At more than 800 beaches across the country Saturday, thousands of people joined hands to call for an end to offshore drilling for oil.
And more than 300 of those voices came from two beaches in Gloucester.
Some 200 people stood across the sands of Good Harbor Beach, and they were joined in spirit by more than 100 at Pavilion Beach, in the heart of St. Peter's Fiesta, all taking part in a national line called "Hands Across the Sand."
The national coastal demonstration carried from at least as far north as Portland, Maine, where 200 people formed a similar line, to Florida and out to Texas, where participants joined hands while looking out onto the oil-stained Gulf of Mexico, scene of the BP oil explosion that continues to soil that region's shores and waters.
The twin Gloucester efforts were organized by local activist Jane Berry of the Cape Ann Energy Network, and Angela Sanfilippo of the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association, who noted the need to permanently end offshore drilling holds particularly interest for fishermen and fishing communities.
Barry told the Times Saturday she had first learned of the nationwide organization and demonstration from a friend in the Midwest, who showed her list of the communities hosting the human-chain protests.
She noted an important absence.
"I looked and looked, found Beverly, Salem and other places, but found that Gloucester and Cape Ann weren't on the list," she said.
"I thought, we have to be a part of this," she added. "We, as the oldest seaport in the country, simply had to be a part of it."
Through hooking up with Sanfilippo and the Fishermen's Wives group, Barry and others sent out e-mails to friends and colleagues the latter part of last week. Yet, while coordinating the demonstration at Good Harbor Beach, she found beachgoers knew nothing of the event, even as the planned 15-minute noontime demonstration neared.
"Because Good Harbor attracts its weekend population from far and wide, the e-mails that were sent locally to inform people of the Hands event were ineffectual in informing the populace at (Good Harbor)," she said.
To that end, Barry said, she drew on support from Juliana Hood of East Gloucester and Yvette Anderson of Lanesville to get out the word.
"If Juliana and Yvette had not devoted their time and energy to that end, the event would not have succeeded," Barry said. But, at noon, some 130 people had joined the line moving across the beach, and more joined in as the group advanced.
"We got a lot of positive response," Barry said. "Plus, there were a lot of people who didn't get up, but gave us a thumbs-up, too. I think we made a powerful statement.
"This is an event to make a statement that we recognize the cataclysm that's occurred in the Gulf — and that we need to try to find alternative, safe forms of energy," she said. "I think we made that statement."
Nationally, the message against offshore drilling has been sounded by a Hands Across the Sand organization that was launched late last year in Florida — months before the April BP Gulf oil disaster. Nationally, the Hands Across the Sand effort is being sponsored by a wide array of environmental and political action groups, from the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, The Ocean Conservancy and Cleanwater Action to Greenpeace and MoveOn.org.
Saturday's grassroots efforts in Gloucester, however, held special meaning for the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association and Sanfilippo, who helped lead a group of around 100 more people who, with their "hands," formed their human chain across Pavilion Beach.
The demonstration there came in the shadow of Gloucester's five-day St. Peter's Fiesta to honor the patron saint of fishermen — and the local fishermen themselves.
Sanfilippo recalled that, some 30 years ago, the Fishermen's Wives Association helped bring about a moratorium on offshore drilling to help preserve the fishing grounds of Georges Bank.
Today — with a push for alternative energy, renewed and urgent concerns regarding offshore drilling, and a need to preserve a fishing industry battling federal regulations and economic changes all in the spotlight — Sanfilippo said the need to protect Georges Bank and other fishing grounds from offshore drilling is more important now than ever.
"(We want) a moratorium forever, basically," Sanfilippo said. "... We want something in legislation that no one can touch."