It's the people that make Hands Across the Sand unforgettable

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I overheard a woman talking to the small group just a yard away from me -- she was mentioning the protest, saying that it was starting at noon. My neighbors perked up, asking if it was to protest the BP spill. As this woman came closer to me, I shared with her that I was there to participate. Her name was Gwen. She had only just heard about the event that morning, and she was walking north along the beach, telling seemingly everyone she came across about the upcoming event. She confided that she thought it would be a wonderful experience for her two kids to be a part of.

[image-1]A little after 11:30 a.m., I gathered up my beach gear, slogged through the sand back to my car, took a few gulps of a sports drink I'd had in the front seat, and traded my towel and cell phone for my moleskine, a pencil, and my camera. Already, a signup table had been set up on the beach between a few cars, and a rad solar-powered car was parked in front, with the website stenciled on both sides. I signed the Hands Across the Sand petition sheet, handing the turquoise-ink pen to the gentleman behind me as the group of protestors steadily grew behind us. Lynn Taylor, the site's organizer, was explaining the event to newcomers and pointing out where people needed to stand along the waterline. She was hoping for the line to stretch from the Chases location all the way north to the inlet.

Wiping sweat from their faces and looking up and down the sand to see how many others were joining in, protestors of all ages progressed toward the waterline. Some children were already holding their parents' hands as they got closer. Jessica Waters from Winter Park had made up a poster calling for "Clean Energy Now," and Winter Park artist Erik De La Cruz had brought along one of his oil and acrylic paintings. Throughout our brief time together, I met more individuals, from educational consultant Jacalyn Resman to Joyce Mills, who'd had to slowly inch along through the sand, wearing a soft cast on her right leg.

[image-2]I looked behind us, seeing stretches of now-empty beach chairs and abandoned towels from beachgoers who had joined in the event. One organizer ran up the line to try to get us to stretch out, move sideways, try to fill in the gaps. We all clasped hands and discussed where we came from, first all shifting left, then right, then left again as we all tried to connect the line. Unfortunately, despite stretching ourselves as far as we could go, we did still end up having a gap about 10 yards wide. We stood together as the tide came in, soothing cool sea water wrapping around our ankles and soaking our shoes.

And then, almost as quickly as it had started, the protest was over. We all stood around for a moment or two, not quite ready to end this sense of togetherness, of feeling like we were doing something important, if only for a few minutes. Slowly, some individuals started disbanding, shaking each others' hands or swapping business cards. But one young woman stopped a few of us -- she was vacationing in New Smyrna from elsewhere.

"I'm from Pensacola," she told us. "This is a beautiful thing you people just did here. Thank you."

She went on: "The beaches are closed over there. I'm just glad I got a chance to get in the water here." Tears brimmed in her eyes. "This was beautiful."

At that moment, this woman, this Amelia Godwin, became something very important to me. She had personalized Florida's new identity as the latest state to be touched by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. She was, to me, the face of Pensacola. Her tears were the tears of those who have had their lives forever changed by an oil-slicked coastline, and it all magnified my own feeling of utter helplessness in the face of this disaster.

As soon as I was alone, I covered my face with my hands and sobbed.

I showed up at New Smyrna Beach more than an hour early for the Hands Across the Sand protest, hoping to avoid the inevitable free-for-all parking snarl of beachgoers and protestors. I lucked out — I found a parking spot just next to Chases on the Beach, a designated meeting point for the New Smyrna protestors.

The Atlantic's waves churned a fine ocean mist in the air as I strode down the wooden stairs onto the familiar white sand — this was a place I knew well from my years of living in Volusia County. I laid out my striped blue beach towel, kicked off my beige and orange flip flops, and stretched out to enjoy the sand, sun, and salt air on my skin as I waited for the event to draw nearer.

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