[permaculture] Democracy Now! | "One Man’s Bid to Aid the Environment"

Jerome Rigot rigot.3 at osu.edu
Sat Jan 3 10:18:49 EST 2009

Hello all,

The story below is a great example of direct action activism.

Enjoy! Jerome


December 24, 2008

“One Man’s Bid to Aid the Environment”

By Amy Goodman

Tim DeChristopher is an economics student at the 
University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He had just finished his last
final exam before winter break. One of the exam 
questions was: If the oil and gas companies are the only ones who bid on
public lands, are the true costs of oil and gas 
exploitation reflected in the prices paid?

DeChristopher was inspired. He finished the exam, 
threw on his red parka and went off to the controversial Bureau of
Land Management land auction that the Southern 
Utah Wilderness Alliance called “the Bush administration’s last great
gift to the oil and gas industry.” Instead of 
joining the protest outside, he registered as a bidder, then bought 22,000
acres of public land. That is, he successfully 
bid on the public properties, located near the Arches and Canyonlands
National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument, 
and other pristine areas. The price tag: more than $1.7 million.

He told me: “Once I started buying up every 
parcel, they understood pretty clearly what was going on 
 they stopped the
auction, and some federal agents came in and took 
me out. I guess there was a lot of chaos, and they didn’t really know
how to proceed at that point.”

Patrick Shea, a former BLM director, is 
representing DeChristopher. Shea told the Deseret 
News: “What Tim did was in the
best tradition of civil disobedience, he did this 
without causing any physical or material harm. His purpose was to draw
attention to the illegitimacy and immorality of the process.”

There is a long tradition of disrupting land 
development in Utah. In his memoir, “Desert Solitaire,” Edward Abbey, the
writer and activist, wrote: “Wilderness. The word 
itself is music. 
 We scarcely know what we mean by the term, though
the sound of it draws all whose nerves and 
emotions have not yet been irreparably stunned, deadened, numbed by the
caterwauling of commerce, the sweating scramble for profit and domination.”

Abbey’s novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang” inspired a 
generation of environmental activists to take “direct action,”
disrupting “development.” As The Salt Lake 
Tribune reported on DeChristopher: “He didn’t pour sugar into a bulldozer’s
gas tank. He didn’t spike a tree or set a 
billboard on fire. But wielding only a bidder’s paddle, a University of Utah
student just as surely monkey-wrenched a federal 
oil- and gas-lease sale Friday, ensuring that thousands of acres near
two southern Utah national parks won’t be opened to drilling anytime soon.”

Likewise, the late Utah Phillips, folk musician, 
activist and longtime Utah resident, often invoked the Industrial
Workers of the World adage: “Direct action gets the goods.”

More than just scenic beauty will be harmed by 
these BLM sales. Drilling impacts air and water quality. According to
High Country News, “The BLM had not analyzed 
impacts on ozone levels from some 2,300 wells drilled in the area since
 nor had it predicted air impacts from the 
estimated 6,300 new wells approved in the plan.” ProPublica reports
that the Colorado River “powers homes for 3 
million people, nourishes 15 percent of the nation’s crops and provides
drinking water to one in 12 Americans. Now a rush 
to develop domestic oil, gas and uranium deposits along the river and
its tributaries threatens its future.”

After being questioned by federal authorities, DeChristopher was released.

The U.S. attorney is currently weighing charges 
against the student. DeChristopher reflects: “This has really been
emotional and hopeful for me to see the kind of 
support over the last couple of days 
 for all the problems that people
can talk about in this country and for all the 
apathy and the eight years of oppression and the decades of eroding civil
liberties, America is still very much the kind of 
place that when you stand up for what is right, you never stand alone.”

His disruption of the auction has temporarily 
blocked the Bush-enabled land grab by the oil and gas industries. If
DeChristopher can come up with $45,000 by Dec. 
29, he can make the first payment on the land, possibly avoiding any
claim of fraud. If the BLM opts to re-auction the 
land, that can’t happen until after the Obama administration takes over.

The outcome of the sales, if they happen at all, 
will probably be different, thanks to the direct action of an activist,
raising his voice, and his bidding paddle, in opposition.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column. 

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