SEASIDE — This award-winning Gulf Coast community known for its boardwalks and cupolas, artsy shops and quaint cottages is ground zero today for the next debate over the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Here, Dave Rauschkolb, the founder of Hands Across the Sand, will join with others on the beach as communities in 50 states and 33 countries do the same, saying: "No to offshore oil drilling. Yes to clean energy."
Their goal is a show of force to politicians and corporations, calling for policies that wean the world off its dependence on fossil fuels and increase the demand for alternative energy.
"They are paying a lot of lip service to clean energy," Rauschkolb said.
It's not what Rauschkolb expected to be doing when he organized his first Hands Across the Sand event on Feb. 13 this year. Back then, his goal was to persuade state legislators to stop the talk of drilling in local waters as a way to solve the budget gap.
It worked. Lawmakers backed down, for this year. But the chief proponent of the idea, Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, made plans to bring it up again when he becomes House speaker in 2011.
Two days after Cannon released his bill for drilling 6 miles off Florida's shores, the Deepwater Horizon exploded.
"The very idea we feared had come to our doorstep," Rauschkolb said. He decided to organize another protest. "I said to myself, now has got to be the time to see if we can create this national movement."
Rauschkolb, a surfer, started Bud & Alley's restaurant in 1986, when Seaside was wowing urban planners with its pastel-colored homes and urban-village theme. When he thinks about the damage the oil is doing to the beach and the community he has grown to love, he is moved to tears.
"They very well might not be able to stop this leak, and what's going to happen to the coastal economies of five states? How can you even keep track of the emotional toll that's going to be taken on people whose lives are going to be scattered to the wind?" he asked.
Last time, thousands of Floridians from 60 towns and cities joined in the largest anti-oil-drilling gathering in state history. This time, the idea has gone viral. Events are planned in 820 locations, in every coastal state and in hundreds of interior cities.
Talk has shifted in the Legislature. Cannon says drilling in Florida waters is dead, at least for his term. Incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Indialantic, who has backed drilling, is organizing a clean energy summit.