If you figure a typical hand-to-hand spread of, say, 4 ft. per person (averaging in the lofty Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the dollhouse-size Mary Lou Retton, who both plan to take part), that gives you 1,320 folks per mile--or 5,480,640 people to form a squiggly chain of 4,152 miles from sea to shining sea. But the planners of Hands Across America, a spin-off of USA for Africa (We Are the World) that is trying to raise some $60 million for America's hungry and homeless, are hoping for a turnout of at least 6 million people (each contributing at least $ 10) on Sunday after noon, May 25. The pop charity celebration may find that its reach exceeds its grasp. But should the human chain actually link the land, the organizers may not be too far off in billing it as "the largest participatory event in the history of the world."
So far, 1.2 million people have called the group's toll-free number (1 800 USA-9000) or otherwise shown interest in this good old American mixture of corporate marketing, show-biz glitz and genuine grass-roots spirit. Although that is still a good distance from the final goal, Ken Kragen, the project's Pied Piper, says some $16 million has been raised or pledged to stage the event, and that interest will soon reach a critical mass.
A slick video for the project's rather schmaltzy anthem, Hands Across America, with soaring shots of rugged landscape and cameos of dozens of stars, was released last week. Groups ranging from the New York Road Runners Club (which organizes that city's marathon) to Boy Scout troops have signed up to help with the logistics. Kits have been sent to more than 8,000 schools. Some 340 paid staffers are already in towns along the way and are working with 40,000 volunteers who have signed up to be marshals.
The prime corporate sponsors include Coca-Cola, which has pledged $5 million and is putting ads on its bottles, and Citibank, which has promised $3 million and is mailing applications to 25 million people who hold its credit cards. McDonald's is promoting the event on 300 million tray liners. Safeway Stores is advertising the event on its grocery bags. More than 500 other companies are taking part.
The gold loops in the chain will be some 1,000 celebrities, including Kenny Rogers, Bill Cosby, Lily Tomlin and Pete Rose, the four co-chairmen. Organizers stress, however, that "this is a people's event." A North Dakota radio station is sponsoring an essay contest that will reward winners with transportation down to the line. A chili cook-off is planned along the route in Texas. Members of the feuding Navajo and Hopi Indian tribes have got together to endorse the event. Along a ten-mile stretch in New Mexico, thousands of hot-air balloons will ascend simultaneously. The chain will snake through the Pittsburgh Pirates' Three Rivers Stadium, where Pete Rose's Cincinnati Reds will be playing, so that fans and players can join hand to glove.