“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.” Henry David Thoreau on Civil Disobedience
A collective gasp was heard late afternoon yesterday as Tim DeChristopher was found guilty after only 5 hours of jury deliberation. Officially charged with one count of False Statement and one count of violating the Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, suddenly everyone was left thinking- did they convict the real criminal?
Much of the last two days of trial had focused on DeChristopher’s intent when bidding for BLM land leases. Prosecutor John Hubert argued that DeChristopher intentionally “disrupted, derailed, and sabotaged” the auction. However, defense attorney Ron Yengich painted a different picture:
“He wanted to raise a red flag,” he said. “He wanted to make a statement. That’s what he wanted to do. His desire was not to thwart the auction. … He wanted people to think about the consequences that the auction was bringing to bear on other people. But it was never his intention to harm anyone.”
Maybe if Tim had run into the auction using his paddle to feverishly whack participants to prevent them from bidding, then that could be seen harmful.
But let’s put this into context:
Did Tim cause the deaths of 29 people in a mining accident fueled by poor practices and improper equipment maintenance?
Did Tim cause the deaths of 11 people when an offshore oil rig exploded because of numerous safety violations and regulatory oversights causing millions of barrels of oil to spew into the Gulf for months and effectively decimate local economies and ecosystems?
Or how about the other oil spill last summer that leaked over 800,000 gallons into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, that remains contaminated over 6 months later?
Did he contaminate acres of Amazon rainforest and years later refuse to clean it up and pay the fines?
Or did he cause a toxic gas leak at a pesticide plant that not only killed 20,000 people but continues to contaminate the water and cripplingly sicken citizens over 25 years after the original event?
No, in fact Tim only picked up a paddle. And now he’s the one facing prison. The worst any of the above companies suffered was a blow to their images.
Be it what it may, this trial has catalyzed the climate movement once again, serving as a call for civil disobedience to stand up to those who would rather have us submit in fear. Ultimately, Tim decided to stand up to injustice when he saw it and is now calling to others to do the same. From his speech outside the courthouse,
“Everything that went on inside that building tried to convince me that I was alone, and that I was weak. They tried to convince me that I was like a little finger, out there on my own, that can easily be broken. And all of you out here were the reminder, for all of us, that I was… connected to a hand, with many fingers, that could unite as one fist. And that fist could not be broken by the power in there… All those authorities in there wanted me think like a finger. But our children are calling to us, to think like a fist.”
Likewise, the cries of heroism have reverberated around the blogosphere and beyond. Bill McKibben penned in his piece on Grist.org,
“If the feds think this prosecution/persecution will deter us from working for a livable planet, they couldn’t be more wrong. Tim was brave and alone. We will be brave in quantity.”
Just as Thoreau sat in jail to protest injustices of his day, Tim will now do the same, and bring a spotlight on what we must stand for. The stakes for the planet are high; therefore the stakes for the risks we must take to save it will be high too.