City Life: Another chance to overcome apathy

June 23, 2010

If you build it, they will come.

That slightly modified quotation from the movie "Field of Dreams" has become a popular maxim of modern times. The implied meaning is that if we put our all into setting up an event or gathering, our faith will be rewarded. And it's a message that, sadly, doesn't always pan out when it comes to organizing protests.

As a reporter, I've covered more demonstrations than I can count, and they tend to be remarkably hit-and-miss affairs. When Jimmy Carter came to UCI a few years back to speak on his book about Palestine, the Jewish student groups on campus put on a massive, organized protest outside the Bren Events Center. Around the same time, I attended a rally at UCI's Aldrich Park to raise awareness about the Darfur genocide, and the turnout was so small I had a hard time finding it.


Even two demonstrations about the same topic can have different results. I attended a pro-gay-marriage rally in Boston so big it nearly halted traffic, and an anti-Proposition 8 rally at the Huntington Beach Pier last year that netted a turnout of four people — two were a reporter and photographer who left with nothing to write about.

What motivates people to show up for one event, and not another? Any number of things can factor into it — the media publicity, the attractiveness of the location, whether the cause ranks high on most people's list of priorities. So I'll be intently watching the Hands Across the Sand demonstration Saturday, in which organizers are calling people across America's coasts to join hands for 15 minutes to oppose offshore drilling.

I spoke last week to Gary Mitchell, the organizer of the Huntington Beach Pier protest, about how he was faring in helping to set up the event. Mitchell's nonprofit, Planet Rehab, is among many groups coordinating the demonstration, and he was busy every day with TV interviews, contacting fellow nonprofits and more.

He expressed confidence, though, that Hands Across the Sand would get a solid turnout. And the main reason for that lies in the recent headlines about what some are calling the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

"As a nation, we tend to have a very short attention span," Mitchell said. "I hope the focus on what's happening in the Gulf will make people realize the devastation that can occur because of oil."

Perhaps the media coverage of the Gulf spill will do the trick for some. I had a friend in college who once told me he felt guilty passing by all the nonprofit booths on campus, knowing that each one represented a group in need. With so many causes out there, it can be easy to give up and tune them all out.

But when media images like those in the Gulf get seared into our consciousness, it can give us the incentive we need to take action. If you're interested in joining Hands Across the Sand, gather at the pier at 11 a.m. and prepare to hold hands at noon. And if you did so instead of playing volleyball or watching "Toy Story 3," applaud yourself for being part of the solution.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER may be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

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