Today it was decided that Tim DeChristopher, a climate activist I’ve seen speak twice at Wesleyan, is going to prison for disrupting an illegal government auction of public land to private oil and gas companies. He went to the auction, which he knew to be unlawful and inevitably destructive, pretended to be a bidder, and proceeded to jack up the prices for oil executives trying to lease government land. He won 14 bids. His actions forced the Bureau of Land Management to admit that they’d held an illegal auction and to cancel all leases (the auction was during December of 2008, a parting gift from the Bush administration to the oil industry). He essentially conducted nonviolent protest of a very creative sort.
The government’s only valid accusation was that he wrote his real name and address down when he signed up to be a “bona fide bidder” at the auction. At his trial, he wasn’t allowed to tell the jury why he did it (i.e. because it was illegal and surreptitiously organized) or even that he managed to raise enough money for the down payment on his 14 leases.
Tim was sentenced today to two years in prison, entirely to be made an example. He made an inspirational statement at his sentencing hearing, in which he upbraided the government for the hypocrisy of prosecuting him for the type of peaceful disobedience that has heralded every great American movement for equality. His sentence has been met with an outpouring of support for civil disobedience for climate policy.
Bill McKibben has challenged us to follow in Tim’s footsteps, the first of which will be a two week long act of civil disobedience in D.C. protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline would pump oil from the notoriously dirty tar sands in Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast, where energy and water intensive processing would prepare it for export. As McKibben writes, “Jim Hansen, the NASA climatologist, says that if those tar sands are fully exploited it’s “essentially game over for the climate.” If those words don’t inspire you to act, nothing will.” If you will be in the D.C. area for any three days between August 20 and September 3 and are interested, you can sign up here.
We’re entering a new civil rights movement, and this time the injustice is at the hands of the wealthiest corporations in the world and ignorant government officials.