Tim DeChristopher was sentenced today, at approximately 4pm MDT, to two years jail time; and also apparently a ten thousand dollar fine, according to Kevin Gosztola’s post earlier in the evening. The rally organized by PeacefulUprising began about noon at the Exchange Place plaza, across the street from the courthouse. There were upwards of 200 or so supporters, maybe more, and nearly all of them stayed til the bitter end at around 6:30pm. All four of the major local TV stations were represented, had cameras there and were conducting interviews in between filming the goings-on. In fact, I’ll need to take a break from writing this diary in about 10 minutes when the 9 pm Channel 13 news comes on. I’m interested to see what they decided to air versus what was edited out, because over a 6-hour period they must have a lot they’ll need to edit, unless they do a different piece for the morning news. At least one of the two major local newpapers was there, I know because he was standing next to me taking some photos and I asked who he was representing and whether he had requested the assignment. He said no, but then volunteered that he had been assigned to and covered each one of the past Bidder 70 events so far.
Several organizers addressed the crowd and made statements about the importance of civil disobedience, and we were led in some songs by a couple of local folk singers, guitars in hand. The organizers conducted some street theater sketches on environmentalism to demonstrate effective ways of making the case for environmental protection and ways to conduct non-violent civil disobedience. The folk singers led us in “If I Had a Hammer and a couple other songs.”
Peter Yarrow was introduced, and after a brief speech on the role of protesting and its importance in bringing about change, he led the crowd to a rousing rendition of “If You’ve Been to Jail for Justice.” He spoke about Tim DeChristopher, and told the crowd what an extraordinary young man he is, that he’s willing and ready to give up several of the most important years of his life for the protection of the environment. Mr. Yarrow mentioned the way the courts seem to regard civil disobedience today, that these are much different times than during the 60’s civil rights movement; that at least in those times, the courts and judiciary seemed to be respectful of civil disobedience and those who participated in it, even perhaps some feelings of grudging admiration.
Peter then led the crowd through all the verses of “The Times They Are A-Changin.” I wandered around and spoke to several people I recognized, and some whom I did not. One married couple involved in UFPJ who organized once-a-month street-corner vigils/protests against the Iraq/Afghanistan occupations which I joined over a period of several years – hadn’t seen them in a while. A guy I played indoor soccer with and never suspected was an environmentalist, who has met and spoken to Tim DeChristopher on several occasions and has come to respect him very much. A local TV newsman, who I don’t really know, but to whom I said “I know you must sympathize with these causes deep down in your heart, because I’ve seen you at all these rallies and at the anti-war rallies,” to which he replied “Yes, I cover these rallies for the news” in pure non-committal fashion – typical for him, because I’ve asked him his opinion at past rallies and he’s never ventured one yet. I met Skip and Chris from Colorado, holding a large banner; they were here to speak on Tim’s behalf outside the courthouse. Skip is retired, a former BLM employee who lives in Telluride and a former C-140 cargo plane pilot who flew out of Guam during the Vietnam era. Skip told me there have been numerous BLM officials proven to have accepted industry bribes, which included the sercvices of prostitutes; and none of these officials has received any punishment, they’ve never been held accountable by this administration, nor the previous one. Skip has met and spoken to Tim DeChristopher several times, and expressed what an intelligent, principled and brave person he is. Everyone who has spoken with or met Tim, to a person, has come away with the same opinion, including me.
Around 2:30 Tim and his attorney came out of a building adjacent to the plaza and made their way through and past the crowd, to much cheering, and accompanied by several of the local PeacefulUprising organizers. They crossed the street to the courthouse, followed by the gang of TV reporters. Tim was interviewed in front of the courthouse for several minutes, then entered. After about ten minutes the crowd crossed the street and gathered on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse building, an old ornate building that was once the downtown post office building. There was a contingent of city police and I believe federal police on the sidewalk and on two sets of steps leading into the courthouse. I stood talking to one of the city cops and after a while I asked what his take was on this protest, he said he didn’t have an opinion. I moved further down to another group of cops, this time one said that it “probably has its place” when I asked whether demonstrating was for a good cause important, and I said that it surely was important when Dr. Martin Luther King did it in the 60’s, and that today’s event was for a good cause too. When I asked the young policewoman’s opinion on civil disobedience, she replied “I have no opinion while I’m in this uniform” – I thanked her for her non-opinion, and she smiled.
