FEature Friday: Environmental Series

April 22 is Earth Day, but here at PLEN, we have been celebrating all month long. As April comes to a close, we are taking time to look back at some of the environmental activists we have featured.

Senator Gaylord Nelson, the junior senator from Wisconsin, had long been concerned about the deteriorating environment in the United States. After the oil spill of 1969, environmental issues rose to the forefront of the national discussion. Inspired by the student movement of the time, Nelson and several other elected officials began a movement for awareness and education, including a nation wide “teach in.” This event became known as “Earth Day!”

By the 1990’s this event went global. Today, Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national, and local policy changes.

Throughout April, PLEN featured three influential voices engaged in environmental advocacy. In this article, we will revisit these folks, as well as give additional information and current material to continue education beyond Earth Day.

Week one: Winona LaDuke

Our first feature is activist Winona LaDuke. LaDuke was born in Los Angeles, California, but had family ties to the Ojibwe White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. Due to her father's heritage, she was enrolled with the Ojibwe Nation at an early age, and began work there after graduating college.

Winona LaDuke is an environmental activist, recognized for her work on tribal land claims and preservation. LaDuke’s indigenous heritage is a driving force behind her activism. Post graduation, she spent time at White Earth Reservation, eventually becoming the principal of the reservation high school. She is the executive director and a co-founder of Honor the Earth, a Native environmental advocacy organization that played an active role in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. 

In both 1996 and 2000, LaDuke ran for Vice President of the United States as the nominee of the Green Party of the United States. In 2016, she received an electoral vote for vice president. In doing so, she became the first Green Party member to do so. She has earned many honors and awards including Time magazine’s America's fifty most promising leaders under forty years of age. She is an inspiration for environmentalists and activists.

“What we all need to do is find the wellspring that keeps us going, that gives us the strength and patience to keep up this struggle for a long time.”

- Winona LaDuke

WEEK TWO: Isatou Cessay

Our week two spotlight is on Isatou Cessay. Ceesay is a Gambian activist, author, and entrepreneur. Though she had to leave school at a young age, she has never let it stop her from pursuing her passion for activism. Ceesay launched her career when she and four other young Gambian women, initiated a recycling movement called “One Plastic Bag in the Gambia.”

Isatou Ceesay has worked for the U.S. Peace Corps office in the Gambia, the Swedish organization Future in Our Hands, and as a consultant for development organizations. Her recycling project, which began in 1998 amidst much resistance and taunting, is still thriving today. In 2012, she was awarded a TIAW “Difference Maker” award in Washington, DC.

“People thought I was too young and that women couldn’t be leaders. I took these things as challenges; they gave me more power.”

Isatou Cessay

WEEK THREE: Elizabeth Kolbert

Our week three spotlight is on Elizabeth Kolbert. After graduating from Mamaroneck High School, Kolbert spent four years studying literature at Yale University. In 1983, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Universität Hamburg, in Germany. This is where she began writing freelance for the New York Times.

Elizabeth Kolbert is now an author and journalist, best known for her Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. The Sixth Extinction, and her other works comment on the environment, particularly the changing climate. She uses her voice as an author and journalist to spread awareness and inform people about environmentalism.

Kolbert has served as a member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board. She has received international recognition for her works, including a Pulitzer Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship for Natural Sciences, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship. Today, she uses her voice to expose the realities of climate change.

“It doesn’t much matter whether people care or don’t care. What matters is that people change the world.”

Elizabeth Kolbert


What initially began as a teach-in to create awareness for environmentalism has grown into a worldwide movement. This Earth Day, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate some of the forces for change who often go unrecognized. Throughout April, PLEN featured voices of people from marginalized gender groups in the environmental justice movement. Women and other marginalized gender groups are at the forefront of the conversation today, and their efforts are making a difference.



  • The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert
  • One Plastic Bag, Isatou Ceesay
  • To be a Water Protector, Winona LaDuke


  • TEDxTC Winona LaDuke, TEDx Talks
  • Bloom Where You're Planted, Loam Listen Podcast
  • Plastic Pollution Podcast, Writtle2 Podcast


  • Queer Nature on Reclaiming Wild Safe Space, Pinar Sinopoulos-Lloyd
  • Gambia: The Queen of Recycling, Climate Heroes
  • Just a Transition with Winona LaDuke, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

Julia Schleicher was the Communication Intern for the Spring 2022 Semester. She is currently a junior at Luther College, pursuing a BA in Political Science.

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