Oil Spill Activism: A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea

What can we do, besides sit paralyzed before Gulf oil spill images of BP burning sea turtles alive, desperate fishermen waiting for clean-up jobs, and a toxic gusher hours away from the threat of gale-force winds? For those of us who also live by water, we can get involved in protecting our own shores from increased offshore drilling and future oil spills.

That's why I joined my Seattle neighbors here on the serpentine Salish Sea (Puget Sound) for the "Hands Across the Sand" event. On Alki Beach, 168 of us joined hands at low tide. It was high noon and we stood, mostly barefoot in the cool, sinking sand, chanting "No More Offshore Drilling!" and "We Need Clean, Alternative Energies!"

We stood in solidarity with our Gulf Coast neighbors cross continent as they struggle with this country's tragic environmental holocaust. We stood in unison with 31 other countries in "Hands Across the Sand" protests worldwide and 750 events in the U.S. It was a simple but exhilarating communion.

As we held hands on the beach, we talked together, as if we were neighbors.

"I just couldn't stay at home anymore watching all those broken-hearted people and dying sea creatures," an elderly man told me. "At least I could do this."He squeezed my hand and we both watched the surf where children splashed happily.

"I'm a grandmother," a woman near me explained. She had brought her three grandchildren who stood in line with expressions of gravity far beyond their years. "They know what's going on."

"Yeah," her granddaughter piped up, "We want grown-ups to stop the hole in the bottom of the sea."

But what if grown-ups cannot stop this sea bottom's hemorrhage? What if that vein of oil -- just like the body's vital vena cava vein -- continues to bleed out? What will our children suffer if we do not take this catastrophic moment in the Earth's and our own history and adapt to new energies?

"I don't know what to tell them anymore," the grandmother said softly. "They think this is some kind of funeral."

Perhaps it was. Certainly we were standing in memoriam for all we have lost since the Earth Day oil spill. But it was also activism, an antidote to apathy and despair.

"Talk to each other," one of the organizers advised. And we did. A Sierra Club volunteer handed out bumper stickers: "Chill the Drills in the Arctic." People for Puget Sound handed out postcards to our governor and legislature, "No Oil Spills in Puget Sound: Fully Fund Washington State's Oil Spill Program." Though we have no offshore drilling here, 15 billion gallons of oil travel through our waters. We have four huge refineries to receive and process them.

"Just yesterday," a man in our line announced, "there was a final agreement that oil companies must fund tugboats to accompany all tankers through the Strait of Juan de Fuca."

Everyone cheered.

A man from Boeing aircraft announced a meeting for Sustainable Bio-fuels sponsored by InspireSeattle.org. "I didn't use to get involved in anything environmental," he told the crowd. "But now I'm a believer in bio-fuels for all airplanes."

More cheers.

It was hard to separate out our cheers on the beach from the mighty hollers and bellows - and a few plastic horns - echoing from the nearby boardwalk tavern The Celtic Swell, where people were watching the U.S.-Ghana World Cup game.

A man near me laughed, "You know, the U.S. came so late to soccer, and we may not win, but at last we're in the world's game." He winked. "It's never too late, as long as we keep trying."

Suddenly the beach seemed buoyant with all the cheering and ways we could actually make a difference, lend a hand. As we let go of each other's hands, our moods and the tide were rising. The sea was reclaiming its slip of sand where we stood; already our footprints disappearing.

As we gathered up on the boardwalk, a group of three grandmothers who call themselves "Seattle's Raging Grannies" began singing and everyone joined in, but there were new lyrics:

"There's a hole in the bottom of the sea
There's a spill in the drill
There's a gush in the mush in the spill in the drill
There's oil, there's oil in the sea
Let's arrest BP for the hole in the sea, for the beach and marsh
Full of oil from the gush in the mush in the spill in the
Drill in the hole in the bottom of the sea"

If anyone could make a citizen's arrest it would be these fierce grandmothers, guardians of generations, who sang out above the soccer fans full-throttle. Wild applause greeted them and then as we all stayed together for a while talking, a circle of people from the Buddhist Prayer Meditation called people to sit silently.

"We can bless our waters and all our world's oceans," someone suggested. "That's something we can do everyday. Just sit quietly and thank the womb of all life on this earth."

Whether it's meditating or activism, local or international, we cannot give up what binds us all together - the oceans. From sea to shining sea.

Brenda Peterson is the author of Living By Water and the recent memoir I Want To Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth. For more: www.IWantToBeLeftBehind.com