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The Self-Made Man: John McConnell

When it comes to activism, there are two kinds of people: people who bitch, and people who act. It’s one thing to complain about society on Tumblr and fall back on a list of very convenient mental disorders when challenged to get off the porch and act on those beliefs, but it’s quite another to put those beliefs to work.

mcconnell3As we’ve seen, successful activists share a lot of the same talents and responsibilities as entrepreneurs; they need ambition, internal motivation, good organizational skills, and the drive to work extremely hard for something that might not pan out. John McConnell, the official founder of Earth Day and this week’s Self Made Man, was one of those people.

John was born in 1915, the same year as both of my grandfathers, and became an environmentalist when he worked as the business manager for a plastics manufacturing facility. After seeing the effects of industrial pollution firsthand, John’s concern for ecology and his Christian obligation to protect the earth (his father was a Pentacostal evangelist) made him rethink his life and what he wanted to do with it.

After working as a merchant marine during WWII, John, alongside a like-minded editor named Erling Toness, voiced their passionate (and at the time, rare) environmental/pacifist gospel in two weekly newspapers; the Toe Valley View, which got attention from Life Magazine, and the Mountain View, which was circulated in the White House and read by President Kennedy.

John made a name for himself through his efforts to promote cooperative space exploration between the US and Russia, and for organizing the Meals for Millions program in San Francisco, which fed thousands of Hong Kong refugees. But it was Earth Day that he’ll always be remembered for, and with good reason.

John proposed the Earth Day idea at the 1969 National UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, and pitched it to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that same year. His idea was a big hit, and the city of San Francisco made an Earth Day Proclamation that was echoed by UN Secretary General U Thant, and Margaret Mead, who signed John’s official Earth Day Proclamation. Many other world leaders signed it too, and it became an institution in the Western world.

TSB would like you to note the difference between John and a lot of modern activists – John understood that you have to bust your ass to get anything done. Anyone who’s ever organized anything will tell you how hard it is, especially in conjunction with disseminating ideas through print and media appearances and building support for those ideas with visible public efforts. When you dedicate your life to something, which is what self-starters essentially have to do, you’re always working, so it had better be something you really believe in.

I’ll leave you with this short clip of John McConnell talking about Earth Day and stressing the importance of environmental stewardship.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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