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Gulf oil spill: Hands reach across the sand in protest

June 26, 2010 |  3:11 pm

Oilprotest santa monica june 26
From Santa Monica to Pensacola Beach, Fla., to Washington, D.C., and even as far as London, protesters worried about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico gathered to hold hands, in hundreds of Hands Across the Sand rallies. The goal, as organizers put it, was to "form symbolic barriers against spilling oil."

The media-friendly events at 11 a.m. local time were sponsored by a host of activist groups, including the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, Oceana and MoveOn.org. The organizers said they took place in all 50 states and in more than 20 countries.

In Santa Monica, near a historic pier, about 400 people gathered for a few speeches, holding hand-lettered signs reading, "No more oil crimes" and "Clean energy now." The mood was feel-good: They held hands in a circle and then moved into one long line facing the ocean. Some beachgoers taking in the sun stayed on their towels lying down while the line went on around them.

In Pensacola Beach, Fla., where BP crews were cleaning up tar balls from the spill, about 450 people stood hand and hand in the sweltering afternoon heat. Rakes and other equipment were scattered on the sand beside sunbathers. In the water, children floated on inner tubes.

The protest had special meaning in Florida, where legislators in recent months attempted to allow offshore drilling but were stopped by opposition from residents and the governor. Now the spill that occurred off Louisiana is fouling their tourist-dependent resorts. "We're demonstrating against this mess that BP has caused out here that has really messed up our beautiful beaches," said Ricky Heinrich, 52, a manufacturing representative from Pensacola.

"We're all gathering here, arm in arm, joining hands as a demonstration against BP and against anything like this ever happening again," he said as he stood with friend Michael Collins, 50, a Pensacola interior designer.

Gov. Charlie Crist stopped by to chat with protesters and wade in the water, which he said is being tested "on a daily basis." He had also visited the beach Friday and Wednesday when it was inundated with swaths of black oil.

Asked about his thoughts on Tropical Storm Alex, which is gathering over the Yucatan Peninsula,  Crist knelt in the sand to trace his state's outline with a water bottle and indicate how the storm's current path could bypass Florida and maybe even churn oil away from shore. "This storm could have some promise," he told the crowd. "But we don't know for sure, so pray."

Meanwhile, Catherine Lawrence, a mental health counselor from Pensacola, focused on the need to promote clean energy and raise environmental consciousness. "I mean, we only started recycling in Pensacola this year. This year!" she said. "It's a total way of life that people are going to lose."

--Margot Roosevelt in Los Angeles, and Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Pensacola Beach

Photo: An oil spill protest in Santa Monica was part of a nationwide series of rallies Saturday. Credit: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times

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