April 22 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a significant worldwide holiday to celebrate our green-and-blue planet and take local actions in our community. The Greater West Side — Oak Park, Austin, and River Forest — had planned multiple celebrations to honor and celebrate this important milestone, and we are now encouraging all to participate in new ways — virtually and in the real world.

Like today, 50 years ago in 1970 we faced a time of crisis: rivers caught fire, iconic species were perishing, and air was unbreathable in some cities. Activists, students, scientists, and families came together in a clarion call for our Earth.

The results were palpable — establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air and Water acts, and the protection of endangered species. These bold actions helped protect the water, air, soil, and biodiversity that is essential to the health of our community. Environmental justice campaigns around the world made additional progress.

Today we have enormous challenges from a warming climate and rampant loss of animals and plants around the globe. Rising greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels have put our communities, critical infrastructure, and remarkable creatures of all kinds on the brink. Already we see the impacts of more extreme natural disasters, interruptions in seasons and food systems, and waves of desperate migration.

Despite our campaigns to address these challenges and observe Earth Day, we are in some ways paralyzed now. Sheltering in place, along with billions of others around the world, we cannot take to the streets as they did in 1970. We already have our fill of anxiety and horror at the fearful spread of the novel coronavirus and the terrible absence of a coherent national response. We see how this scourge — like environmental damage — disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color with devastating results. We experience how lack of leadership at the federal level aggravates our circumstances, as it has with climate change.

At the same time, we also see commitment and courage in our health-care workers and those essential workers who are keeping our food systems and other critical structures moving. Local leaders are making brave decisions to save lives even at real personal cost. Neighborhoods are finding spontaneous and creative ways to buoy spirits and help each other. And a rising crop of community organizers are taking effective action, inspired to do something powerful in the face of calamity.

These are the qualities we will need to weather the crisis of this pandemic. They are what will help us face our climate emergency and safeguard natural systems that support all life on our planet. COVID-19 has shown that our Greater West Side community has these qualities in abundance.

We ask you to take those sparks of resourcefulness and creativity and join us on Earth Day.

  • Place a blue and green Earth on your window, sidewalk, or porch.
  • Be inspired by a One Earth Film Fest/City of Chicago virtual film screening, bit.ly/OneEarthVirtualFilmFest2020.
  • Take part in other virtual events on the ChicagoEarthDay50.org calendar.
  • Connect with the solace of nature and the energy of the sustainability movement on social media with #EarthDay50 and #ChicagoNature.
  • Sign the Chicago Agreement on Climate and Community. bit.ly/ChicagoAgreement.
  • Pledge to take action yourself, and demand that our leaders do, too.

For now, we’ll thank you by waving to you at a distance. On the other side, together, we’ll take to the streets to celebrate our community, honor the Earth, and fight the looming challenges to come. With the sparks that we’ve seen in recent weeks, we have confidence that we can prevail.

Amy Rosenthal

Ana Garcia Doyle

Laura Derks

Cindy Gray Schneider

Dick Alton

Carmen Scott-Boria

The Greater West Side

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