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Protesting oil drilling doesn't get you a free Disney ticket after all

There's a promotion this year called "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day." If you volunteer for a list of approved events, you get a free one-day ticket for a Disney park. Check it out at www.disneyparks.com.

The goal is to generate 1 million volunteer days nationally. A couple of my cynical friends point out that the resulting 1 million ticket-holders will certainly spend money once inside a Disney park. But I do not look a gift horse closely in the mouth, and call this a Good Thing.

You can volunteer at hospitals or hospice. You can rescue wildlife and clean up the environment. You can comfort the suffering. You can build houses for the homeless.

You can protest oil drilling in Florida waters …

Wait, what?

Oops.

Until the past few days, one of the events listed as a volunteer activity that would get you a free Disney ticket was a big statewide Feb. 13 protest called "Hands across the Sand" (handsacrossthesand.org).

Opponents of drilling eagerly signed up. The estimates I heard from organizers ranged from several hundred to 1,500 or more around the state. They were happy they could both support their cause and get a Disney ticket.

If you sense a "but" coming, you're right. Sometime in the last few days, the organizers say, Disney informed them that anyone who had signed up for Hands across the Sand would be asked to choose another event.

I can see it. After all, a political protest is not exactly the same kind of "volunteerism" as, you know, ministering to the sick or feeding the hungry.

Still, some who had signed up were unhappy, such as local protest organizer Pat Kiesylis of St. Petersburg, who had filed for four tickets for herself, two daughters and a friend. "I think it's just a really corporate move to not get involved with the oil drilling issue," she says.

Cathy Harrelson, another Pinellas protest organizer, says she's disappointed and thinks Disney should be speaking out on an issue that threatens Florida.

Harrelson pointed out that some of the approved volunteer activities include rescuing seabirds. "When there's a spill and we need 1,000 people to go wash the oil off birds," she asked, "will that be a volunteer activity?"

I tried without success to get someone at Disney to explain what happened. They didn't call me back. However, even one of the statewide backers of the Feb. 13 event believes it was just a mixup.

"They do have guidelines," said Ericka D'Avanzo, state director of a national group called the Surfrider Foundation, which works for the protection of beaches and oceans. The foundation, already approved to submit events for the Disney promotion, had included Hands across the Sand in a list of upcoming volunteer opportunities.

"We logged it in without paying attention to the fine print," D'Avanzo says, "and they came back later and said this did not qualify as an event. So we'll find another one."

Since my bias is toward the drilling opponents, I would be thrilled to see a giant like Disney jump into the fight. On the other hand, this flap over withdrawing the ticket offer seems innocent, and based on a reasonable distinction between volunteerism and political action. It also is — as I am sure the Disney folks who did not call me back are saying, as they slap their foreheads — a case of no good intention going unpunished.

Protesting oil drilling doesn't get you a free Disney ticket after all 01/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 7:09pm]
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