The moment was as symbolic as it was literal: at noon today on a stretch of sands on the south side of the Flagler Beach pier, between 100 and 150 people of all ages, origins, shapes, races and political stripes linked hands as part of the global Hands Across the Sands movement against oil drilling.
“The message is simple. The images are powerful. We are drawing a line in the sand against offshore oil drilling along America’s beaches and in solidarity events across America and the World,” writes Hands Across the Sands founder Dave Rauschkolb, a Floridian from the Panhandle, who on Feb. 13 led the first such event, which drew 10,000 people along Florida coastlines. That was before the Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling catastrophe that is slowly turning into the world’s largest oil spill on record.
“Now, just a few months later our entire Gulf of Mexico marine environment and coastal economy is at risk from the very thing we tried to stop, offshore oil drilling off our coast,” Rauschkolb wrote. Today’s follow-up event was more urgent, and more global. Hundreds of thousands of people linked hands along ocean shores, seashores, lakefronts and riverbanks, from Florida beaches to Oregon and Canada, and several nations overseas, including Britain, India and Australia.
The event was organized locally by Colleen Conklin, the school board member who lives a block from the ocean and whose office is across from the Flagler pier, and by Carmen Arasnick of Orlando.
“I wasn’t really sure earlier in the day if we were going to have only 10 people,” Conklin said. She got involved simply by going on the internet and letting Rauschkolb’s organization know that she wanted to lead it locally. “I was pleasantly surprised to see the numbers that came out, and I just think it’s important to bring awareness that we really need to mind our coastal communities, how fragile they are, the marine life that we have. And in this day and age there’s no reason why we can’t break our addiction to oil and aggressively pursue alternative fuels. I mean, this could be Obama’s race to space.”
People started gathering in Flagler Beach, around the picnic tables, before 11. Some were in their 80s. Some were born around the time Barack Obama began campaigning for the presidency. One family, its Charlie Crist-tan notwithstanding, was from Moscow. Most had an affinity for the beaches they’d known as an integral and essential part of their lives. Conklin handed out whistles (“just to add a little excitement”, let everyone know how to synchronize their time to noon, and headed down to the shore about 15 minutes before The Moment.
At noon, the human chain-link was ready, whistles started blowing, cheers became louder than the surf, and hands went up in a mixture of solidarity and the sort of joy that overtakes a movement even when it is brought together by the most dire circumstances. Many beachgoers had joined the chain by then, but many more stood by, watching.
When it was over, people applauded, cheered some more, and the chain broke up, with about a third of the people heading for the surf.