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The Trial of Bidder 70: Show Your Support for Tim DeChristopher's Powerful Act of Civil Disobedience

After throwing a government land auction into chaos, Tim DeChristopher's trial date is set. He's refusing plea deals; he wants a jury of his peers.

Back in 2008, a multi-million dollar Bureau of Land Management land auction–one that was set to turn over hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands in southern Utah to oil and gas companies–was disrupted by a quiet, 27-year old economics student who simply walked in and started bidding. Today, Tim DeChristopher, aka Bidder70, is facing two felony charges for this act of civil disobedience.

After many delays, it looks certain that his trial will be taking place on February 28 in Salt Lake City.

DeChristopher, who urges the inspiring and simple guiding credo to "be the carbon tax," is facing ten years in prison, and has repeatedly refused any plea bargains, as he wants a jury of his peers to determine if his act was justified. His lawyers will be using the "necessity defense," claiming that he "acted to prevent an imminent harm greater than that caused by the protest, and that there was no other legal option."

For some more background on DeChristopher's motivations and what happened at the auction that day, check out our interview from last year. Then be sure to check out Solve Climate's seven-part series of videos with DeChristopher.

Friends and supporters of Bidder 70's cause will be gathering in Salt Lake City on the day the trial begins to show solidarity for his peaceful act of civil disobedience and call attention to the greater injustices of climate change and fossil fuel extraction. Dr. James Hansen, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Robert Redford, and Terry Tempest Williams co-wrote a letter calling for all concerned citizens to "stand with" Bidder 70.

Why is this trial so important to the fight against catastrophic climate change, even in light of recent ecological disasters like flooding in Pakistan and the BP oil spill? As we all know, this fight takes many forms: huge global days of action, giant international conferences like the one that failed in Copenhagen, small gestures in the homes of countless people.

But there are a few signal moments, and one will come in February, when the federal government puts Tim DeChristopher on trial in Salt Lake City. Tim—“Bidder 70”—pulled off one of the most creative protests against our runaway energy policy in years: he bid for the oil and gas leases on several parcels of federal land even though he had no money to pay for them, thus upending the auction. The government calls that “violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act” and thinks he should spend ten years in jail for the crime; we call it a noble act, a profound gesture made on behalf of all of us and of the future.

Tim’s action drew national attention to the fact that the Bush Administration spent its dying days in office handing out a last round of favors to the oil and gas industry. After investigating irregularities in the auction, the Obama Administration took many of the leases off the table, with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar criticizing the process as “a headlong rush.” And yet that same Administration is choosing to prosecute the young man who blew the whistle on this corrupt process.

We cannot let this stand. When Tim disrupted the auction, he did so in the fine tradition of non-violent civil disobedience that changed so many unjust laws in this country’s past. Tim’s upcoming trial is an occasion to raise the alarm once more about the peril our planet faces. Local supporters are asking people around the country to flood into Salt Lake City in February. If you come, there will be ample opportunity for both legal protest and civil disobedience.


Here's a recent video of DeChristopher inviting people to join the action.


I love McKibben and Tempest Williams' line that "the best response to intimidation is joy and resolve." As I wrote back in November about a mock "climate trial" held by DeChristopher's supports, if I were anywhere near Salt Lake City (or had any carbon-free option for getting there), I would be there.

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