This is the story of an ordinary citizen (Tim DeChristopher) taking creative peaceful direct action to disrupt, as he put it, a “fraud against the American people and a threat to (his) future.”
In December 2008, the Bush administration granted the oil and gas industry one last unethical auction in Utah, scurrying to lease out parcels of pristine red rock public lands for drilling and exploration.
Exercising his inherent right to protest, Tim who was then a local college student, walked in the building, registered as bidder 70 and went up against Big Oil and friends. He soon outbid them—winning 14 parcels in a row and racking up over $1.7 million worth of land! When asked to step aside by security, Tim made it very clear that he was there to stop the auction and was promptly escorted out.
Within two months, the subsequent Obama administration deemed the auction was illegitimate because it was conducted improperly. They ended up canceling 77 of the disputed parcels.
And yet two months later, DeChristopher was indicted on two felony counts which could result in up to 10 years in prison. The charges include violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform act and misrepresenting his intentions upon registering to bid, since he had no intent to either pay or drill.
Tim has been denied the necessity defense, arguing that he had derailed the auction for the greater good of tackling runaway climate change. In 2008, activists from Greenpeace UK used a similar defense successfully and were acquitted when the jury decided that the threat of global warming justified breaking the law.
Tim’s trial, however, seems to be a perfect example of “business as usual”—the oil and gas industry slipping away stealthily when it should really be their irresponsible, destructive practices on trial. Instead the jury has been stripped of its right to hear all of the relevant, scientific facts in order to draw their own independent conclusion.
How can we expect these citizens to be the conscience of their community? Whatever verdict they come up with, it should be under the auspice of a fair trial, where justice prevails.
We live in a country with a fine, long-standing tradition of civil resistance—of ordinary citizens taking action to contest and eventually transform unjust laws. As people concerned for the future, we stand with this courageous young man for acting on his belief, for standing up to “create the just world he wants to see.”
As carbon emissions skyrocket, as climate scientists’ worst fears are becoming reality, and as corporate and political will stagnates, we will not be deterred from taking non-violent direct action to tackle the biggest threat we’ve ever faced as a species: climate change.
The best responses to intimidation are joy and resolve. Thereby, Peaceful Uprising (the collective that Tim co-founded) invites you to their mass convergence in Salt Lake City for an Empowerment Summit (February 25-27th, 2011) and then to stand in solidarity with Tim during his trial (starting February 28th, 2011).
For more details: http://www.peacefuluprising.org/climate-trial
If you can’t make it to the trial, there are other ways for you to get involved:
-- hosting a solidarity action locally,
-- donating to their valiant efforts, or
-- doing all of the above.
For more info on Tim’s story, click here.
Henia Belalia, San Francisco Frontline Senior City Coordinator, Greenpeace USA.