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Sacrifice? No, an empowering protest

By From page A6 | June 13, 2013

Tim DeChristopher. Courtesy photo

Details

What: Screening of “Bidder 70″ documentary about Tim DeChristopher

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 20

Where: Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis, 27074 Patwin Road

Admission: A donation of $5-$10 is suggested

“I thought I was sacrificing my freedom, but instead I was grabbing onto my freedom for the first time and refusing to let go of it.”

— Tim DeChristopher

“Bidder 70,” a documentary showcasing Tim DeChristopher’s story, will be shown Thursday, June 20, in the sanctuary at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis, 27074 Patwin Road. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. A discussion of the effects of DeChristopher’s definitive action in the climate action movement will follow. A donation of $5 to $10 is suggested.

In December 2008, during the closing weeks of George W. Bush’s administration, DeChristopher, a 27-year-old University of Utah economics student, protested the auction of gas and oil drilling rights to more than 150,000 acres of publicly owned Utah wilderness surrounding U.S. national parks.

But instead of yelling slogans or waving a sign outside, DeChristopher accepted a bidding paddle and won a dozen land leases worth nearly $2 million he didn’t have. He was arrested for criminal fraud, found guilty, and sentenced to two years in federal prison — even though the new Obama administration had since declared the oil and gas auction null and void.

DeChristopher visited Davis in the spring of 2011 while he awaited sentencing. The California Student Sustainability Coalition at UC Davis invited him as its keynote speaker for its Spring Convergence, and he stayed the night at my home.

He walked into the living room, noted the hymnal on the piano and said, “So, you’re a Unitarian?”

“Moral foundation,” I said.

Tim, a member of the Salt Lake City Unitarian Universalist Church, nodded agreement.

I found him agreeable and mild-mannered, hardly a die-hard revolutionary. He worked with kids in Outdoor Adventure, loved the wilderness and welcomed the chance to ride a bike to campus.

He’d been “in training,” though, studying Martin Luther King and Gandhi, talking with Terry Tempest Williams and Bill McKibben, thinking about climate change, power, how to make change happen.

He remarked that it took only a few brave souls willing to take big risks to initiate the civil rights movement, and soon the whole country took up the challenge. He believed the same could prove true for our present climate crisis. A few people willing to stand up against Big Oil might tip the scales.

I thanked Tim for standing up for the land and hoped his sentence would be mild.

“I lack your courage,” I admitted.

Tim’s eyes bored into mine and his words have stayed with me ever since.

“I thought it would be a sacrifice, risking going to prison. But the minute I took action, I was free!” he said simply and joyfully.

In his earnest explanation, I heard his unshakable conviction. Standing up against an illegitimate auction of public land, a giveaway to the oil industry, had freed him from believing there was nothing he could do, in this or any other situation. Considering that Tim most likely faced a prison sentence and a formidable fine, his ease was impressive.

Soon after, Tim was sentenced to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He told the court, “You have control over my life, but not my principles.” Read his full speech at http://grist.org/cimate-energy/2011-07-27-time-dechristophers-statement-to-the-court.

Author Terry Tempest Williams wrote in her January/February 2012 interview with Tim published in Orion Magazine, “Tim has become a thoughtful, dynamic leader of his generation in the climate change movement. While many of us talk about the importance of democracy, Tim has put his body on the line and is now paying the consequences.”

Williams continued, “… thousands of citizens are following his lead and are choosing to commit acts of civil resistance. …They recognize that we can no longer look for leadership outside ourselves. ..if public opinion changes, government changes.”

Tim’s courage continues to inspire action. More than 2,000 protesters arrived in Washington, D.C., in waves for two weeks of peaceful sit-ins between Aug. 20 and Sept. 3, 2011, and 1,200 of them were arrested at the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline.

On Presidents Day 2013, tens of thousands protested in cities across the country over the same pipeline, including at least 40,000 in Washington and 5,000 in San Francisco. Activists are preparing for more civil disobedience and arrests this July as President Obama’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline draws near.

Bill Moyers interviewed Tim on May 24 to talk about the necessity for civil disobedience in the fight for environmental justice, how the jury was ordered to place the strict letter of the law over moral conscience, and the future of the environmental movement.

Moyers raised the question, “I have a hunch that most people listening to us now, watching us now, agree that our government has been captured by big money, big business, corporate America. But they don’t know how, what to do about it. And unlike you, many of them are married, have children, have obligations, own homes. Two years in prison would totally disrupt their life and their commitments to others. … What do you say to those people?”

Tim answered, “Not everyone has to go to prison. But I think everyone has to feel empowered to take strong actions. … There’s been this huge resurgence of the climate justice side of the movement and the real grassroots side of the climate movement over the past few years.”

Watch Moyers’ interview, “Going to Jail for Justice,” at http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-going-to-jail-for-justice. A spur-of-the-moment act can perhaps power a climate movement.

The “Bidder 70″ screening is sponsored by Green Sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church, Cool Davis and the Church and Society Ministry of Davis Community Church.

— Lynne Nittler is a Davis resident; contact her at [email protected]

Lynne Nittler

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