The History of the Equinox Earth Day

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To fully understand the history of the Equinox Earth Day it is necessary to know something of the history of John McConnell, its founder.  John McConnell was born on March 22, 1915 in Davis City, Iowa.  He was long interested in religion, science and peace.  These interests resulted in a number of projects and personal campaigns to help relieve human suffering and attempt to promote the common good.  

McConnell pursued his dream of peace when he moved to California in 1959 and with Erling Toness, founded the “Mountain View.”  He also organized a successful San Francisco movement called “Meals for Millions.”  This 1962 campaign was started to feed thousands of refugees from Hong Kong.  In 1963 he started work on his “Minute for Peace” and continued to work on it for seven years.  

John McConnell’s became moved when he saw the first picture of Earth as seen from outer space and published in Life Magazine.  His concern for the environment began to grow in the late Sixties and early Seventies.  The Life Magazine picture became the symbol for the Earth Day flag which McConnell designed and created.  This flag is still part of the United Nations Earth Day Ceremony each spring equinox or March 20th.  

At the National UNESCO Conference in San Francisco in 1969, John McConnell proposed a holiday to celebrate the planet Earth to the City Board of Supervisors.  He intended his newly found Earth Day to inform all earthlings about the need for preserving and renewing the threatened biological balances on which hang her future.  

This proposal won strong support.  It was followed by an Earth Day Proclamation by the City of San Francisco.  This first proclamation was issued by San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto on March 21, 1970.    McConnell later rewrote the proclamation for worldwide use and to promote universal awareness. It spelled out the rights and responsibilities of Earth people to care for their planet.  It was signed by concerned world leaders such as U.N. Secretary General U. Thant, Margaret Mead, and John Gardner among others on  February 26, 1971.  Others have added their signatures since then to a current total of 39 including recent signatures of Yasir Arafat, Yehudi Menuhin and Cosmonaut Anatoli Berezevoi.  

Part of this worldwide proclamation read, “May there only be peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful Spaceship Earth as it continues to spin and circle in frigid space with its warm and fragile cargo of animals.”

The equinoctial Earth Day has been celebrated since then on the March equinox (around March 20th).  It makes note of the precise moment of astronomical mid-spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and of astronomical mid-autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.  An equinox in astronomy is the moment in time when the center of the Sun can be seen directly above the Earth’s equator.  This occurs around March 20th and September 23rd each year.  Equinoxes and solstices are considered to separate or start the seasons in most cultures.  

It is traditional to observe Earth Day at the moment of the equinox by ringing the Japanese Peace Bell, which was donated by Japan to the United Nations.  Celebrations occur worldwide to correspond with the one held at the U.N.  The Earth Society Foundation organizes the equinox Earth Day at the U.N.  

McConnell’s big project was the writing of “75 Theses on the Care of the Earth” in 1985 and two more were added in 1977.  These can be seen at his web site:   One can sign up there to pledge to be a trustee of the earth.


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