Earth Day, the eco-holiday celebrated around the world on April 22, was pioneered by a U.S. senator from Wisconsin — Democrat Gaylord Nelson.
Nelson, who died in 2005, had wanted to turn attention in the United States to the environment. And so, he pushed for an annual observance to encourage the people on the planet to protect species and spaces by recycling, reusing and, perhaps most importantly, reducing.
In 1970, when the first Earth Day took place, Americans burned leaded gas in massive V8 engines. Factories belched smoke and sludge. Air pollution signaled prosperity. But, with the work of politicians such as Nelson, scientists such as Rachel Carson and a growing network of activists, there was an emerging consciousness about caring for the environment.
Nelson, looking back, would one day say that Earth Day organized itself. An estimated 20 million people participated in that first Earth Day.
This year, at least a billion people are expected to get involved in events and activities planned at local, national and international levels.
A march and rally are set for the weekend after Earth Day, with thousands expected to gather on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Beyond the beltway in the U.S., organizations were scheduling rallies, marches, lectures, community cleanups, recycling drives, environmental fairs, repurposed art shows and documentary screenings.
The Global Climate Convergence for People, Planet and Peace over Profits is a national campaign that unites social, economic and environmental justice movements for coordinated actions and education — from Earth Day to May Day and beyond. The convergence has coalitions working in more than 40 U.S. cities, including Madison.
Related events include:
• On April 17, at 6 p.m., At the River I Stand, Goodman Public Library, 2222 S. Park St., Madison, screening and discussion of the documentary about the two months before Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and King’s role in labor struggles. Information: 608-262-2112.
• On April 19, from 2 p.m.-1 a.m., Mind Your Mother: Celebrate Earth Day! Mining Alternatives Teach-In, Fundraiser & Live Music Bash, at the Evolution Arts Collective Warehouse Space, 202 South Dickinson St., Madison. There will be anti-mining workshops, a potluck dinner, storytelling, music, door prizes and an auction. Proceeds will benefit the Bad River Legal Defense Fund and Anti-Frac Sand Mining Efforts.
• On April 21, at noon, Peace Vigil: Environmental Impacts of War, the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Doty Street in front of the post office in Madison. The Madison Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom will feature information about the Environmental Impacts of War.
• April 21, 7 p.m., Water Is Life! Puppet Show and Thistle and Thorns, UW-Madison Memorial Union, evening of folk art and education about frac sands and iron mining in northern Wisconsin hosted by the Madison Infoshop and Madison Action for Mining Alternatives. Information: 608-262-9036.
• On April 22, at 5:30 p.m., the Earth Day March and Rally—Protect our Water – Reject the Mines and Pipelines!, departing from Monona Terrace in Madison. Plans include a march from Monona Terrace to the library mall, a 6:15 p.m. rally at the mall with speakers from 350 Madison, the Madison Action for Mining Alternatives and NoKXL Pledge of Resistance. Also: Call for Peace Drum and Dance Company.
• On April 22, 7 p.m., Rock Bottom in the Age of Extreme Resource Extraction, UW-Madison Memorial Union, Beehive Arts and Design Collective performance about fracking, mining and tar sands.
• On April 23, 7 p.m., Economic Democracy panel discussion, Madison Central Library, 201 W. Mifflin St., involving Dane County TimeBank, Wisconsin Wave and others.
• On April 24, noon, Fossil Free UW Banner Drop, UW campuses around the state, with Fossil Free UW dropping banners calling for divestment from fossil fuel companies.
• On April 24, 5 p.m., The People’s Speakout at Veterans Plaza/30 on the Square in Madison. There will be speeches, live music, spoken word. The event is being hosted by the IWW Social Action and Solidarity Committee. For more information, call 442-8399 or 815-685-8567.
• On April 24, 7 p.m., a screening of Bidder 70, at 122 State St., Room 200, Madison. The film is about climate justice activist Tim DeChristopher, who served two years in federal prison for taking direct action in 2008 at a BLM auction to stop oil and gas drilling on thousands of acres of public land in Utah.
• On April 26, the March and Rally for People, Peace and Planet Over Profit, noon, library mall in Madison. The Global Climate Convergence coalition marches through Madison to the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, where there will be a rally.
• On March 26, the Sustainable Saturday Night! Family-friendly Potluck, Sustainability Tribute to Pete Seeger, 6 p.m., James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 2146 E. Johnson St., Madison. There will be a community potluck dinner and a sing-along celebrating singer.
• On April 27, from 1-5 p.m., Earth Day for Peace and Justice, Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability, 2299 Spring Rose Road, west of Verona.
• On April 28, 11 a.m., at the state Capitol, Workers’ Memorial Day, an annual event to remember those who lost their lives on the job.
• On May 1, 3:30 p.m., Brittingham Park in Madison, May Day International Workers Day March and Rally. There will be a march and rally for immigration justice, workers’ rights and a living wage for all. Demonstrators will gather at the park and march to the state Capitol.
• On May 1, 6 p.m., May Day Celebration, Wil-Mar Center, 953 Jenifer St., Madison. An evening of food, music and speakers.
• On May 3, noon, civil disobedience training for Keystone XL pipeline protests.
• On May 3, 9 p.m., May Day celebration, Bandung Indonesian Restaurant, 600 Williamson St., Madison. There will be a Mideast by Midwest performance and celebration of workers’ rights.
Other Earth Day events…
• On April 12, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., the Wisconsin Green Party holds its spring gathering at the Ambrosia Cooperative, 225 E. Lakelawn Place, Madison. The Global Climate Convergence will participate. And Green Party candidates will talk about their issues. For more, go the Wisconsin Green Party.
• On April 19, from about 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at John Muir Memorial Park in Montello, there will be a celebration of Muir’s birthday and the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Organizers include the Sierra Club, the Wisconsin Friends of John Muir, the Ice Age Trail Alliance, Marquette County Healthy Communities.
• On April 19, the city of Madison sponsors the Earth Day Challenge, with cleanups planned at many parks. For more, call Anne Whisner at the city of Madison at 608-267-4919 or email
• On April 19, Friends of Wisconsin State Parks sponsors a Work Play Earth Day campaign, with activities at many state parks. Volunteers will plant trees and shrubs, install benches, remove invasive plants, stain picnic tables and help with other improvements. Activities also will take place on April 26 and May 3.
• On April 19, the Race Against Extinction fundraiser gets run in Madison to draw attention to environmental issues and bring people outdoors. Runners begin at Vilas Park. Registration is at theraceagainstextinction.org.
• On April 22, the Nelson Institute Earth Day Conference — Earth: To Be Determined — takes place at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison. Registration is underway. Actress and activist Rosario Dawson, sci-fi author China Nieville and ecologists Erle Ellis and Kevin Noon will be featured.
• On April 22, Milwaukee’s Office of Sustainability and Rock the Green hold the third annual Earth Day Celebration with an appearance by Mayor Tom Barrett, a performance by Vic and Gab and a caravan of food trucks. The event takes place 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the City Center, 735 N. Water St., Milwaukee. For more, email
• On April 26, the Milwau Environmental Consortium holds an Earth Day project at Washington Park, 1859 N. 40th St., Milwaukee. Hours are 8 a.m.-1 p.m. The Student Conservation Association at the Urban Ecology Center at Washington Park will complete service projects. For more, email August Ball at or call 414-322-8482.
Read about Gaylord Nelson and the history of Earth Day — and progressive politics in Wisconsin — here.
Have an Earth Day activity or campaign to share? Email . We also welcome announcements of ongoing environmental activities.