It was sometime after 4pm when Henia, one of the local PeacefulUprising organizers, came out of the courthouse with the news – she was crying as she told us that Tim had received a two-year sentence. Through her tears she told us that even the two years was unjust, and that this would only further their resolve to carry on, that this is not an end, but a begnning of more civil disobedience in the name of the environment. And that this is a national movement, not just a local one. At some point, someone announced that there would be an act of civil disobedience carried out right then and there in solidarity with Tim. I don’t know if this had been discussed by the group in advance (if the sentence was not favorable), but it certainly seemed to me that it must have been. Several people began to gather at the stairs to the courthouse, one guy got out a bunch of plastic tie-wraps, and another announced what was taking place and asking if more in the crowd would like to participate because they could use the support. There was one young couple with three little girls – the oldest (no more than 8 years old) was crying, apparently the mom had decided to join in the action. The girl was sobbing uncontrollably because they told her that mom was going to be arrested, and her dad was trying to console her and explain that it was just for a short while, probably not even overnight. I snapped a photo of them some time later, the mom sitting on the stairs and the oldest by her side, no longer crying, the dad and two girls standing nearby. Eventually there were about two dozen people divided between the two stairways, tie-wrapped to one another and to the stair railings. The police did nothing, just stood and watched. This went on for an hour or so, then it was determined that the police were just trying to wait out the TV cameras and the crowd, hoping they would get tired an leave, freeing them to arrest the protesters. I don’t know how this was determined, whether someone actually talked to the cops, or whether it was just assumed that the police were using this delaying tactic. The group decided to take it to the next level; they cut their tie-wraps from the railings, and it was announced that they would re-assemble in the middle of the intersection and block traffic, which would necessitate a prompt response from the police. It just so happens that the intersection adjacent to the courthouse is also a major intersection for the light-rail trains traveling north-south along Main Street, which fronts the courthouse. Trains also travel in the east-west direction through the intersection, which is another main route that continues east along 400 South Street and which terminates at the University of Utah a little over a mile and a half further from the downtown area. Even this didn’t provoke an immediate reaction – I must say, the police were pretty mellow about the whole thing. Vehicular traffic was nearly at a dead stop in all directions, with only a narrow corridor left open for cars to turn right out of the intersection. Eventually the police blocked the street in all four directions at the other intersections leading to the courthouse, and after alittle while there was only a trickle of vehicle traffic remaining by the courthouse. A light-rail train going south finally came, carrying a slew of passengers going home for the day. It stopped about 10 feet shy of the group in the intersection, at which point the group sat down. The train operator blew the horn; it sounded much the same as a regular train and nearly as loud, but no one budged. Finally the passengers were told to exit the train and to board another train on the opposite side of the intersection. Needless to say, the passengers seemed angry at the inconvenience, understandable. Before disembarking, one of the passengers in the first train car was giving us the finger with both hands for about five minutes or more. Even after the train stopped, the police still did not act. After another fifteen minutes or so, they announced over a bullhorn that this was now an illegal assembly, and that those who did not leave the intersection would be arrested. And so it was, 26 in all were arrested.
The police chief, who knew some of the organizers, came over and spoke to the remaining organizers and confirmed that 26 were being arrested, and that the three who caused a disturbance in the court room were not arrested. He explained that they were taking those arrested down to the station house together on a bus as a group, rather than in several vehicles. The station house is about 5 miles away, and the police chief said they would try to process them as soon as possible, but how early would depend on how busy the evening was with other processing.
What Tim DeChristopher did is worthy of praise – he took a principled stand, and acted upon it, owned up to it, and was ready to accept the possibility of pretty severe consequences, considering that this was basically an act of civil disobedience, and it has turned out that the auction was invalid in the first place, it should have never taken place because many of those paracels were in actuality ineligible because they were not properly vetted by the BLM. Tim made no excuses for his actions, he didn’t try to weasel out of prosecution on the basis of any weak excuses like ignorance of the law or that he really intended to raise the money for the land parcels, or anything like that. He stated that it was his intent to muck up what he considered an illegal process because of its detrimental and possibly devastating effects on beautiful and largely pristine areas, lands that should be preserved and protected from harm. Not many would have the courage to risk what he has risked, ten years of your life, and a felony conviction to boot. Tim is only 30 years old – to sacrifice a ten-year period of your life at that age seems devastating to me. I don’t think I’d have the courage, even at this stage of my life, to risk that. I have a family to support, mortgage to worry about, other obligations. Perhaps maybe in retirement I would consider such a thing, but only perhaps. I feel a bit ashamed to say this.
Tim DeChristopher is a courageous, principled and honorable man, wish to hell that our government contained a few thousand clones of Tim DeChristopher. If you want to help Tim DeChristopher, then support the movement that has sprung up because of his actions, go to the Peaceful Uprising site (peacefuluprising.org) and see what they have to offer and what they need. There will be more actions, try to support those. Donate money toward the cause. Stay tuned to their site, it hasn’t been updated yet with todays events, but will be soon. I don’t know if there will be an appeal of Tim’s sentence, I will try to find out whether that is a possibility.