Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yo' Mother Earth

I'd love to visit outer space, but I wouldn't want to live there. Living on the earth is great.

Think about it: there is so much majesty, yet we also have plenty of water-slide parks and go-kart tracks. Yes, when it comes to human comforts, planet Earth really does have it all.

Tim DeChristopher is all crazy about the earth too. A few years ago, as a 27-year-old college student, he showed up to a BLM oil-lease auction and started bidding away. He won 14 leases that day. (Ambitious for a college student.) Unfortunately for the BLM, Tim had no intention of paying up. He was only there to make life harder for oil companies.

Fast-forward a few years and Tim is convicted of two felony counts of mucking things up for rich people, and is sentenced to two years in prison, and given a $10,000 fine.

My thoughts on the matter are largely unimportant. (But I'll let you know, in case you're curious.) My first reaction was, "Shame on the BLM auctioneers for waiting until this twenty-something-dude won 14 leases before pulling the cord." Shouldn't they have known something was up much sooner?

I thought the whole thing was kind of funny.

I also thought the leases were rushed to auction and not well thought out. (An opinion the courts happened to later agree with.)

Finally, I generally think it's a waste of legal resources to pursue any criminal case when there is an adequate civil law remedy. (Let the oil companies and BLM sue this guy, clear his bank accounts, garnish his wages, and make the guy miserable for years, and don't let him become a hero by serving jail time.) I mean, we paid for this guys trial and he was prosecuted at the expense of not prosecuting someone else.

All of that said, I don't have any strong feelings about Tim of Christopher; I do have strong feelings about idiocy, bad advocacy, and wry observations. Enter the protesters and my friend Christopher (no relation to DeChristopher)...

Prior to Tim's sentencing hearing, Christopher received this (horrible) email, which is ridiculous enough that it's worth quoting in its entirety:

America is broken. The people get it, and something's starting.

Folks are calling for an occupation of DC to end the wars and protect the planet. Others are pushing for an occupation of Wall Street to end the funding for the destruction. Still others are engaging in direct action and civil disobedience against mountaintop removal, the tar sands pipeline, and fossil fuels in general. And rabble-rousers around the country are calling for an end to corporate rights and rule.

But you don't have to go to DC to act, and you don't have to wait to say a holy NO to catastrophic climate change. Because it's happening right here in Salt Lake City, right now.

On Tuesday, Tim DeChristopher will be sentenced for successfully preventing oil and gas drilling on Utah wilderness lands. Tim engaged in civil disobedience to save the planet, and now he's facing years in federal prison while the real carbon crooks go free.

This is an outrage. But it's going to take a lot more than outrage to stop this crazy, cliff-defying train of injustice. It's going to take all of us doing what Tim did: taking direct action against the fossil fuel industry to keep carbon in the ground.

And that's what we intend to do.

The first step is getting your body down to Exchange Plaza on Tuesday, July 26th at noon to demonstrate your solidarity with Tim and your objection to eco-injustice.

There'll be political theater, singing, dancing, resisting, rebuilding, and getting ready.

Be there.
I will only say one thing about this call to action: "cliff-defying train of injustice."

But it turns out all the political theater, singing, and dancing wasn't really persuasive to 20-year Federal Judge Dee Benson, who sent Tim away to the joint for two years.

When Christopher heard about the sentence he remarked, "Considering when he gets out, he's got a book deal and a fine career as a paid public speaker, it beats graduate school."

The protestors weren't so insightful or impassive, and chose to react to the news by making a human chain across the Trax line. Christopher texted me: "Way to stick it to big oil and gas companies; disrupting public transportation."

Another apt observation.

He further summed up the situation:

I read the paper today and they interviewed this lady who was on the Trax train [the protesters] blocked. She was like, "I'm trying to get home from work to be with my family. These people don't even have jobs." I only knew one of them, but darned if she wasn't right about that one.

Nothing blocks meaningful debate and progress like villainizing the opposition, and no one makes so few converts as the zealot. Nietzsche once said, "The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments." He might have also added, "and political theater" to the end of his quote, and darned if he wouldn't have been right.


Jesse Harris said...

I don't think the DeChristopherites have realized that they are largely preaching to their own choir. The average person just sees a group of people acting like fools in the name of a poorly-defined cause. That's sure not going to win much mindshare.

Holdinator said...

To steal a title from Bill Simmons, someone needs to hire you as the VP of Common Sense for all things legal.

jonny said...

This deChristopher thing to me is pretty interesting. I actually had an economics class with him. He's a pretty bright guy. I could have seen myself being pretty good friends with him had we been facing different circumstances. Actually, I think it was the same semester as the auction. The issues seem pretty interesting from a structural perspective. A) The legality of selling the BLM lands was already questionable as you pointed out. I am not very knowledgeable about the legality of this particular aspect so what I'll defer to your original point -- it didn't really seem too legal to begin with. And I'll only point out that it doesn't seem consistent to base a punishment on the legality of disrupting illegal proceedings in the first place. B) The political machination of the legal structure requires a corporeal punishment -- by that I mean some kind of control over the actual body of the wrongdoer by the state. This has a long and glorious tradition in state legitimacy and body politics. So as a matter of claiming a priori right, it makes sense that the state would step in to see him punished. So to see that deChristopher is having to face physical -- albeit modern -- punishment is no real surprise. And yes, what better place to write a book than federal Prison. Lucky for him that the state needs to exert its power over companies within it else he would undoubtedly be utterly ruined. C) and echoing the comment above, this seems to me to be a knee-jerk reaction by everyone involved. To your point, poorly defined causes are completely ineffectual and mis-attributed bad guys are, at best, counterproductive. But who else are they supposed to target? Everyone who drives a car? Anyone who buys oranges in January? How is a movement which vilifies the nature of the bedrock of our social system supposed to pick any one symbol for its cause? And especially one they can grab onto in front of the courthouse? Public ire needs a target. But the workings of a social structural machine are not easy to protest. I give credit to deChristopher for going into the machine to do so, but his supporters obviously haven't got the point.

(sorry for the long comment.)

Daniel said...

Did you just apologize for a long comment to a guy who spent six hours talking at your house a few weeks ago?

I like your comments. I owe you a phone call.

Moonery said...

I've always thought political theater would be far more effective with a few flashy dance numbers and perhaps cat costumes.