Monday, June 20, 2011

Environmental activist Tim DeChrisopher faces 10 years in jail for civil disobedience

An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I think the opportunity that's here is to build a real resistance movement -- not just a lobby movement, but a resistance movement, that says this path that we're on is absolutely unacceptable, and we're going to use our power as citizens and as a movement to shut this system. I think that's where we need to be right now, recognizing that this is not a matter of lobbying for trivial reforms, but we're at a point where we need to make the path we're on absolutely impossible to continue. Hopefully that's the lesson that people are taking out of this.
Tim DeChristopher
Student and activist Tim DeChristopher found a way to resist corporate power and fight against the damage caused by US oil and gas corporations. But it may cost him a long prison term.

On June 23 the environmental activist and campaigner  will find out whether he will spend the next ten years in a US Federal Prison for an act of civil disobedience against the oil and gas industry.

His case is being seen as yet another example of the serious assault on public protest and dissent that is occurring around the world, whereby governments and corporations are increasingly using whatever means possible, such as anti- terrorist legislation, increased police powers, direct restrictions on public protest, SLAPP suits and arbitrary detention, to prevent and limit the right to protest.

In December 2008 DeChristopher participated in an oil and gas auction of 150,000 acres of public land in Southern Utah. Sale of the land had been fast tracked in the last days of the Bush administration to benefit the fossil fuel industry. It was a last minute land grab authorized in the last days of the Bush administration.

DeChristopher was outraged by the illegality of the land grab and the fact that leases were being handed out in an irregular way. He was also outraged about the ways that the oil and gas companies privatized all their profits and externalized all their costs. His argument was that the oil and gas companies had no intention to pay the full costs of their operations which are offloaded to the public :
"Well, I saw this auction as, first off, a fraud against the American people, that the government wasn’t following their own rules and was locking the public out of the decision-making process for public property. I also saw it as a real threat to my future, because of the impact on climate change that this kind of “drill now, think later” mentality was having, and an attack on our public lands, on our natural heritage, in pretty pristine and irreplaceable areas in southern Utah".
DeChristopher successfully bought (without any money or intention to pay) 22,000 acres of the land in order to save it from fossil fuel extraction. De Christopher had originally attended the auction to protest without any intention of bidding for the land. However, upon entry to the auction he was asked if he intended to be a bidder to which he replied "yes" and he became Bidder No 70. DeChristopher then proceeded to bid and successfully secured 13 leases, thereby disrupting the sale.

De Christopher actually raised the money to buy the land but he was still charged with fraud because at the time of the auction he had no intention to pay. However, that fact and many other issues were not allowed to be introduced into the trial.

In March 2011 he was convicted of fraud and faces a 10 year jail term and $750,000 fine imposed by the Obama administration.

As Tim De Christopher points out his case was prosecuted to scare off others who might consider civil disobedience.
"I was born the year that Ronald Reagan took office. The reality throughout my lifetime has been, corporations and governments are powerful, and people are weak, and there is nothing you can do to change that. Now that paradigm is starting to shift, and all of a sudden, the world is starting to believe in people power again"
Various web sites have been set up to publicize DeChristopher's case (Bidder 70) and  The Trial of Tim DeChristopher and a Facebook site allows you to follow the case. Interviews and stories about DeChristopher can be read here, here, here, here, here and here.

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