Catastrophes like the spill in the Gulf expose the destructive side of industries and their environmental impacts. They also create unexpected heroes, ordinary people like Lois Gibbs, propelled into the political arena when industrial waste exposed her community in Love Canal, New York, to cancer-causing chemicals. Three decades after her story forced America to grapple with industries’ toxic legacy, the tar balls that are washing onto Florida’s beaches are galvanizing a new movement, started by Dave Rauschkolb, a surfer and pizza bar owner.
Rauschkolb is not a professional Sierra-Club type and seems offended when asked about his political affiliation. But his business depends on tourism, and he’s incensed that state and federal politicians let the oil industry take a gamble on the safety of drilling in the Gulf Coast. “I am very angry that our predictions to Florida’s legislators that this type of accident could happen fell on deaf ears,” Rauschkolb wrote in a recent op-ed. “We have been telling them for months of our serious concerns.”
His anger has turned him into an activist. Rauschkolb created “Hands Across the Sand,” a series of demonstrations on Saturday, June 26, that call for an end to offshore oil drilling. The events are simple: Show up at 11 A.M. at your local waterfront, and join hands at noon. Demonstrations are happening in all 50 states and more than 30 countries.
Rauschkolb got the idea for Hands last fall when he heard about a bill in the Florida legislature that would have brought offshore drilling within 10 miles of his beloved beaches. He decided to organize what he expected would be a modest local demonstration on the beach, but his message struck a nerve among Floridians. The protest mushroomed into a 10,000-person event on dozens of beaches across the state. Rauschkolb believes that the response helped kill the bill in committee before it reached the floor of the Florida senate.
Now he hopes that news of the BP spill will mobilize enough Americans to force sweeping change—not just a tough response to BP but a transformation of U.S. energy policies.
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