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Saturday, April 22, is Earth Day, and I can’t think of a better way to honor this day than rally with our friends and neighbors in Madison’s Climate March. Earth Day has been celebrated on April 22 since 1970.

A brief look at its history illustrates how important it was to establish such a day. In October 1969, John McConnell, an American peace activist, was the first to publicly suggest holding a special day to honor our planet and strive toward peace. Earlier that year on Jan. 28, an explosion on a Union Oil drill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, sent 1,000 gallons of crude oil per hour spilling into the ocean for an entire month. The oil spill eventually amounted to about 3 million gallons of crude oil polluting the ocean and killing area wildlife, and all because the Union Oil company did not want to take the appropriate safety precautions.

The Santa Barbara oil spill was not the only environmental disaster to happen in the United States that year. On June 22, the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Ohio. Yes, you read that correctly. The river caught fire. The Cuyahoga feeds into Lake Erie and it had burned 13 times before, since 1868. Debris in the river was typically soaked in oil and the fire started with sparks spewing from an oncoming train.

This particular fire was not as destructive as the previous fires on the river had been, but something clearly needed to be done to protect our nation and its people from industrial hazardous waste. On Jan. 1, 1970, during the Nixon administration, the United States Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act, which paved the way for establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson founded the first Earth Day later that year to raise awareness of environmental concerns throughout the country. Wisconsin already had a proud history of natural resource conservation from activist leaders like John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Sigurd Olson. Our senator wanted to educate others about air and water pollution, and the importance of preserving our natural resources for future generations. He envisioned “teach-ins” to occur around the country, borrowing educational strategies from peace activists and women’s movement consciousness-raising groups.

Millions of people throughout the country celebrated the first Earth Day. Among them were thousands of Wisconsin high school and college students who participated by riding their bikes to school, picking up trash around their campuses, and leading discussions about the need for natural resource conservation.

Nearly 50 years later, we find ourselves having to fight to preserve the very foundations of our environmental protections. On April 22, we have the opportunity to gather together, stand up, and say to state and local leaders, “Enough!”

You are all invited to meet at 2 p.m. on the King Street side of the Capitol building for the Madison Climate March. Environmentalists, faith communities, labor unions and others will speak from their common sense of purpose.

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The march will proceed to the MG&E power plant on Blount Street. MG&E was chosen as a focal point of the rally because it is one of Dane County’s leading contributors to climate change. Eighty-eight percent of the electricity it provides comes from fossil fuels. Sixty-eight percent of that comes from use of coal, and 20 percent from natural gas. MG&E has the potential to step up and become a clean energy leader. It could provide good, sustainable jobs, and be a role model for other power plants.

The Madison Climate March is a sister march to the People’s Climate March, which will be held on April 29 in our nation’s capital. That date marks the end of the first 100 days of the Trump administration. For more information, please visit 350Madison.org.

Susan Amber Johnson is a member of 350Madison.

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