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ENACT Activists

Hear from the ENACT Activist as they reflect on their March 1970 Teach-In.
<v ->I am Elizabeth Kingwill</v> and I live in Jackson, Wyoming. I went to the University of Michigan. A long time ago. About 50 years. And I have an undergraduate degree in American Studies, and a Master’s degree in Environmental Education and Resource Management. And I went on and got two more. One undergraduate, one a graduate degree in Psychology. <v ->I’m George Coling.</v> I am now 72 years old and retired and living in western Mass. I was a student, a grad student in school at Public Health, enrolled in the fall of ‘69. I became involved with Enact and specifically organizing the activities of students and faculty of the school.
<v ->Well my name is Art Hanson.</v> I’m Canadian. I went to the University of Michigan. I completed a PHD in the field of Fisheries Ecology. And basically one of the things that I did during that time period was to be one of the co-founders of both Enact and the teaching on the environment. <v ->In Enact, I was a first year graduate student.</v> Really new, and I was in a school of Natural Resources, which was primarily men. I think a young, I was told 1970, this is when I came, 1969 was the first time they really had any women around.
I was in my first semester and I began to hear about this teaching on the environment, and I was interested and I was just doing my coursework, kind of listening, and the PHD student who was supposed to do outreach, into the wider community, was not doing anything, because his major professor didn’t approve and thought he should be paying attention to his coursework, and so since I had been complaining that no one was doing this, I got asked to take it over. <v ->The atmosphere on campus,</v> I should say, a scientist, that was my ideal to be a scientist, and that’s what I became. But this idea of activism was quite new to me.
I’ve gotta say, it sits on a personal level. But it was activism in the whole society at that point in time, and particularly in University class, in University grounds. And one aspect of the course was the war in Vietnam. <v ->I was draft status 1A,</v> which means draft material. I had a lottery number of 51, that meant I was pretty likely to go. I had a fellowship from the U.S. Public Health Service that kept me away from the draft for a year. In the School of Public Health.
But during the spring of that year, I was getting notices from my draft board back in central New York that, I needed to take the physical and all of that, and be inducted. I eventually got a conscientious objective status, and heard about the environmental teaching, and there was a trained environmental health specialist kind of first year in, and they approved my conscientious objector, with the affiliative environmental action. <v ->The teaching itself was a surprise.</v> All of us were doing out little piece and part. And it just kept getting bigger. And bigger. One of the things that happened was that, maybe they could have it in a lecture hall. Maybe they could have it in the auditorium. And then, oh gee.
Then it was the Chrysler Arena. There was about 17,000 people, or however many people it holds, plus people outside. <v ->People had become aware of environment,</v> but they didn’t really have much knowledge of how to deal with it. Whether it was pollution, whether it was “Silent Spring”, that famous book that talked about the loss of our bird life and so forth. People knew that something was wrong, and that we needed to rethink not only the science of it, but also of course science and society. <v ->Organizing Environmental Teaching</v> was doing something positive.
Yeah, there were a lot of demonstrations and holding signs and that kind of stuff, but it was really gathering of education materials and fact sheets and all that kind of stuff. And getting the panels together and it was very very positive, as the counterpoint of seeing
this function of the rest of the country that was sending kids away. And bringing them back in body bags. <v ->It was an event whose subject in time had come.</v> Because there were rivers that were burning and you could see the air, and there wasn’t anybody who could really object to a clean environment. And it was like motherhood, apple pie, it was a good thing. And so it was very, it is amazing how many people turned up. It was really a black swan moment. <v ->I think over the years,</v> now it’s much more of a global issue.
And certainly with climate change, it is one of the front, upfront public policy issues, particularly in light of the deniers, who are now in charge who are in this country, who are a lot different from even Nixon had a lot to say positively. I now know what he meant, but if you go back, I remember him saying that we need to address this straight on and blah blah blah. <v ->Well for one thing, we have a much more holistic view now</v> in some ways, although you’ve gotta remember, and we had our buttons “Give Earth a Chance”, and we really thought along those lines and particularly that shot of taken from space of what the planet looked like.
That was the first time we’d ever seen that. And so that was a guiding sort of point. “Give Earth a chance”. And that’s still the guiding light. “Give Earth a chance”. We don’t use that phrase so much anymore, but that’s what it’s all about. I guess I’d say the thing that really was important in relation to this, is the science. But not science for its own sake. It was the transformation of science into public policy, private policy of industry and so forth. So all of these things now are much more advanced than they were 50 years ago for sure.
<v ->I think it was more visible.</v> I think our crisis today will become more and more visible, but then you could see the smoke stacks. You could see the litter. You could hear about rivers that were on fire. You could not eat the fish that you were fishing for. It was personal and you could see it, hear it, and smell it. And what we were offering people was a chance to do something about that. Something very concrete. A project here and there. If all you did was recycle glass. Or walk one day. Just, here’s a whole list of things. One thing, a hundred things. Contribute to a cleaner environment. There was a place for everyone to do something.
<v ->Sometimes you can’t find these things,</v> they find you. But what I found most significant for me, and our activities here at Michigan, was there was a lot of enabling factors. Things that we would never have thought we could do. We did! We just did it. And that’s still solid advice today. And look for the enabling situations whether it’s a job, whether it’s volunteer work in a community. All sorts of different things Find ways that are comfortable for you, whoever you are, to make difference. It’s pretty basic advice.
But if you don’t do that, and take that initiative when it presents itself, when you make it, then you end up being in kind of a dull world that you may look forward to some security that you may never have. <v ->Up to the individual to find some kind of conservation,</v> Ecology Center here in Ann Arbor, for instance, and ask how you can help. Even small towns like Jackson, Wyoming have, because of our city council, obviously have forward thinking. They have a goal to be carbon neutral by 2030. And so they have a plan for our community to be at least contributing in that way. <v ->Follow your instincts.</v>
“Look for addressing an issue with humor “and love and persistence.” As Elizabeth Warren once said. Keep at it, it’s gonna change. It’s gonna evolve. As you get older, you’ll see something you did long ago will pay off in 10 and 20 years from now.
And I’m an optimist things will get better
if we all work at it,.
Hear from Elizabeth Kingwell, George Coling, and Art Hanson, three of the organizing members of the ENACT Teach-In, as they share their reflections. They talk about the atmosphere of the University of Michigan campus in 1970, the Teach-in itself, and their perspective on the differences between the current climate movement and the environmental movement of the 1970s.
What are your main takeaways from hearing first hand about the ENACT Teach-In? How does hearing from Elizabeth, George, and Art add/change your perspective on the Teach-In?
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Earth Day at 50 Teach-Out

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