Local Earth Day Activism Needs to be Every Day
The magical Earth Day event at Zonolite Park organized by hosts Steph Johnson and Josh Wayne raised awareness about protecting the environment by focusing on the kind of activism we can do when we restore nature locally.
The original Earth Day in 1970 was before there were strong legal and regulatory mechanisms in place to protect our environment. It was founded as a national call to action on the environment with 20 million people across the U.S. participating in speeches, marches, community clean-ups, and teach-ins. Not coincidentally, by December of 1970 President Nixon signed Reorganization Plan No. 3 calling for the establishment of an Environmental Protection Agency. By 1972 the Clean Water Act was expanded. Earth Day has been credited with the birth of the environmental movement.
Today, even though there are still some rallies and demonstrations, Earth Day has become less about activism and more about education and raising awareness with celebrations. These are often crowded, high energy festivals with music, food, drink, educational activities, vendor booths, “green” environmental products, face painting, and other somewhat eco-friendly activities. Green Matters offers a thoughtful take on the idea that modern day Earth Day celebrations tend to greenwash and dilute the intent of the day. I think anything that gets the word out is helpful but would agree that nature selfies or Earth Day specials by companies selling random products certainly do little to move the needle toward protecting nature.
The future Earth Day founders worried about is now when it comes to saving the environment. There are 30% fewer birds and by some estimates 50% fewer insects since the first Earth Day in 1970. Today, the movement to restore nature where we live championed by Doug Tallamy is becoming mainstream. Doing something to help heal the earth seems like a more personal way to make a connection with the spirit of Earth Day everyday. National Geographic Kids shares ways families can contribute such as upcycling, planting a tree, limiting water usage, and picking up litter.
Steph and Josh seemed to get the right balance of raising awareness and actively repairing our world. Their intimate celebration included messaging around the collapse of our local ecosystems and focused on cultivating native habitats by taking action in our own community. A gentle, communal spirit infused the activities starting with a Storytelling walk through the park with Tea of EcoLogic who gave an insight into the interconnectedness of nature through captivating and lyrical stories about the native plants and wildlife in the Zonolite Woods. Mayapples, box turtles, jewelweed, butterweed, crayfish, muscadines, tulip poplars and river cane were all woven into compelling stories giving voice to our impact on the world and the reasons for restoring habitat.
The storytelling ended at a clearing in the woods where a tree fell, and the county unfortunately brought in heavy equipment and created a larger hole in the canopy. Last fall I wrote about Josh and Steph's purposeful Thanksgiving community event planting native edibles in this opening in the Zonolite woods. For Earth Day, Zonolite's restoration angel Pat helped the group identify and transplant native shallow sedge (Carex lurida), clustered mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), and cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) in this same spot. One of the participants even brought native paw paw saplings he grew from seed to contribute.
The group then moved on to Peachtree Creek that runs along the park. I’m not sure what happened there because I was a little under the weather and had to leave. I imagine they continued the nature-focused Earth Day journey as they grounded themselves to the earth by walking in the water and exploring the creek bed.
As I left the park I noticed a rare American queen bumblebee out foraging for food for her nest on blooming native yellow wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria). The Amercian bumblebee population has declined 90% in North America in the last 20 years yet it is still found in Georgia. There is a healthy population of American bumblebees at Zonolite where Earth Day is routinely honored by the Friends of Zonolite Park group and community volunteers like Steph and John who actively help restore nature where they live.
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