Joining Hands Against Oil Drilling and for a Clean Energy Future

oil rig by Shutterstock.com

When Dave Rauschkolb, a Florida surfer and restaurant-owner, organized a statewide gathering back in February, he never imagined his initiative would take on national proportions. But the Florida event, in which thousands of people joined hands on beaches along the coast to protest plans to allow offshore drilling, would become the building block of a national campaign after April’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. Today, Hands Across the Sand is a national and international campaign to fight the devastating effects of oil drilling.

This Saturday, June 26th, more than 500 hands-joining events are planned for beaches across the United States to protest oil drilling and the dangers it presents to marine wildlife, fishing industries and coastal communities.

Anne Craig, an activist from Louisiana and one of the organizers of this Saturday’s event in Coney Island, told me more about the campaign and what’s happening this weekend.

Tell us about the events planned for June 26 and the Coney Island event, in particular.

On June 26, Americans of all walks of life are going to head to their shores. Together, in the simple act of forming a line and joining hands, we will draw a human line in the sand and say no to offshore drilling and yes to clean energy. That’s it. Simple. Powerful. Of course, we are hoping for a great turnout. We are one of many locations not only around the country, but the world, doing this. In New York people will gather at Coney Island at 11am on Saturday, June 26th, near the NY Aquarium, joining hands at 12 pm. For a complete list of events in New York visit the Hands Across the Sand website.

Can you speak to the effect that the Gulf Oil Disaster is having on the public’s understanding of the need for a cleaner energy future?

People are disgusted by what’s happening. An ocean is dying – from plankton to sperm whales. Shorelines are being killed, that are affecting not only the lives of the beautiful birds, like the brown pelican, that live there, but the fish that will spawn there, the millions of migratory birds that must pass through there. The livelihoods of an entire coastline of communities is being turned upside down. Family businesses that have been in operation for generations – I'm talking even from the late Nineteenth Century, are closing shop. Eleven people are dead, their bodies never to be recovered.  And while companies like BP sit on riches that Bob Herbert in the NY Times described as gold glittering in the sun, they assess their risk management in terms of dollars against profits. What kind of dollar sign can you put on a dead ocean? Really, people should be outraged.

And yet, many people also have no idea what they can do about it. Americans in general, I believe, feel like their one voice is ineffectual in bringing on change. But what I am seeing is more and more people wanting to get up, get out, get involved. I like to remind people that, had we waited for businesses and government to lead us, the Civil Rights Movement would have never happened. My cousin recently reminded me of a quote from the great anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”

One of the big challenges, as I see it, is that people don’t really know what exactly that means: what “cleaner energy future” is. We can’t visualize it – a life without the mass consumption of petroleum. And because we can’t visualize it, it feels impossible to get to. And yet, we have to imagine it. Because we have to get there.

Let’s think of this as the Environmental Rights Movement.  Our RIGHT to have corporations responsible to people and communities, not just their shareholders. Our RIGHT to have a government that actually regulates industry for the protection of the earth, our greatest natural resource. Our RIGHT to a clean world.

Hands Across the Sand gives those who want to get out and do something a great platform — not to mention a fun day at the beach. More than that, we hope that it is another twist on the lens that helps sharpen the rest of America’s focus on our need to turn to clean energy.  But we obviously can’t stop there. It has to be part of a growing movement — growing being the operative word. I'd like to think we are at the tipping point. This is our moment to shift our consciousness towards a whole new way of living – on a personal, local, state, national, corporate level.

A federal judge in New Orleans just blocked the moratorium on new deep-oil drilling rigs that the Administration imposed after the April disaster in the Gulf.  What is your reaction?

Not only must we hold BP accountable for the catastrophic events unfolding in the gulf, we must hold our government accountable as well. Clearly the Minerals Management Service (MMS) has been pretty much letting the oil companies run the show. For proof one just has to look at the disaster contingency plans that all the major players submitted that MMS signed off on. Protecting walruses in the gulf, where none exist, putting a dead scientist as a point of contact, professing to have the technology to deal with spills up to five times larger than this one. Not only that, we know now too that other wells in the gulf are leaking. Photographer J. Henry Fair documented it in fly overs. According to federal documents, the Ocean Saratoga has been leaking since the end of April.

I do not believe the moratorium is “rash” as the judge wrote. It is prudent. Perhaps one of the few prudent steps taken in this entire debacle. Rash is a company like BP picking up the speed on an oil well that they knew for months was in a precarious state.  Men were going home from that well and putting their affairs in order.

You are from Louisiana and a family friend of one of the people  who died in the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Can you give us a sense of what the feeling is among the families and the people in the Gulf right now?

Louisianans are angry and scared and worn out. And heartbroken.  The coastline has been battered for decades now. If the land loss that was going on in Louisiana’s wetlands was happening anywhere along the Eastern seaboard, people would be up in arms. The levees along the Mississippi River have forced the river to build a delta so long that the river’s rich sediments now fall off the continental shelf instead of washing back to land. Manmade channels for oil exploration have further sliced and diced the wetlands, increasing salt water intrusion and subsequent marsh death. Ineffectual government leadership in Louisiana has also not cared one bit about the decades long damage that has been going on in the wetlands. Then, 5 years ago, the coastline was slammed by 2 massive hurricanes, Katrina and Rita — with less land to take the brunt of the hurricane. And now…oil.

Oil that just won’t stop coming. Oil that is killing everything in its path.  What will be left after the oil is gone? Talk about not being able to visualize a future.

People are scared to not have the oil business too. With everything else lost, that too?  That’s where we have to get clean energy jobs going right now. Right NOW. If the political leaders of Louisiana had their wits about them and just a little vision, and I'm afraid they don’t, they would be insisting that the federal government start creating those jobs in Louisiana and along the other Gulf States.

Lastly, we cannot forget that people lost their lives out there. Eleven people. One of those was the son of a dear family friend. His wife had a baby just weeks after he was killed. Two sons now who will never know their father. A hole in a family so big, nothing can ever fill it;  they will just have learn to live with it.

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