In Salt Lake City yesterday (Tuesday 26th July 2011), environmental activist and founder of Peaceful Uprising, Tim DeChristopher, was sentenced to two years in prison, three years of parole and was fined $10,000. DeChristopher, who many in the activist community see as a beacon of civil disobedience against a corrupt establishment, was in March of this year tried and found guilty of disrupting a Bureau of Land Management Auction by placing "false" bids on the land up for sale.
In 2008 at the tail end of George Bush’s presidency, the BLM was selling off land for gas and oil exploration and DeChristopher, who managed to walk right past security and into the auction hall, placed the winning bids on some 22,000 acres. He had originally attended the auction intending only to protest the sale of publicly owned land but says that once there, he felt compelled to deploy more aggressive tactics.
A letter of public support signed by, among others, Naomi Klein, Bill Mckibben and Robert Redford describes DeChristopher as having acted in “the fine tradition of non-violent civil disobedience that [has] changed so many unjust laws,” and Tim himself has claimed he will be serving time for justice, yet there is no doubt that the justice system has served him poorly. At his trial, the fact that he offered to make the down payments on the parcels he’d successfully bid on was kept from the Jury (somehow, supporters had managed to raise the money required), as was the fact that the incoming Obama administration had declared the auction void because of BLM impropriety: It seems the agency did not seek the public consent required for the sale of federally owned land. The judge deemed these mitigating factors to be irrelevant to DeChristopher’s defence before going on to claim that introducing new evidence would only confuse the jury. I guess that these days, this is what passes for justice in the land of the free.
It is worth noting that during the four months between his trial and sentencing, DeChristopher, who is clearly a man of character, remained active for his cause despite the fact he was potentially facing up to 10 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. At Power Shift 2011 in April, where he delivered a fiercely inspiring keynote address, he walked out on stage to rapturous applause that clearly translated as, “We love and admire you Tim.” It’s hard not to concur.
From up here on Mt. Pelion, the man looks like a hero.