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Anti-automobile protest buttons
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

From a collection of 1,520 buttons on environmental themes, assembled over a thirty-year period by Dr. Gerald H. Meral, the Executive Director of the Planning and Conservation League (PCL) and the Planning and Conservation League Foundation in Sacramento, California.

Meral earned his doctorate in zoology from UC Berkeley and has been active in a wide range of environmental causes since the late 1960s. He worked as a Staff Scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund from 1971-1975, specializing in water quality and wildlife preservation. From 1975-1983, he served as Deputy Director of the California Department of Water Resources, heading up efforts in energy and water development and planning. He joined the PCL in 1983, where he has directed the organization’s environmental research and education projects, as well as its liaison work with the State Legislature. (PCL represents more than 100 conservation groups and 10,000 members in its lobbying for environmental legislation in the State Capital.)

Meral’s comprehensive engagement with environmental concerns in California and around the nation has resulted in his developing a remarkable and sustained network of individual, group, and community contacts. He has spent much of his career serving as a clearinghouse of information, ideas, tactics, and strategies, as he labored to demonstrate the commonalities and national significance of the multitudes of local environmental campaigns across the country. Recognizing that these thousands of often-isolated struggles and campaigns exemplified sweeping changes of potentially profound importance, Meral began collecting environmental buttons in 1970 as a means of documenting the movement. By displaying these buttons on the walls of his office, he used them to inspire others, to emphasize the public passion for environmental ideals, and to demonstrate the enormous diversity of issues contained within the aegis of this unifying movement.

Meral collected these buttons from all over the United States. As environmental values spread internationally—and as American-based environmental organizations began campaigning on issues of global significance—Meral also began gathering buttons from other parts of the world. (The vast majority of items, however, are from the United States.) Although he started acquiring buttons at the time of the original Earth Day, some of his pieces pre-date 1970. Given their ephemeral nature, many of these buttons are now extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find.

Reflecting the history of environmentalism itself, the buttons represent a broad range of topics. These include, but are not limited to: wilderness preservation, wild and scenic rivers, parks, wetlands, water projects, fish and wildlife, ocean conservation, smoking, population, energy, environmental justice, transportation, environmental regulations, environmental campaigns and legislation.

Gift of Dr. Gerald H. Meral

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