After two years of effort by activists and the National Park Service to delay it a land auction was recently held in Salt Lake City by the Bureau of Land Management; the date of the sale was publicly announced on election day and received as much press coverage as could be expected. Protesters waved signs and marched outside while, shuttered away from the angry and desperate chants, were a collection of oil and gas representatives hoping to purchase parcels totaling almost 150,000 acres of Federal Land which they could dynamite, mine and drill.
Among their stuffed shirts and tailored suits was 27-year-old environmentalist Tim DeChristopher who signed the paper work to register as a bidder. Through the auctions he held paddle 70 high, driving up prices on some parcels and eventually finding himself indebted to the Federal Government for $1.8 Million, the going rate for 22,000 acres in the southeastern corner of Utah.
DeChristopher’s intentions to disrupt the proceedings are not subject for debate, but possible consequences are a matter of discussion. Although an immediate internet fundraising drive went into high gear to collect $45,000 as a down payment jilted gasmen are quick to accuse him of too little too late– bidders are required to be able to pay a minimum of $81,238.50 the day of the auction and complete the purchase no later than January 6th. The activist’s hope is that the sum he has collected will be enough to delay the parcels being resold until the incoming Obama administration takes over with new officials leading the BLM which has been criticized by environmental groups for their massive land sales to oil and gas prospectors.
The registration forms to take part in the auction have a passage which states it’s a Federal crime to “knowingly and willfully make any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements“; the industry shills are hoping that this includes bidding with no intention to pay and praying that DeChristopher receives the maximum five year prison sentence for disrupting their orgy. Not so forthcoming is the fact that, according to Pat Shea, a lawyer representing DeChristopher as well as the former head of the BLM under the Clinton Administration, oil companies are routinely offered lines of credit to pay off their auction debts. In other words the oil and gas companies can pay any way they damn will please and now that some young punk who wants to save land from their drills has sat down at their table they want the book thrown at him.
Did Tim DeChristopher really commit a crime or simply an act of civil disobedience? If he had chained himself to the doors of the auction house and prevented the sale from taking place he would have been arrested for trespassing, cut loose and fined. The fact that he instead monkeyed up the bidding system by waving a paddle in the air doesn’t seem inherently different: no one was shot; nothing was set on fire; there were no explosions. At the very worst his act would fail when he couldn’t pay the amount for the parcels he’s won and they would be up on the auction block again. As much as industry insiders gnash their teeth and act offended they routinely defile the environment for their own economic gain, grease the wheels in Washington and around the world, and hold knives to the throats of the economy.
I certainly hope that all ends well for Tim DeChristopher and he can escape this bold act without being sent off to prison due to the insistence of people who actually belong behind bars. Kate at Toxic Culture saw this article and was filled with hope at the new tactics employed by activists to push the issues further. Society is inured to street antics, leaflets and chanting. The parade doesn’t disrupt anything but traffic, and the policies which shape our future continue unabated behind closed doors. I agree with her that it takes innovation to fight back, but if the cigar chompers of the world can string up some kid for doing nothing more than pissing in their pool, there’s not going to be much middle ground left between the banner-waving tea-parties shaking their firsts at the cops and full on industrial sabotage and assassinations. Here’s hoping for some middle ground.