Florida is a top retirement destination for America’s aging population, the winter home of tens of thousands of snowbirds, and a welcome relief for northern transplants who are escaping mind numbing cold.
I’m one of only one-third of Floridians who can actually call ourselves locals.
Unfortunately, this means I’m familiar with the bleaker aspects of being a beach native - I’ve watched waters once abundant with starfish and seahorses become devoid of their existence, and more recently, I’ve seen the impacts that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon BP Oil spill had on the livelihoods of my friends and family.
In 2010, our Florida beach communities organized Hands Across the Sand to protest the efforts of the Florida Legislature and Congress to lift the ban on offshore drilling. (Deja vous, anyone?)
Only four months later, the BP Oil spill brought our fears to light, and the Hands Across the Sand movement gained national and global support.
Hands Across the Sand
Eight years after its seminal gathering, I joined hundreds of activists, local citizens and elected officials on the sugar sands of Clearwater Beach to stand in solidarity against seismic testing, offshore drilling and filthy fossil fuels, holding hands...across the sand.
Floridians statewide have been calling for an end to fossil fuels and a move to renewable energy, but we haven’t had as many elected officials calling out on a national scale.
Florida is still at risk of more drilling, on- and offshore, as seismic testing continues in the Everglades and active drilling advances in the Panhandle and Southwest Florida.
Although the Deepwater Horizon explosion led to nearly 50,000 jobs lost and dinged our lifeblood tourism industry, Florida has yet to totally ban these dangerous drilling practices.
We have been working hard to pass a statewide ban on fracking, a controversial process that would inject chemicals into the ground to access oil.
A army of volunteers and over 90 communities statewide who’ve passed local measures against fracking stand with us, but not as many elected officials are willing to verbally support a ban.
Why won’t our leaders speak up against fracking?
For starters, the oil and gas industry have big wallets and write fat checks to protect their profits, and the industry has been paying a lot to protect their fracking interests.
These officials know if they speak on the record about fracking then we can hold them accountable.
Pair that with the difficulty of speaking to an elected official at an event, and getting them on the record can be a tough task.
But on Saturday, I had my chance.
Bird-dogging is the act of showing up at a public event that an elected official or candidate is appearing at to ask them their stance on an issue, or to get them to make a commitment to take action on an issue.
Just my luck, Senator Bill Nelson was in a throng of elected officials rallied by organizers to stand in the middle of our string of bodies at the Hands Across the Sand event, so I volunteered to hold the event sign, placing myself close to him in our human chain.
A crowd immediately formed around him but I cut through until I was next in line to shake his hand and ask my question:
“Senator Nelson, I’m Brooke Errett with Food & Water Watch. I really want to thank you for standing against offshore drilling. How do you feel about banning fracking statewide in Florida?”
“It ought to be done,” he said.
And then he was pulled away from the crowd by another organizer.
But there it was: a firm statement from our United States Senator in support of a statewide fracking ban.
As we were leaving the event, I also had a chance to approach Representative Charlie Crist.
He told me that he ‘absolutely’ supports the statewide ban on fracking, period.
There are still more electeds that we need to pull on board and get their public support to make sure that a ban is passed, but this was two huge steps in the right direction.