You could write it off to pareidolia, once. Like faces in clouds, some people claimed to see a link. The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, coincided with Lenin’s birthday. There was no link — Earth Day was scheduled for a spring Wednesday. Now, years later, with almost-annual repeats of the claim from the braying right wing, it’s just a cruel hoax.
No, there’s no link between Earth Day and the birthday of V. I. Lenin:
One surefire way to tell an Earth Day post is done by an Earth Day denialist: They’ll note that the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, was an anniversary of the birth of Lenin.
Coincidentally, yes, Lenin was born on April 22 (new style calendar; it was April 10 on the calendar when he was born — but that’s a digression for another day).
It’s a hoax. There is no meaning to the first Earth Day’s falling on Lenin’s birthday — Lenin was not prescient enough to plan his birthday to fall in the middle of Earth Week, a hundred years before Earth Week was even planned.
About.com explains why the idea of a link between Earth Day and Lenin is silly:
Does Earth Day Promote Communism?
Earth Day 1970 was initially conceived as a teach-in, modeled on the teach-ins used successfully by Vietnam War protesters to spread their message and generate support on U.S. college campuses. It is generally believed that April 22 was chosen for Earth Day because it was a Wednesday that fell between spring break and final exams—a day when a majority of college students would be able to participate.
U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the guy who dreamed up the nationwide teach-in that became Earth Day, once tried to put the whole “Earth Day as communist plot” idea into perspective.
“On any given day, a lot of both good and bad people were born,” Nelson said. “A person many consider the world’s first environmentalist, Saint Francis of Assisi, was born on April 22. So was Queen Isabella. More importantly, so was my Aunt Tillie.”
April 22 is also the birthday of J. Sterling Morton, the Nebraska newspaper editor who founded Arbor Day (a national holiday devoted to planting trees) on April 22, 1872, when Lenin was still in diapers. Maybe April 22 was chosen to honor Morton and nobody knew. Maybe environmentalists were trying to send a subliminal message to the national subconscious that would transform people into tree-planting zombies. One birthday “plot” seems just about as likely as the other. What’s the chance that one person in a thousand could tell you when either of these guys were born.
My guess is that only a few really wacko conservatives know that April 22 is Lenin’s birthday (was it ever celebrated in the Soviet Union?). No one else bothers to think about it, or say anything about it, nor especially, to celebrate it.
Inventor of Earth Day teach-ins, former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson
Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, usually recognized as the founder and father of Earth Day, told how and why the organizers came to pick April 22:
Senator Nelson chose the date in order to maximize participation on college campuses for what he conceived as an “environmental teach-in.” He determined the week of April 19–25 was the best bet; it did not fall during exams or spring breaks, did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other mid-week events—so he chose Wednesday, April 22.
In his own words, Nelson spoke of what he was trying to do:
After President Kennedy’s [conservation] tour, I still hoped for some idea that would thrust the environment into the political mainstream. Six years would pass before the idea that became Earth Day occurred to me while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969. At the time, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called “teach-ins,” had spread to college campuses all across the nation. Suddenly, the idea occurred to me – why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?
I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try.
At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air – and they did so with spectacular exuberance. For the next four months, two members of my Senate staff, Linda Billings and John Heritage, managed Earth Day affairs out of my Senate office.
Five months before Earth Day, on Sunday, November 30, 1969, The New York Times carried a lengthy article by Gladwin Hill reporting on the astonishing proliferation of environmental events:
“Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam…a national day of observance of environmental problems…is being planned for next spring…when a nationwide environmental ‘teach-in’…coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned….”
Nelson, a veteran of the U.S. armed services (Okinawa campaign), flag-waving ex-governor of Wisconsin (Sen. Joe McCarthy’s home state, but also the home of Aldo Leopold and birthplace of John Muir), was working to raise America’s consciousness and conscience about environmental issues.
Lenin on the environment? Think of the Aral Sea disaster, the horrible pollution from Soviet mines and mills, and the dreadful record of the Soviet Union on protecting any resource. Lenin believed in exploiting resources, not conservation.
So, why are all these conservative denialists claiming, against history and politics, that Lenin’s birthday has anything to do with Earth Day?
Can you say “propaganda?” Can you say “political smear?”
2013 Resources and Good News:
Good information for 2012:
- Earth Day Network
- “President Obama issues Green Schools Proclamation”
- US EPA Earth Day page
- Nature Conservancy site on Earth Day
- Today is Earth Day! Let’s all celebrate it! (yabbedoo.wordpress.com)
- Earth Day (goodolewoody.wordpress.com)
- Earth Day! (holyfamilysisters.org)
- 10 Apps to Help You Go Green for Earth Day and Beyond (mashable.com)
- Earth Day Facts: When It Is, How It Began, What to Do (news.nationalgeographic.com)
- About.com, “Is Earth Day a communist plot?”; “U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the guy who dreamed up the nationwide teach-in that became Earth Day, once tried to put the whole “Earth Day as communist plot” idea into perspective.”On any given day, a lot of both good and bad people were born,” Nelson said. “A person many consider the world’s first environmentalist, Saint Francis of Assisi, was born on April 22. So was Queen Isabella. More importantly, so was my Aunt Tillie.”
Good information from 2011:
Good information from 2010:
2013 Wall of Shame:
Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2012:
Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2011:
Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2010:
- David Zeimer, writing in The Wisconsin Law Journal (This guy is particularly nutty. He notes the successes of cleaning up the air and water in and around Milwaukee, and then claims that clean air and water are false goals. Nuts.)
- Orange County Register comments (of course)
- Inaptly named (propaganda doublespeak?) American Thinker (Sussman runs with an odd crowd; and why does his friend always shout “Lenin’s birthday!” at Sussman’s speeches? Who needs a friend like that?)
- One of the ways you know Earth Day is innocently timed is that the FBI investigated it; in 1970, the FBI investigated hippies, but not organized crime. Go figure.
- Capitalism Magazine announces they have fired all of their fact checkers
- Front Page pushes the Lenin hoax
- Careful Thought blog abandons its name
- Tarpon’s Swamp just scrambles history and current issues inexplicably
- Don Surber may be as nutty as Zeimer, above — he notes words of concern from 1970, then dismisses the progress that resulted because people worked to change things; clean air is bad, to him, I guess
- Free Republic, never concerned with clashing facts, or facts at all, gets things exactly wrong
- Lubos Motl, a man not known for getting any facts straight, joins in the hoax at the Reference Frame (and don’t pretend Motl doesn’t know it’s a hoax)
- Making the case that economics should be left to professionals, the Amateur Economist pulls out a laundry list of hoaxes
Spread the word. Have you found someone spreading the hoax, claiming Earth Day honors Lenin instead? Give us the link in comments.