Monday, March 5, 2018

A Community Comes Together for New England Waters

by Cindy Sabato, communications director

What a sight we must have been. What a fabulous sight.

We 150 men and women strong, carrying our hand-made, poster-sized signs, wearing our Save The Bay stickers. We gathered on the plaza outside the R.I. State House and then marched together the half-mile to the Marriott. Our cause was to protect New England waters from the risks of offshore oil drilling. Our wholehearted chant along the way: "No Drills! No Spills!"

Save The Bay's rally was to protest a federal plan to open up 90 percent of U.S. continental-shelf waters to oil and gas exploration and drilling. It was also part of a collective community effort that began with a press conference at the State House, organized by the Environment Council of Rhode Island, and ended with a Climate Action R.I.-organized mock public hearing inside the Marriott, where the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was offering one-on-one informational sessions about the federal plan.

I wasn't sure what to expect. After all, our rally and march were from 3:30 - 5:30 p.m., chosen to get our protesters safely off the busy streets before dark, but not super convenient for the many would-be protesters who couldn't get off work. I needn't have worried. Oh, how heartening to see our passionate supporters pack the inside of the press conference with their signs and then filter outside to join the march.

Just two nights before, a hearty handful of creative men and women had come to our Save The Bay offices in Providence to paint and draw some two dozen signs. Other protesters brought their own signs. Save The Bay's volunteer manager, July Lewis, and I took turns leading chants with the megaphone - a first for me! As cars drove by, drivers honked and waved and high-fived in support of our cause. Media walked along the street, snapping pictures and interviewing people, and press coverage made it clear that Rhode Islanders stand united in our promise to protect our environment.

This is the Ocean State, after all, and our economy, lifestyle, and livelihood all depend upon a clean, healthy ocean.

A member of the press asked me what we hope to accomplish with our rally. Getting New England waters exempted from the federal plan, was my answer. Then: "Can we really influence the federal government?" At the press conference, Gov. Gina Raimondo had said that if this administration has taught us anything, it's not to be surprised by anything.

Who knows if we can influence the federal government at this juncture? I know there's too much at stake to do nothing. And I have to believe that when we come together—passionate environmentalists, environmental groups each with their own distinct focus, and regular folks who care about our environment and economy for their children and grandchildren—to show our collective commitment, to stand tall and shout loudly and proudly, "No Drills! No Spills!" we can accomplish anything.

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