Denis Hayes to organize Earth Day on the national level. In turn, local groups handled the logistics for regional events. One such group was the Environmental Action Coalition of New York, formed to coordinate New York City’s Earth Day events and maintained afterward as a locus for environmental awareness and activism. The New York Public Library holds the records of the Environmental Action Coalition, as well as the papers of its first president Harry R. Marshall, in its Manuscripts and Archives Division. These archival collections include press releases, news clippings, administrative files, posters, and other ephemera, which offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the workings of this special interest group and the inaugural Earth Day celebration.
Both the planning and response to Earth Day reflected the push-and-pull between moderate and more radical interests of the time. While Senator Nelson was inspired by Vietnam protest tactics, he was quick to distinguish Earth Day as an educational, non-partisan, and non-radical occasion in order to capture a broad base of support. However, the core of the environmental movement at that time was strongly connected to other liberal causes. These individuals, including Denis Hayes, were heavily involved with Earth Day’s execution and were interested in a more politicized agenda. Thus, while Environmental Action, Inc. was a registered nonprofit prohibited from partisan action, Hayes quickly created the Environmental Action Foundation to handle such activities. After April, Environmental Action, Inc. dropped its tax-free educational status so that it, too, could engage in lobbying and similar pursuits.