Santa Barbara Oil Spill Draws Hundreds for Rally

“We are finally demanding that oil companies pay for their pollution. But none of that happens until people stand up and make it happen. And we won’t meet the major environmental challenges we all face unless we all stand together and demand change and make it a priority.” 

Katie Davis, chair of the Sierra Club’s Los Padres Chapter, speaks to the crowd before the rally for the recent oil spill on the shores of Santa Barbara.

These words, spoken by Katie Davis, chair of the Sierra Club’s Los Padres Chapter, echoed through downtown Santa Barbara when more than 500 citizens rallied and marched in response to the Refugio State Beach oil spill. This spill dumped more than 100,000 gallons of oil on the Santa Barbara coastline on May 19th which prompted intense reaction from members of the community and other activists. 

Sierra Club California director Kathryn Phillips helped plan the event and successfully encouraged many Sierra Club volunteer leaders who were in the region for a meeting to change their plans and attend the rally. “I have to say, I've been to a lot of rallies and marches in my life and this one stands out as being the most impressive in terms of organization and tone. The intent was to highlight what the spill demonstrates about the problems with oil dependence and to also highlight solutions and alternatives. It did both very well.”

Unfortunately, oil spills have become a common occurrence in American waters. The Deepwater Horizon blowout dumped more than 200 million gallons (757 million liters) of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, lasting 87 days. The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline -- an 875-mile pipeline that would transport up to 830,000 barrels of dirty tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada, through six U.S. states, to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico -- hangs in the balance, awaiting a decision from President Obama.

“​I think the spill certainly reinforces the need to reject Keystone,” says Phillips. “I hope the president is listening. Santa Barbara's spill shows once again that there's no such thing as a safe oil pipeline. It makes no sense to run one through America's heartland.” 

At San Refugio, “a whopping 80 dead birds and 45 dead mammals have been counted, and many live animals coated in oil,” Davis says, “and the total numbers will only continue growing.”

With strong attention needed on this issue, the rally could not have been a more perfect attention grabber. A key organizer for the event, Eric Cardenas, had three weeks to organize a similar rally in response to the Deepwater Horizon spill. He was able to get hundreds on board yet again for the Santa Barbara rally -- only this time he did it in a week. Local officials turned out to join in on the rally including Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, other members of the city council, Board of Supervisors member Salud Carbajal, and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson.

Darrell Clarke, a Sierra Club volunteer who directs the Club's Electric Vehicle Initiative, was struck by the energy of the rally. “There were a lot of chants for clean energy -- ‘What do we want? Clean Energy! When do we want it? Now!’ Ralliers marched from downtown Santa Barbara and lined up on San Refugio Beach, on what became a beautiful afternoon after the clouds burned off.”

Ralliers march down the streets of Santa Barbara in response to the Refugio State Beach oil spill.

A rally such as this serves as a reminder that even the simplest of grassroots actions, like holding signs or marching down streets with hundreds by your side, can create a real impact. At this writing, cleanup efforts continue. But the spill serves as yet another vivid reminder of why we need to transition to clean energy solutions instead of continuing our reliance on fossil fuels.

“Even after all this time. The sun never says to the earth, you owe me. Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.”  - Hafiz, 14th-century Persian mystic and poet 


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