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Climate Activist Tim DeChristopher & the Power of Civil Disobedience in Growing Movements

Climate activist Tim DeChristopher & author Terry Tempest Williams

Climate activist Tim DeChristopher served twenty-one months in prison after disrupting a federal land auction that would have sold off the leasing rights to oil and gas companies. He stopped oil and gas companies from exploiting resources around the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in southeastern Utah and nearby the Book Cliffs in eastern Utah.

He had not planned to buy the land, but when he was asked at the auction if he was there to bid, he saw an opportunity and said yes. He was convicted of two felonies: violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act and making fraudulent statements. The government took the case to trial, even though Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar decided to cancel the sale of “77 environmentally sensitive parcels” of land in the auction

DeChristopher, now on parole for three years and attending Harvard Divinity School, came to Chicago for an event at the Chicago History Museum hosted by Haymarket Books and the Lannen Foundation. It was a conversation between DeChristopher and author Terry Tempest Williams.

The event not only offered a chance to hear from DeChristopher, as he provided further reflection on his time in prison and what he planned to do next in his life, but it offered an insightful analysis of the climate movement and movement building in general. It presented a wise perspective on the value of civil disobedience to the building of relationships in society.

I recorded audio of DeChristopher’s from my seat in the second row. The audio is good, although there is some background noise from people nearby talking and laughing. Also, WeAreMany.org recorded video, and I will share that video when it is up.

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On Civil Disobedience

At the event, DeChristopher recalled, “I got a lot of great response from people who were not professional environmentalists.” However, “Professional environmentalists hated me at that point. They looked at me like I was a turd in the punch bowl trying to ruin the agenda they had been working on for years by talking about civil disobedience. And now there has been this tremendous shift just in the last few years where civil disobedience is embraced in the mainstream of the climate movement and even at the Sierra Club.” [cont’d.]

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."