Fifty years ago the first Earth Day brought 20 million Americans—one out of every 10 citizens—into the streets on April 22, 1970, as a call to action against the country's rapidly deteriorating environment. It was the largest single day of political action in U.S. history, and led to extensive federal actions, from the establishment of the EPA to the passage of the Endangered Species, National Environmental Policy, Clean Air and Clean Water acts.
For this year's 50th anniversary, organizers had sweeping plans to bring millions more into the streets to further galvanize a growing movement dedicated to confronting climate change and furthering environmental protections.
But then the coronavirus epidemic spread across the globe, rendering public rallies and demonstrations impossible. Organizers of the event decided to shift their ambitious plans entirely online, and Earth Day Live was born.
"We knew we wanted to kind of reimagine what a social movement could look like in this digital first era," said Dillon Bernard, communications director for Future Coalition.
Earth Day Live was organized by the U.S. Climate Strike Coalition, the Stop the Money Pipeline Coalition and more than 500 partner organizations. The event, which took place on laptops, tablets and phones across the country, was spread over three days, with each day focused on a particular theme. Wednesday, April 22 was "Strike," featuring voices from indigenous communities around the country demanding climate action. That day also featured a livestream aired by the Earth Day Network, which highlighted international issues with speakers from around the globe. Thursday, April 23, focused on the financial industry and featured calls to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Friday, April 24, was "Vote," designed around political action and registering young people to vote in the elections later this year.
The 72-hour event showcased not only youth climate activists but celebrities, artists, politicians and more. Panels ranged from representation of frontline communities to reimagining a Green New Deal in light of Covid-19. Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd, sang the John Prine song "Paradise," and actor Mark Ruffalo interviewed the youth activist Vic Barrett about climate justice.
In many ways, the three days mirrored the type of content a typical, on-the-street rally would have. "We wanted to do something that still allowed people to have this idea that they're still striking together, even though they're sitting in their own rooms, their own houses," said Shiv Soin, Executive Director of Treeage and a member of the U.S. Climate Strike Coalition. "So we put this together to really reduce the social distancing that we're feeling, even though we can't really reduce the physical distancing."
According to the Future Coalition, the event drew more than 2.75 million viewers.
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