Hands Across the Sand
NAPLES — With her 6-month-old baby in tow, Michelle Cotto felt the warm water off the Naples Pier reach her ankles and recede into the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday.
This was her first protest, despite Hands Across the Sand’s three-year run, and it was to keep the beach she’s loved for 22 years free of offshore oil drilling.
“I’m protesting because I’ve been coming here for years. Coming to the beach is tradition and I’ve enjoyed it so I want my kids to enjoy it too,” Cotto said while holding her 4-year-old’s and 9-year-old’s hands as more than 30 other beach-goers continued the chain in solidarity.
A Florida Panhandle restaurant owner founded Hands Across the Sand to protest state and federal proposals to lift the oil drilling ban off Florida. Hands Across the Sand went worldwide with an event last June after the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
This year, organizers like 66-year-old Mickey Gargan are trying to collect 700,000 petition signatures to get a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot to ban oil drilling in Florida’s state waters.
“I don’t want to see oil wells here,” said Gargan, who was dressed in a T-shirt that read, ‘Stop Offshore Drilling.’ “I don’t want a disaster like in Louisiana, want to keep beaches safe for tourists and the wildlife.”
Even though the event wasn’t made public until Friday morning on the Hands Across the Sand’s website, Gargan rallied protesters by calling out to anyone laying or playing on the beach. For 15 minutes, men, women, and children alike linked hands on the shore to show support of clean energy and the prevention of oil drilling in coastal waters.
As they sang “This Land is Your Land,” one of America’s most famous folk songs, more unsuspecting sunbathers flocked to the protest and began linking hands as well.
“Write to Congressman,” Gargan bellowed over the sounds of crashing waves and children laughing once the patriotic song was complete. “Say, ‘I do not want oil drilling in my Gulf.’”
Victor Zuniga, 12, clicked photos on his iPhone of T-shirts and people holding hands in support of the event.
“I’m going to post these on Facebook to help promote and get people to come out,” Zuniga said.
The budding protester said his mother got him involved but now feels like it’s his responsibility to do everything he can to save the beaches.
“I want a good future for myself too, so when I come out to the beach there isn’t another off-shore drilling disaster and it comes onto the beach here,” he said as his mother looked on, proudly.
Similar events are planned at beaches all over the nation, and even around the world, but has their roots in Florida.
Events were also held Saturday at Lowdermilk Park in Collier County, at the Pier on Fort Myers Beach and Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel Island.
Some 10,000 Floridians representing 60 towns and cities and more than 90 beaches participated in a statewide event in February 2010.
For more information, go online to handsacrossthesand.com.