Story of student who committed civil disobedience to safeguard pristine Utah land
Interview by Gary Nelson, CSU Chico
On March 27, approximately 60 people came to watch a community screening of the documentary “Bidder 70” presented by its directors, George and Beth Gage, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship church in Chico.
According to its website and directors, Bidder 70 centers on an extraordinary, ingenious, peaceful and effective act of civil disobedience demanding government and industry accountability. In 2008, University of Utah economics student Tim DeChristopher committed an act which derailed an illegal oil and gas lease auction, and he was jailed through an arguably unfair trial. His act would redefine patriotism in our time, igniting a spirit of civil disobedience in the name of climate justice, and he would come to be recognized as a prominent climate change activist and leader.
Chico State student Patrick Harrington, a senior criminal justice major, attended the screening because of an extra credit opportunity for his criminal justice ethics class, as well as out of personal interest.
“This film was a great demonstration of determination, sacrifice, and courage,” said Harrington. “I really enjoyed witnessing someone stand up to the big oil companies and corporations. Tim DeChristopher displayed how important it is to stand up for what you believe in and fight for it.”
After the film the directors stepped aside to answer some questions, mentioning that the response from the Chico audience was worth the five hour drive.
What first drew you in to Tim DeChristophers case?
Beth Gage: I read about it in a local Colorado paper, and thought it was ingenious and an intelligent way to go about things. Without hurting anyone or without destroying any property, he was able to stop this illegal oil and gas lease auction through an act of peaceful civil disobedience.
Why the name Bidder 70?
BG: It was Tim’s number in the auction. By making bogus bids of 1.8 million dollars, Tim was able to win 22,000 acres and managed to stop the auction so it never resumed, and those parcels and many others totaling 150,00 acres were never really auctioned off.
Did he actually pay for the lands?
George Gage: He raised the money to pay off the auction by calling activists with connections, and they worked the social network pretty hard. They raised the $80,000 for the down-payment, but the government didn’t accept the money because he wasn’t deemed a legitimate bidder.
Could you define civil disobedience?
BG: You’re doing something that is not allowed by our government, but is not violent. It’s civil, as opposed to criminal.
Do you feel civil disobedience is ever justified?
BG: Yes, especially non-violent civil disobedience. I don’t feel like violent disobedience has very much credibility, because fighting violence with violence furthers the problem. As Gandhi and Thoreau gave us examples, it’s a very good way to counter something you feel is not the way the way it should be and is not changing because of the normal way people go about changing things, through courts, law, and petitions.
So do you feel like he was offered a fair trial?
GG: I don’t think the trial was fair at all. First of all, a few pieces of information were held from the jury about the proximity of the parcels to national parks, the intentions to exploit the land, and that the auction was illegal..
Disrupting this auction, should have been seen as the lesser of two evils, less than having the lands destroyed. Also, he wasn’t able to get a speedy trial, and had nine postponements spanning 2.5 years, which basically put his life on hold, on trial, for that time.
There’s so much that went down during this time that wasn’t fair. I’m from a different generation. Our generation grew up thinking that everything that the America government did was just. Everything in this particular case with Tim said otherwise.
How have you seen Tim grow?
BG: When Tim first took his action, he and the people around him didn’t really see him as a leader, they just saw him as a smart young man who had seized an opportunity to take an action that worked. For years he’d been waiting for a environmental or climate activist, a leader that he could follow. Nobody appeared, so he took action. He’s learned that he really has a sort of gift to speak out, lead and bring people together.
Why is this an important issue for people to be aware of?
BG: It’s so important to make people of all ages understand that they have the power to make changes if they feel passionately about those issues. To see what Tim did didn’t actually ruin his life, like some people thought. It’s important that people take seriously the problems that we have in the world, and that they feel empowered to address them.
GG: His life is so much better today that it would have been had he not taken the action. It’s much better for his soul, having saved the land, and moving on with his education to become a minister.
What have you learned through making this film? What do you hope people take away from it?
GG: I learned that if people get up and take a stand, they can make a difference. If they learn to push themselves a little beyond their comfort zone and do a little more– which doesn’t necessarily mean getting arrested – they will feel better internally and get more accomplished.
There’s an organization that was just formed called Global Climate Convergence. It’s all about what activism we can do that’s a little beyond just writing our congressman and sending emails and so forth.
Anything else you’d like to add?
GG: Earth Day is coming up, and it’ll be the first anniversary of Tim coming out of incarceration. We’re encouraging people to go to the website, buy and share the DVD, talk about activism after seeing the film, plug into what global climate convergence is doing and just make an evening out of it.
Just about every audience we have seen, bit cities, small, east to west, people have been motivated after seeing this film. He’s an encouragement to us all.