Next Monday, February 28, Tim DeChristopher will walk into a Utah courtroom to face federal felony charges for disrupting an oil and gas auction in December 2008. The judge has granted a motion from the prosecution to prohibit DeChristopher from explaining to the jury the reasons behind his actions.
Last October we had a chance to meet DeChristopher, and the Utah judge’s order notwithstanding, we thought it would be a very good idea to sit him down in a studio and let him talk at length about the case in front of a camera.
What he had to say compelled us to broadcast the interview in seven separate short installments, because each one is provocative for a different reason. They can all now be viewed at Solve Climate News.
Together they illustrate how a single act of civil disobedience committed by a single courageous individual can raise important questions that society is begging to have answered. In Tim’s case, the questions revolve around climate, energy and justice.
What Tim did was this. He inadvertently managed to get his hands on a bid card at a federal oil and gas auction, and then examined his conscience. What should I do, he wondered, as he sat in the auction room watching lot after lot of Utah wilderness fall to the gavel and industrial development.
Finally he raised his bid card and used the unexpected opportunity to buy 14 parcels of land, consecutively, with no intent to pay for them. You should hear what he said to federal agent who finally confronted him.
His aim was to create enough chaos to keep the wilderness unspoiled and the oil and gas in the ground, at least until the incoming Obama administration could examine the propriety of the auctions, which were being rushed at the tail end of the Bush administration’s tenure.
Within two months of the auction Tim disrupted, the Interior Department concluded that they had been inappropriate and invalidated the sale – not only of the parcels that Tim had won – but also 63 others. The parcels have yet to return to the auction block.
DeChristopher, through his act of calculated civil disobedience, succeeded in what he set out to do. Tim believes he stopped a crime in process.
Yet he is facing ten years in prison, thanks to an indictment handed down by the U.S. Department of Justice, and a judge who thinks the jury should not be allowed the hear Tim DeChristopher defend his actions.
The challenge DeChristopher has created is not directed solely at the judicial system; nor only at the fossil fuel-dependant energy economy that governs our lives; but also the climate movement and its failures; and the claim upon responsible citizenship any one of us can make.