Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Speaking of Avedon Carol, One

The first of three more things I picked up via The Sideshow.

In December 2008, a young environmental activist named Tim DeChristopher, a student at the University of Utah, took part in a public auction for federal land. He placed the winning bid of $1.7 million for 14 of the 77 parcels up for sale, totaling 22,000 acres. His intent was to protect that land from oil and gas drilling and to protest national energy policy.

"I was concerned about the state of the environment and how little people were doing," he said in an interview. "I was building up the commitment to do something to try to resist the climate crisis. I felt that writing letters and riding my bike was not enough."

So when the opportunity to take part in the bidding arose, he took it.

One problem: He couldn't pay for his bid. It was, in fact, an act of nonviolent civil disobedience or more exactly disruption, peacefully throwing a virtual monkey wrench into the works.

Despite the fact that over the past three years there have been 25 other people who made winning bids in similar autions without being able to pay for them, only one person is being prosecuted for it: Tim DeChristopher. He has been hit with two felony charges and faces 10 years in prison and a $75,000 fine. The charges, apparently, were filed at the behest of the Bureau of Land Management and quite possibly with the collusion of the fossil fuel industry: DeChristopher's lawyer first learned of what the charges would be from an AP reporter, who learned it from an oil industry lobbyist.

His trial starts on February 28 in Salt Lake City. A website to support him has been set up under the name Bidder70; the site covers more than just his legal case and is worth a visit on general principles. There is to be a rally in SLC on the day the trial opens and there is a legal defense fund; info on both is at the site.

Certainly 10 years in prison is such an absurdly outsized punishment for the crime of causing some nuisance to those eager to serve the desires of the oil and gas industry (and to that industry itself) that it becomes clear that the filing of these charges - especially when no one else has been charged due to an inability to make good on their bid - marks them as intimidation done less to punish DeChristopher than to deter anyone else who might consider some similar action. Which of course is clearly and unjustly contrary to "let the punishment fit the crime" but hey, when you're writing the rules you can make them say whatever you want. And there are profits at stake, after all.

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