Boomers Remember the First Earth Day

This “pause,” as the governor of New York has labelled our multiple-month home sheltering, has caused us to examine many things. One is, the fact that the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day was celebrated this past week without crowds of young people yelling at the Establishment to do something now, was sorely missed by Mister Boomer.

The anniversary reminded him of his Earth Day experience fifty years ago in April of 1970. Mister B has told the story before, how he and his sister made an Earth Day flag of green and white stripes with a Greek Theta symbol in the area that holds the stars on the national flag. It was something he saw somewhere, and wanted to copy the design, because the following day — Earth Day — he was to lead a bicycle parade for two miles to his high school. It worked well enough, suspended on the makeshift flagpole that he carried throughout the route.

Along the way, cars would honk at the parade of a few dozen teens on bikes, flag waving in the breeze, but it is still unclear to Mister B if they were honking in solidarity for this new national day of awareness or honking to get the group out of the way. Possibly a little of each.

Once the parade reached the high school, students, teachers and the principal were outside the school to greet them. Bikes away, students and teachers made their way into the awaiting classes. At 11 am, there was a scheduled school assembly outside in front of the building. Students filed out and sat on the grass to hear from some environmentally-minded science and art teachers. The principal came over and asked Mister B if he wanted to run his flag up the flagpole. The grommets he had hammered in the night before were perfect receptors for the clips of the flagpole. In a quick minute Mister B’s handmade Earth Day flag was waving under Old Glory.

It may seem a very liberal thing for a school to do back then, but history as well as personal memory tells us the mood of the country had changed since Rachel Carson’s publishing of Silent Spring in 1962. Living in an industrial city, every person in the school experienced air and water pollution on a daily basis, so it was a topic of great interest. At Mister B’s parochial school, the aims of the environmental movement were in direct harmony with religious teaching.

Here we are, now, in a situation that has made us stop and look out at what is happening on the other side of our windows. What is immediately evident is there are fewer cars on the roads, and many more birds chirping all through the day. Yet, despite awareness to the issue of pollution being raised for fifty years, the fact that reports indicate a thirty percent drop in nitrous dioxide pollution in the United States since the shelter-in-place orders were given a little more than a month ago, clearly show we have a long way to go to protect ourselves and our environment.

What memories do you have of the first Earth Day, boomers?

Boomers Had Their Own Ideas of Shelter and Hope

Boomers lived through a time when people hoped and prayed that the national collection of nuclear/air raid shelters, which were mostly housed in the basements of government buildings, would never be needed. As it turned out, nuclear war was avoided, but many of these shelters were used in subsequent storms and natural disasters. Today you’d be hard-pressed to find one still in existence. In addition, many boomers had family air raid shelters built in their basements and backyards.

Yet, even living through that time of worry and tension, nothing could prepare us for the current medical emergency that has been visited upon our world. Dylan sang about a woman offering “… shelter from the storm,” and the Rolling Stones pleaded, Gimme Shelter. What strikes Mister Boomer during this crisis, though, is not sheltering songs and predictions of the apocalypse, but rather the use of boomer-era music in a hopeful fashion.

In particular, Lean on Me, by Bill Withers, is being played and sung everywhere, by and for healthcare professionals and first responders. Ironically, Bill Withers passed away on March 30. That alone would have been reason enough to become reacquainted with his body of work, but this crisis has elevated Lean on Me to a point near anthem status.

There are reports of families playing and streaming boomer-era music in their shelter-at-home isolation for their kids and grandkids, passing on musical knowledge that, in Mister Boomer’s humble opinion, was the best the twentieth century had to offer.

There is another boomer-era song that has been repurposed for reasons far beyond what George Harrison might have envisioned. A hospital in New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in this country, has taken to playing a snippet of Here Comes the Sun over the PA system when patients at the hospital have recovered from their ailment and are being discharged. That one small act of referencing a ubiquitous boomer-era song sparks a ray of hope for exhausted and weary medical personnel throughout the hospital. It is a reminder to them that people are surviving, and their work is not in vain.

Mister Boomer certainly adds his voice to the chorus of those singing the praises of our healthcare and essential workers. But it is particularly gratifying to know that from a group now considered among the most vulnerable to this disease — boomers — comes musical bits of unity and hope.

There’s Got to Be a Morning After, boomers. We Can Work It Out.

What songs give you hope during these trying times, boomers?