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Date of Issue: June 30, 2010

Hands joined for clean energy, clean waters

Morgan Kneifel of Palmetto, right, joins in the Hands Across the Sand demonstration June 26 in Anna Maria.

Palm to palm, hundreds of people joined hands on Anna Maria Island’s shore June 26, forming a human boom in a symbolic stand against an expansion of offshore oil drilling in U.S. waters.

Protesters lined up on the shore in Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria. They did not form a chain the entire length of the Island, but they did form long ribbons, especially at weekend hotspots, including the Pine Avenue beach in Anna Maria and Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach.

“I’m here because this beach, the Gulf of Mexico, this world is as important to me as my family,” said Shelly Fischer of Bradenton.

The Island demonstrators were among the hundreds of thousands involved in Hands Across the Sand, a global demand for clean energy policies and reduced reliance against oil and other fossil fuels.

Organizers said the demonstration was the largest anti-drilling protest in history.

“The message is simple,” said Hands Across the Sand founder Dave Rauschkolb. “The images are powerful. We are drawing a line in the sand against offshore oil drilling along America’s beaches and in solidarity events across America and the World.”

In February, Hands Across the Sand was an event isolated to Florida’s beaches.

In June, with tens of thousands of barrels of oil spewing daily into the Gulf of Mexico in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Hands Across the Sand became a movement.

Volunteer activists began coordinating more than 700 demonstrations — all for June 26 — in every U.S. state, Puerto Rico and two dozen countries.

At the stroke of noon — rain or shine — in many time zones, demonstrators assembled.

Some demonstrators gathered in town squares and at capitol buildings. Hundreds gathered at the White House and in London, where they marched from the Houses of Parliament to British Petroleum’s headquarters.

Most demonstrations took place on waterfronts. In Brooklyn, N.Y, protesters gathered at Coney Island and in Asbury Park, N.J., they gathered on the famed boardwalk. In San Francisco demonstrators gathered in the shade of the Golden Gate Bridge and in Santa Monica, Calif., they assembled just north of that city’s iconic pier.

In Florida, demonstrators joined hands along long stretches of the state’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts, including northwest areas of the state stained by oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill. Locals and visitors stood along the shore on much of Anna Maria Island.

Island demonstrators emerged from beach accesses onto the sand beginning at about 11 a.m., but many arriving just before noon.

“We are, after all, on Island time,” said demonstrator Peggy Shepard of Palma Sola.

As they waited for the protest hour, Hands Across the Sand participants took walks along the shore, waded into the water, sunned themselves and wrote statements in the sand — “United States of Clean Energy.”

At Manatee Public Beach, dozens of people signed petitions calling for a special legislative to ban offshore drilling in Florida waters and urging the president that “new offshore oil drilling is not the answer to solving our future energy needs.”

Then, at about 11:50 a.m. on AMI beaches, demonstrators began to line up, standing just feet from the water. They reached out and joined hands — and held hands until about 12:15 p.m. Occasionally during the protest, people held up their arms as a victory gesture. And there were some disjointed efforts to start up “the wave.”

Protesters described the experience as political and spiritual, inspirational and energizing.

“I wish we people could harness this energy somehow,” said hand-holder Justin Baldwin.

Some cried as they explained what brought them to Hands Across the Sand. Others worked up fury.

“I’m haunted by what we’ve done to the Gulf,” said Gretchen Herring of Bradenton. “We can blame BP for that oil well. And we can say the oil companies are greedy. But we’re gluttons and we’ve got to learn other ways to get around and get through our days.”

The demonstration drew veteran protesters and rookies.

“I’m a hippy chick,” said demonstrator Kristen Moriarty, explaining her penchant for protests.

She joined hands with niece Morgan Kneifel, 11, attending her first protest.

“I’m here protesting the oil spill,” said Morgan.

Her proud aunt noted that until Hands Across the Sand, the only thing Morgan had protested was cleaning up her room.