ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — In a grass-roots movement inspired by the 1980s Hands Across America human chain effort, beachgoers in 30 states and nearly a dozen countries plan to join hands this month to form symbolic barriers to protect the shoreline from oil spills.
The Hands Across The Sand movement started in February in Florida, before the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster off Louisiana created America’s worst oil spill.
On June 26, people will stand up and hold hands for 15 minutes to form human chains. Three beaches in Maine – in Ogunquit, Cape Neddick and Portland – will host events, along with nearly 70 in Florida and 30 in California and one at a Colorado reservoir.
They will also pledge to take steps to conserve energy in their lives and let elected officials know they oppose offshore oil drilling.
“Our collective message is ‘no’ to offshore oil and ‘yes’ to clean energy,” said Dave Rauschkolb, a restaurateur and surfer on the Florida gulf coast who organized the first such protest in February. “People in California will be metaphorically holding hands with people in Florida and Virginia and New Jersey.
Last fall, Rauschkolb started thinking of ways to oppose offshore oil drilling when the Florida legislature was considering a measure to allow oil drilling near the coast.
“I had previously said we have to draw a line in the sand, and then it hit me. I said, ‘I know what we have to do!’”
The first event, before the Gulf oil disaster, drew about 10,000 Floridians.
“My wife will tell you I always like to be right, but this is one thing I wish I was wrong about,” he said.
The campaign is set up to let local groups and individuals organize their own events, and hundreds have done so already. As of Wednesday, nearly 200 events are scheduled on beaches from coast to coast and inland.
Other events are planned in Norway, England, France, Portugal, the Bahamas and Canada.
“We are all frustrated and angry with what is happening in the gulf and may feel powerless, but together we will stand up for the environment and join hands to show our unity against offshore drilling, and create a barrier to say that our beaches and our oceans should be protected,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club of New Jersey, where nine events are scheduled.
Cindy Zipf, executive director of the New Jersey-based Clean Ocean Action group, said participants will promise to make changes in their daily lives to save energy and reduce the country’s dependence on oil.
“As we watch in rapt horror at the suffering living-dead marine life coated in molasses-like toxic oil, we must be moved to act now,” she said. “To start, we can stand together, join hands in solidarity to support our community in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, vow to wage a personal ‘war against oil,’ oppose offshore drilling, and put conservation and efficiency first.”
The campaign drew its inspiration from the May 1986 Hands Across America event in which an estimated 5.5 million people linked hands and pledged money to fight hunger and homelessness.
Protests are planned in Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.