An activist whose two-year prison sentence is the focus of a new documentary outlined the difference between “climate justice” and environmentalism for Bill Moyers on Friday.
“We don’t want Walmart to be a greener, corporate citizen,” Tim DeChristopher said on Moyers & Company. “We want Walmart to be subservient to human interests. We don’t think corporations should be masters of men. And you know, that’s really, that’s the difference between the climate justice movement and the environmental movement, in my opinion.”
While environmentalists urged people to rethink their consumer habits, DeChristopher said, his school of activism pushes people to think of themselves as members of their communities.
“I think in the past few years, especially for the younger generation, there’s been more of the reminders that we are citizens,” said DeChristopher, the co-founder of the group Peaceful Uprising. “That we can shape our society. And there’s been this resurgence of people power which I think will have big reverberations.”
DeChristopher was convicted in 2009 for submitting nearly $2 million in bids during a federal Bureau of Land Management auction, an action federal prosecutors called an obstruction of “lawful government proceedings,” even though Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar determined that the December 2008 auction was null and void.
The prosecution, DeChristopher said, “flipped out” during the jury selection process, after finding that prospective jurors were given a handout outlining their rights and responsibilities. The judge subsequently called the jury pool in and made them promise only to rule on whether he had broken a law.
“The judge would say, ‘You understand it’s not your job to decide what’s right or wrong here,’” DeChristopher recounted to Moyers. “‘Your job is to listen to what I say the law says, and you have to enforce it, even if you think it’s morally wrong. Can you do that? Can you follow my instructions, even if you think they’re morally wrong? And unless they said yes, they weren’t on the jury.’”
DeChristopher’s experiences are chronicled in the film Bidder 70, which has won awards at 20 film festivals, and was also screened in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he staged his original protest.
“Not everyone has to go to prison. But I think everyone has to feel empowered to take strong actions,” he said to Moyers. “And, you know, no one can say, ‘This is the kind of action that we need right now,’ because nobody knows. Nobody has the answers. You know, nobody has ever stopped a climate crisis before.”