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Hands Across the Sand Story from Lauderdale, FL

Brenda Leahy lives two blocks from the beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, where her kids, 3 and 5, love playing in the sand and splashing in the water.


But Leahy, 46, a Navy veteran in pharmaceutical sales, wonders how much longer they'll have the pleasure.

``I have been so incredibly upset about the spill, and I'm one of those people who believes it is incredibly serious and could destroy the coast of Florida and other states,'' she said.


On Saturday, Leahy's family will go to the beach for more than fun; they plan to join Hands Across the Sand, a peaceful worldwide demonstration against offshore drilling and for renewable energy sources.


At noon, participants at more than 700 gatherings in 24 countries will clasp hands, forming a human chain. Some will be activists; many will step forward for the first time on any issue.


``I've never done anything like this before,'' Leahy said.


The April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil-rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers and triggered the nation's worst environmental disaster, created a powerful surge in environmental awareness.


In Florida and elsewhere, activists hope it has staying power beyond the current catastrophe.


Eric Draper, Florida Audubon's executive director, said that 16,000 people have signed up to volunteer with Audubon nationally ``as a response to the oil spill'' -- perhaps 1,000 from Florida. Most, he said, aren't Audubon members, but have ``seen the images of the wildlife or imagined the oil's effect on the beaches. They're people who love the beaches and want to do something.''


Audubon is among 50 environmental groups supporting Hands Across the Sand, with the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, Ocean Conservancy and others.


Oceana, which promotes healthy seas, claims that of 11,073 supporters within 75 miles of downtown Miami, 2,284 signed up after April 20, compared with 549 in the same geographic area between April 20 and June 22 last year.




Like Brenda Leahy, cousins Lauren de los Rios and Jaclyn Garcia are new to activism. College students in their 20s and partners in a baking business, they are ``obsessed about the beach,'' Lauren said, and find it ``sad to think that the oil is coming.''


They organized a Miami Beach gathering at 50th Street and Collins Avenue, where they plan to raise money with a benefit bake sale.


``It's a perfect time for people to put their differences aside and help for today and tomorrow,'' said Lauren. ``How can you not pay attention to this? We can't believe this is happening.''


Dave Rauschkolb, the Seaside restaurateur who founded Hands Across The Sand, won't predict turnout for the nonpartisan event, which ``will go like a wave across the world, starting in Auckland, New Zealand, and finishing in Kauai,'' Hawaii.


``People are very excited about having the opportunity to send a message to Congress to steer away from our dependence on oil toward renewable resources,'' he said. ``This is a unique opportunity to draw a line in the sand, metaphorically and literally [and] for Americans to take control of future energy policy.''


The project is voluntary and doesn't raise money.




Protest newcomers might find themselves hand-in-hand with veterans like Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, who organized a Fort Lauderdale gathering at Las Olas Boulevard and State Road A1A. He wants participants to understand that ``the real brunt is being born by wildlife in the Gulf,'' and that oil contamination could destroy South Florida's ``hot spots of biodiversity. If we lose those habitats, we lose so much.''


Erika Biddle of Key West, who hosts The ECOcentric View on KONK 1500 AM., was among the organizers of a Feb. 13 Hands Across the Sand protest of offshore oil drilling. This was two months before the Deepwater Horizon rig blew.


For Saturday's event, participants at four gatherings throughout the Florida Keys have been asked to wear blue for the ocean and green for the island chain.


``This time it's not about raising awareness of the dangers,'' Biddle said. ``It's about getting people to understand the connection of our oil addiction and the aggressive management of oil companies feeding to this addiction.''


She hopes that participants will sign a pledge that commits to reducing fossil-fuel consumption by 10 percent.


Biddle plans to read a pledge written by Montessori Elementary Charter School students:


``I pledge allegiance to the Earth and all the life that it supports. One planet in our care, with love and sustenance for all.''


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