Second mass protest against gulf drilling set for Saturday

Like a giant protective boom snaking its way along America's coastlines, people will join hands at noon Saturday to shore up support for clean energy and protest offshore drilling.

The event is called Hands Across the Sand, and it's coming to a beach near you.

"We want to tell Obama and Congress that now is the time to steer away from our dependence on oil and into the light of clean and renewable energy industries that don't put our marine environments, wildlife and coastal economies at risk," said Dave Rauschkolb, a 48-year-old restaurateur/surfer from Santa Rosa Beach on the northern Gulf Coast.

He founded the first Hands Across the Sand, a peaceful statewide protest that took place Feb. 13.

That event, held before the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon blowout occurred, drew about 10,000 participants to nearly 100 Florida beaches, he said. It was to protest lifting the ban on more oil drilling in coastal waters.

But now as the oil spill continues, so does the public's appetite for change, he says, and Hands Across the Sand has developed into a global movement.

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, 720 gatherings are planned for Saturday; more than 200 to be held in Florida. Most will take place on American beaches, but 22 other countries are involved.

Planners ask supporters to show up at a beach at 11 a.m., form lines in the sand and join hands at noon for 15 minutes.

Cathy Harrelson, a member of the Suncoast Sierra Club who is organizing the local effort, said people are gathering in 26 beach hubs in Pinellas alone.

"Tampa Bay has jumped into this in a big way," said Harrelson, 56, of St. Petersburg. "We had close to 3,000 people in Pinellas County on a very cold day in February and expect a much larger turnout on Saturday.

"Clearly, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is driving this second Hands effort," she said.

It was the blowout of the wellhead and subsequent fouling of the gulf that provided the impetus for Rauschkolb to organize Saturday's event and, with the help of many environmental groups, turn it into a major movement.

"I was up early one morning and feeding my daughter, when in a moment of clarity I knew this was an opportunity to move this to the national level," he said.

The sugary sands of the some of the Walton County beaches have been stippled with black tar balls recently, but Rauschkolb said he doesn't have the stomach to take a look.

Asked why, he became emotional and, speaking in a broken voice, said, "It's almost as if you have a loved one wasting away and you want to remember them the way you knew them.

"I've been living on the coast since I was 12, surfing in the waters of the gulf for 33 years, and I've chosen to make my life here. I have a deep respect for our Gulf of Mexico and its wildlife, and I'd love for my daughter to have the same experiences."

FAST FACTS

Hands Across

the Sand

Meet at the beach at 11 a.m. Saturday; link hands at noon for 15 minutes. Walk, ride a bike, take public transportation or carpool if possible. Participants are encouraged to wear black or red, white and blue. Locations include:

>> In Pinellas: Belleair Beach, Clearwater Beach, Crystal Beach, Dunedin Causeway beach, Fred Howard Park beach (Tarpon Springs), Fort DeSoto north beach, Honeymoon Island and the beach in Gulfport.

>> Also in Pinellas: Indian Rocks Beach, Madeira Beach, Pass-a-Grille Beach, Redington Beach, St. Pete Beach, Spa Beach (St. Petersburg) and Sunset Beach (Treasure Island).

>> Hillsborough: Tampa residents meet on the Gandy Bridge, south span, west side.

>> Elsewhere: Events are also in other bay area counties. Some locations will have cleanups and special activities.

>> For more information: Visit www.handsacrossthesand.com, or e-mail Cathy Harrelson at cathy_bam@earthlink.net or call her at (727) 415-8805.

Second mass protest against gulf drilling set for Saturday 06/23/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 11:13pm]

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