Hope for My Inner Activist: Hands Across the Sand Takes on Oil Spill Blues

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PENSACOLA, FL - JUNE 26: Florida Governor Charlie Crist (2nd R) and his wife, Carole Rome Crist, (R) stand with others during a Hands Across The Sand event on June 26, 2010 in Pensacola, Florida. The event was staged across the nation to protest offshore oil drilling as many communities along the gulf coast are dealing with the oil spilling into the water from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Last Saturday, I got to go to a celebrity-studded beach party for a few hundred in Santa Monica. That may sound like an exclusive Hollywood industry soiree, but it was actually a grassroots, environmental activist event called Hands Across the Sand -- open to anyone and everyone who came to Santa Monica beach. And actresses Amy Smart and Rosario Dawson just happened to be among the 500 activists who showed up.

But eco-celebs weren't the focus of the event, and Hands Across the Sand wasn't just an odd SoCal thing. The global event had people gathering at more than 900 spots around the world, simply holding hands at noon to make a peaceful statement to oppose offshore drilling and call for clean energy solutions. People who'd been feeling immobilized by the Gulf oil spill turned off the depressing news on TV, got off their couches, and headed out -- to spend a lovely day at the beach with the like-minded activists they'd never had the chance to meet.

Hands Across the Sand on Santa Monica Beach

"As we held hands on the beach, we talked together, as if we were neighbors," writes Brenda Peterson at The Huffington Post about her Hands Across the Sand event in Seattle, Wash. Among the 168 who held hands with Brenda on Alki Beach were a biofuel-loving man from Boeing aircraft, activists from People for Puget Sound and a group of three grandmothers who call themselves "Seattle's Raging Grannies!"

Judging from the Hands Across the Sand events, like-minded activists come from very un-like backgrounds. Meredith Forbes of The Blue, The Bad and The Ugly shows that the eclectic event at Coney Island gave people a chance to connect neighbors who may be very different from each other, but clearly share very similar concerns:

There were people from all walks of life, from organizers who had come up from the Gulf to surfer dudes to seniors who left the comfort of their beach umbrellas to grab a hand and lend support.

There were socialists passing out fliers and curious youngsters who were checking out the line. "I don't think BP did anything wrong," said one 10-year-old boy. "I mean, there shouldn't be such a demand for gasoline in the first place." A hippie dad countered with "BP shouldn't be allowed to drill two miles into the ocean floor." Hmm. Were either of them wrong?

These events let a very diverse group of people unite against seemingly insurmountable problems -- from the Gulf oil spill itself to oil dependency to ocean pollution. At a time when individuals can feel powerless, Hands Across the Sand gave people a chance to put their collective force big enough to inspire hope. That's what Laura Erickson of Laura's Birding Blog spoke about at her event in Duluth, Minn.:

In the face of this accelerating disaster, it’s easy to despair. It’s easy to say we can do nothing. It’s grown increasingly easy over the past decade to give up—to feel that our individual voices, our consciences, our love for our natural world have no influence on anything anymore.....

We gather here in a unified rebuke to apathy and despair, our hands linked in unified belief that the natural world matters, and that our voices can and will be heard. We must never waver from a firm resolve that our democratically elected government will once again represent our voices. Our government must firmly and consistently regulate corporations, and effectively enforce these regulations, so that we can put an end to privatizing profits while socializing risks.

Laura's rallying cry echoed by many women bloggers who attended a Hands Across the Sand event -- and found hope in the collective. "Suddenly the beach seemed buoyant with all the cheering and ways we could actually make a difference, lend a hand," writes Brenda. "As we let go of each other's hands, our moods and the tide were rising." Meredith too felt encouraged: "Hands Across the Sand made me realize that if we stick together -- and stay connected -- there is nothing we can't do."

Of course, Hands Across the Sand is only a starting point. The local activists have now connected, but now they have to work together. And a lot of hard work lies ahead -- to clean up the oceans, to halt offshore drilling for good, to develop clean energy solutions.

Still, the simple, 15 minutes of holding hands accomplished so much -- arming activists with hope and giving like-minded neighbors a chance to meet and organize. This is the reason why events like these -- which can, at first glance, seem merely symbolic -- often act as catalysts for big changes.

Hands Across the Sand on Santa Monica Beach

As for me -- On top of all the mood lifting eco-activist fun, I also got a great leg workout from the event -- because as usual, I ran late, and had to speedwalk down the Santa Monica pier then attempt to run across the sand. This feat is not nearly as effortless as it looks on Baywatch! Luckily, I made it just before hand-holding time -- at which point I had to do a lot more walking, because the human chain we made spanned several lifeguard stations.

Hands Across the Sand on Santa Monica Beach

Being a horrid celeb spotter, I didn't see the eco-actors -- and being late and rushed, didn't even see some friends who I later learned were at the event via Facebook and Twitter. But I did meet some neighbor-activists, felt encouraged by the collective call to action, and enjoyed feeling the sand on my feet. Plus, I now have stronger activist calves for future beach clean-ups!

Were you at a Hands Across the Sand event? What was your experience like? Didn't make it to an event and want a chance to join in? Scroll to the bottom of the Hands Across the Sand website to see a shortlist of green-minded organizations involved with the event. Sign up to join one with a chapter near you so you can learn about future events -- be part of a collective green movement that makes waves.


Though she arrived late, BlogHer Contributing Editor Siel's proud she walked instead of driving to her Hands Across the Sand meetup. She blogs at greenLAgirl.com.


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