Hundreds of North Carolinians will take 15 minutes Saturday to join hands with strangers in a peaceful demonstration against fossil fuels.
The event, known as Hands Across the Sand, will take place in different states and countries around the world. After Florida, where it all started six years ago, North Carolina is holding the most events: six along its coastline and three inland.
“What it does is it creates an amazing, powerful image,” said Dede Shelton, executive director of Hands Across the Sand. “We send this image to the elected officials so they see people don’t want this to happen.”
That’s certainly the case for the residents of Kure Beach, which will be the site of an event. In December 2013, their mayor, Dean Lambeth, signed onto an industry-sponsored letter endorsing offshore seismic testing for oil and natural gas without any public input. The following month over 300 people piled into the town hall to voice their opposition at a council meeting. The outcry triggered a reaction; municipalities up and down the East Coast began passing resolutions in opposition to seismic testing.
“I really couldn’t understand why someone representing a coastal town would want to be destroying the environment,” said Joanne Durham, a Kure Beach resident who is organizing the beach’s Hands Across the Sand event.
The beach town has about 2,000 year-round residents, but during summer months its population swells between 400,000 and 700,000 from tourists who visit the beach.
“We wanted to do something,” she said. “And we’d heard about this as something that was happening internationally, but we felt like we wanted something to happen right here in Kure Beach because we just feel very strongly that we should not have offshore drilling — whether it’s right here along our beach or anywhere along the North Carolina coast. So we wanted to continue to highlight that.”
Folks in Seaside, Fla., form a human chain to “draw the line” on fossil fuels, says Dede Shelton, executive director of Hands Across the Sand.
This demonstration, however, is not just about opposing offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.
“Our gathering is really focused on the problems associated with coal-fired power plants, particularly coal ash pollution,” said Britten Cleveland, Charlotte’s Hands Across the Sand organizer. “I think our reliance on coal is a big issue, and that really came to a head with the coal ash spill in the Dan River.”
While threats of fossil fuels are different across the state, Cleveland says, the solution is the same: “I think that what ties the coastal events into the inland events is that we’re all calling on the same solution, and that’s the need for a strong clean power plan from the governor.”
Cleveland is also an organizer for the N.C. chapter of the Sierra Club, one of Hands Across the Sand’s national sponsors along with Oceana and Surfrider. The state chapter is helping organize the event in Atlantic Beach, Apex and a paddle out to Duke Power’s Belews Creek coal-fired power plant just north of Winston-Salem, where folks will hold hands in silence to have their message heard.
“What we’re asking for is an end to our reliance on coal to clean up our air and our water,” said Cleveland.
A businessman named Dave Rauschkolb, Shelton’s brother, sparked the Hands Across the Sand grassroots movement in Seaside, Fla., in 2010.“He was hosting a fundraiser for a local politician,” Shelton said, “and when the politician got up to give his speech he told the whole crowd that the Florida legislature was going to approve offshore drilling again in the Gulf of Mexico, all the way around the coast.”
As the owner of three beachfront restaurants, Rauschkold was mortified, she said. They held their first event on Jan. 13 that year. Five weeks later on April 20, a wellhead blew out on the BP Deep Water Horizon oil rig, spilling an estimated 210 million gallons of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico—the biggest accidental marine oil spill in the industry’s history.
Hands Across the Sand responded with another day of demonstrations on June 26 — this time with events in all 50 U.S. states and 43 other countries, with support from some of the world’s largest environmental nonprofit organizations.
The Florida Senate later rejected the bill proposed by the state House to approve offshore drilling. After several failed attempts, the BP well was permanently sealed on Sept. 19, 2010.
“(Hands Across the Sand) hasn’t been as big since because there hasn’t been an oil spill,” said Shelton, at least not one as well publicized. But, Shelton says, she hopes this year’s turnout will be different given the possibility of drilling off the East Coast.
All events are scheduled for Saturday, May 16, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Demonstration begins at noon. Click here for more detailed information.
State events are set for:
- Apex, Jordan Lake State Park
- Atlantic Beach, Fort Macon State Park
- Charlotte, Freedom Park
- Kitty Hawk, Kitty Hawk Pier
- Kure Beach, K Ave. beach access by the fishing pier
- Nags Head, Bonnett St. access
- Oak Island, Middleton Park beach access
- Walnut Cove, 4252 Pine Hall Road
- Wrightsville Beach, Johnnie Mercer Pier beach access 16