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Guarding the Coast: Locals Join 'Hands' Against Oil Drilling

by Jennifer Feals

RYE - The message was a strong one as hundreds of locals locked hands Saturday, joining thousands across the nation, in the Hands Across the Sand demonstration against off-shore oil drilling.

People hold hands during a Hands Across the Sand event Saturday, June 26, 2010 along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico in Gulfport, Miss. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) "We gotta clean up the trash. We gotta keep the water clean or the fish will die," said Riley Pearson, 5, of Derry, in her wet bathing suit as her hands linked with family members on each side whose hands held those of complete strangers.

The chain of human hands continued along the beach wall at Wallis Sands State Park in Rye for 15 minutes Saturday afternoon. Earlier in the morning, approximately 50 people gathered at Prescott Park carrying signs reading "Another Fish for Solar" and "Make Energy Clean," while chanting sentiments like "BP's gotta pay" and "What do we want? Clean energy. When do we want it? Now."

"We're here because of the oil disaster we've seen in the Gulf of Mexico and none of us are happy about it," said Cathy Corkery, organizer of the Prescott Park demonstration. "Not only are we appalled by what's going on and the handling by BP, but we're really upset at the impacts to the communities and the wildlife."

The demonstrations come in the wake of the BP oil spill that started in the Gulf of Mexico April 20, and which has become the largest oil spill in U.S. history. At both Wallis Sands beach and Prescott Park, participants joined hands, demonstrating unity with those in the Gulf and their united front against off-shore oil drilling. The Seacoast gatherings took place at the same time as more than 600 other events planned around the country.

Pearson and other beach-goers joined in the demonstration after learning it was taking place at Wallis Sands.

"We're a common family of people who respect and understand the love that's required for mother earth," said Elizabeth Anderson, 27, of Somersworth. "My generation has become so complacent because we have had such privileges. If this were the '60s, we'd be sitting on the steps of Capitol Hill until the oil stopped."

Sheila Butler, who has a home in Sarasota, Fla., and spends her summers in Jaffrey, held a sign showing a seal that read "Protect my home from big oil." Before leaving for New Hampshire just weeks ago, Butler sat at her local beach in Florida watching a dolphin jump in the water. She was brought to tears at the concern the oil spill and its effects will hit that area.

"I had a real good cry before I left. I just thought, what if it comes here. It just breaks my heart," said Butler, who is a wildlife activist. "People are very concerned and they have a right to be. Everybody, up and down the coast, people are cleaning up the beaches already. It's like you're sitting there waiting for a storm and you don't know if this wind is going to blow or not."

Demonstrators expressed discomfort at alleged untruths from BP and their disappointment with the oversight of the U.S. government.

The goal of Hands Across the Sand is to convince U.S. leaders to abandon off-shore oil drilling and adopt policies that encourage clean energy instead. Those at the Seacoast gatherings said it's also about raising awareness not only of the large issue but that change can happen with everyone.

"It's important as human beings that walk on this great planet to know that we all can make a difference," said Stephanie Zydenbos-Heino at Prescott Park. "If it's not buying the one bottle of water you conveniently need, every little bit matters. We can make a difference in our everyday activities. We can do it with love and respect."

Every person should look in the mirror and say "What can I do today," Anderson said. "I think the time for change is coming. There's a light at the end of the tunnel. I drove here today, so next time I have to do better."

Hands Across the Sand was founded by Floridian Dave Rauschkolb last October. It is endorsed by national environmental organizations including the Sierra Club, Audubon, Surfrider, Oceana, Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, Alaska Wilderness League, Ocean Conservancy, Friends of the Earth, Environment America, 350, MoveOn.org, Center for Biological Diversity and CleanEnergy.org.

For more information, visit www.handsacrossthesand.org.

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