Tar balls started washing up on the sand this week in Seaside, Fla., a wealthy hamlet between Pensacola and Panama City where Dave Rauschkolb owns three waterfront restaurants and near where he lives, fishes and surfs.
With petroleum from the BP PLC oil spill still flowing, Rauschkolb fears his businesses might not make enough money this summer to stay open through the winter. When he looks at fellow beach-area merchants, he sees the same concerns.
He blames offshore oil drilling and will voice his concerns Saturday in what he hopes will be a kind of global statement.
Rauschkolb, 48, organized an effort dubbed "Hands Across the Sand." Activists in locations around the world plan to join hands and form human chains to symbolize barricades against oil spills and more oil drilling.
"It's an opportunity for individuals and organizations and people of all walks of life to draw a line in the sand and say no" to more offshore oil drilling, Rauschkolb said. "Now is the time to start taking control of our energy future and not leaving it to the oil industry to decide it for us."
As of this morning, supporters had organized 742 events in places that include Australia, India, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Greenland, Brazil, several spots in Europe and 678 places in the United States. Many events are on beaches.
The hand-holding will start at noon local times, moving around the world "in a wave" that starts in New Zealand and ends in Kauai, Hawaii, Rauschkolb said. In Washington, D.C., people will gather on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House.
Though people have told Rauschkolb and other organizers they are attending, he said he has no way of knowing how many actually will show up.
The effort comes as Congress and the Obama administration debate how to respond to the spill and decide how much offshore oil drilling to allow in the future. Obama plans to meet with a group of senators to talk about how to move climate or energy legislation before November's election.
The petroleum industry and some coastal state lawmakers, meanwhile, are reminding people how much oil and offshore drilling are connected to the economy.
American Petroleum Institute spokeswoman Cathy Landry declined to comment on Hands Across the Sand, however, beyond saying that "people have the right to voice their opinions."
BP spokesman Mark Salt in Houston said that "we believe at BP that people have the right to express their views in any way they see fit."
Rauschkolb does not hold back when talking about the oil industry and his intent.
"No to offshore oil drilling, yes to clean energy and renewables," Rauschkolb said. "We're trying to effect a change in the nation's energy policy and do it in a way that maybe the politicians will begin to stand up and take notice."
Hands Across the Sand also is backed by a number of environmental groups and coalitions, including 1Sky, Audubon, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, MoveOn.org, Oceana, the Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation.
Hands Across the Sand happened once before on a smaller scale.
Last October, after Florida's House of Representatives voted to lift the ban on near-shore drilling, Rauschkolb at one of his restaurants hosted an event for a Florida House candidate opposed to near-shore drilling. At that event, Rauschkolb gave a speech in which he first said opponents needed "to draw a line in the sand." He liked the sound of it and created a website.
The cause drew enough supporters that on Feb. 13 more than 10,000 people joined hands on beaches from Jacksonville to Miami and Pensacola to Key West, opposing opening up the coastal area to drilling, Rauschkolb said.
Not long after, Rauschkolb heard from the Sierra Club in Virginia, which wanted to hold a similar event there. Then, on April 20, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico.
Up late one night feeding his baby daughter, Rauschkolb said, he thought up the idea for a national Hands Across the Sand event. He called the Sierra Club, asked for help, and flew to Washington, D.C., to pitch the idea to other environmental organizations. They decided on June 26, the date that already had been picked for the Virginia-based event.
Within the last two weeks, Rauschkolb said, he started receiving e-mails from people in other countries, and the effort morphed into a global event. He has been alerting people through a website he created, as well as Twitter and Facebook, where his page has more than 26,000 "fans."
"More drilling is being proposed all along our coastlines," Rauschkolb said. "Myself and a whole lot of other people disagree with that."
Hands joined earlier
The event's name echoes the 1986 effort "Hands Across America." In that event, people in locations across the country held hands to raise money for charities working on hunger and homelessness. There were disagreements about how many people actually attended, although they included such high-profile figures as then-President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill (D-Mass.). In Arkansas, then-Gov. Bill Clinton (D) joined in.
The similar name was accidental, Rauschkolb said. When he put the name "Hands Across the Sand" into a Google search last year to see whether it was in use, he said that he was disappointed to see it was not entirely original.
He has since heard from the creator of Hands Across America, Ken Kragen. Rauschkolb said Kragen offered kudos for the new event.
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