The First Earth Day, 1970

A story by Jean McGavin



Earth Day, 1970 April 22, 1970 was the first Earth Day. Festivities and protests were planned across the country, Washington, D.C. set as the primary location. Significant events including concerts were held on the Mall. I lived in Arlington, Virginia, just a short drive into Washington, D.C. and was in my junior year of high school. A large group of students decided to cut school and ride our bicycles into the city to participate in the demonstrations. Most of us assumed our parents would not give us permission to go and so we planned on our own to skip school for the event. Washington was awash in demonstrations, marches and riots - much of this striking fear in our parents. Even though demonstrations had come to seem part of our new normal, this was the first I would attend. I told my parents, and I think the other kids did the same, that I was riding my bike to school to celebrate Earth Day. I did not tell them that I was planning to ride my bike on into the city. We met at school and then took off to Washington. We rode down Yorktown Boulevard and then headed out across Chain Bridge and onto the C & O Canal Tow Path. We were a serious group. This was not a group of stoner delinquent kids. We weren’t out drinking every weekend, or stealing cars or cheating on tests. These were the smart kids, the egghead hippies, the school newspaper editors and student government types, the kids who went on to Stamford or Amherst or Wellesley. We were sincere and thoughtful and though we might have smoked a little pot here and there, we were going to this demonstration because we wanted to participate in changing the world. We rode our bikes along the tow path singing. All You Need Is Love is the one song I clearly remember singing. We were sincere and eager and fresh-faced and we were heading to Washington to change the world. We spent the day changing the world, getting sunburnt, listening to music and having an adventure completely unsanctioned by our parents, not just unsanctioned but I had lied to my parents and they had smiled and waved goodbye to their daughter as she headed off to school on her bicycle. Keep in mind, I was always late for school, always missed the bus, but here I was eagerly getting to school on time and eagerly getting there on my own. This was a drastic misrepresentation of my intentions. My parents were probably thinking that I had really turned a corner, become active and involved and ready to fully participate in school. Because, prior to that I was really not one of those kids. I was one of those kids who kind of went through high school without a lot of commitment and so when my parents found out that I had actually skipped school, and rode my bike to the Earth Day demonstration downtown, they were probably not just angry that I had lied, but angry that I was not going to become a great serious student like my oldest brother. But, what really angered my father was that I had lied. He asked me that night where I was going on my bike that morning. He had been driving to work at the hospital and to get to the hospital from home he had to drive right past the group of us on our way into D.C. So, I lied again and after which he told me he saw me going away from school. He had given me an opportunity to hang myself and I took it - further proving that I was not going to become the serious student, on time for school or getting on the bus so I didn’t have to have him drive me to school on his way to work. The next day at school, we were all called into the principal’s office. There were so many of us we had to sit in a large conference room that I had never seen before. We sat around a large table and the principal and some teachers who were there to shame us about our truancy and to tell us what a serious infraction we had committed. We were told that we were to be given zeros in all of our classes for the day that we had missed and that we would be suspended for one day. Because these were all, all except perhaps me, great students who were the student government leaders, newspaper and yearbook editors and writers, and all heading off to excellent colleges, this punishment was more a badge of courage. We made lots of jokes abut our permanent records and it is likely that owing to the political leanings of most of our teachers, none of them gave us any zeros for Earth Day. Today, kids in school are encouraged or even required to participate in Earth Day events and penalized if they do not.

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 climate change,environmental movement,high school,marches,protests
  Washington, D.C.
Apr 22 1970


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