I’ve spent the past week in Salt Lake City, UT – supporting the local group Peaceful Uprising, and my friend Tim DeChristopher. For those that aren’t familiar with Tim – he gained notoriety in 2008 when he went to a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction of oil and gas leases, and he raised his Bidder #70 paddle to win 22,000 acres, at a cost of $1.8 million dollars. Not surprisingly, he didn’t have $1.8 million dollars. What he did have was the courage and conviction to take creative direct action to prevent this land from being sold off for the short-term profit of oil companies who care nothing about the justice, ecology, or a livable future.
This afternoon, Tim goes to trial for disrupting the auction. Despite the fact that the BLM auction was later invalidated under the Obama administration (the BLM violated its own rules and rushed the auction through at the behest of the oil industry), Tim is still facing up to 10 years in jail, and a $750,000 fine.
A reasonable person would realize that since the government ruled that the auctions were invalid to begin with – Tim clearly prevented a greater crime from happening. And a reasonable person should also see that the dangerous policies of destroying wild lands to continue our addiction to fossil fuels is a far greater crime than anything Tim might have done. But the judge in this case has blocked attempts by Tim’s lawyers to introduce arguments about the dire threats of climate change, and refused to let the jury hear Tim’s motivations and reasons for doing what he did.
Dozens of bidders in the past have not paid on their bids – but not a single one has been prosecuted. Why not? Because their motivations for bidding and not paying were rooted in the pursuit of profit. Tim chose to bid and not pay due to a motive of morality. And apparently in our legal and political system – people motivated by altruism and justice are far more dangerous and criminal than those motivated by ruthless profit.
It’s clear that the reason for Tim’s prosecution is not about the single action he took, and it’s not about the oil and gas leases. It’s about sending a message to those that believe that sometimes to fight for justice you have to do what’s right, and what is right isn’t necessarily always legal. This trial is meant to intimidate those who find inspiration from people like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Emma Goldman – and the countless others who dared to take action for justice. But we know the power of taking action, we know that EVERY successful movement has used civil disobedience to bring about change. We watching the people’s movements in the Middle East, and in Wisonsin right now – where people are acting from their hearts and hopes, not their fears or their couches.
One of the central themes of the Countdown to Uprising summit this past weekend, and the march and rally today is “joy and resolve”. People from across the country (from Greenpeace, 350.org, Ruckus Society, Rainforest Action Network and dozens more organizations) have joined us in Salt Lake City this weekend. And thousands more across the country are holding solidarity events, and spreading the word to their communities. We are here to stand in solidarity with Tim, and to show that we will not be silenced or intimidated by Tim’s trial.
We know the urgency, and seriousness of the climate crisis. While our movement continues to ask itself “what must we do” to confront this challenge – Tim’s courage provides inspiration that we must do more than merely speak truth to power. We must act on our own commitments to justice and be willing to sacrifice for a better world. The cost of acting on our conscience may appear high at some times, but we know that the cost of NOT acting is far greater.
During Tim’s keynote speech at the Summit this weekend– he reflected on the daunting sound of “United States v Tim DeChristopher”. As Tim put it – “300 million to 1 is a little intimidating – those aren’t good odds”. But we know those numbers aren’t true. Millions of people support what Tim did, and support a world based on justice and sustainability. Millions of people are demanding we confront the climate crisis. And most importantly, Tim isn’t alone.
While he admitted confronting the climate crisis is daunting, Tim said he realized that through the past 2 years of telling his story; of organizing with Peaceful Uprising; and working with the international climate movement; – he wasn’t alone. He realized how many people supported what he did. He realized how the movement for climate justice has been taking action, and shutting down coal plants, and winning victories for people and planet. He saw how the movement grows every time we share our stories, every time we show another person our joy and resolve, and most importantly – every time we take an action in the name of justice.
As he closed his speech – he made the simple, but telling observation: “Every day, our odds are getting better”. Truer words have not been spoken.