Tim DeChristopher is an economics student at the
DeChristopher was inspired. He finished the exam, threw on his red parka and went off to the controversial Bureau of Land Management land auction that the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance called "the Bush administration’s last great gift to the oil and gas industry." Instead of joining the protest outside, he registered as a bidder, then bought 22,000 acres of public land. That is, he successfully bid on the public properties, located near the Arches and
He told me: "Once I started buying up every parcel, they understood pretty clearly what was going on … they stopped the auction, and some federal agents came in and took me out. I guess there was a lot of chaos, and they didn’t really know how to proceed at that point."
Patrick Shea, a former BLM director, is representing DeChristopher. Shea told the Deseret News: "What Tim did was in the best tradition of civil disobedience, he did this without causing any physical or material harm. His purpose was to draw attention to the illegitimacy and immorality of the process."
There is a long tradition of disrupting land development in
Abbey’s novel "The Monkey Wrench Gang" inspired a generation of environmental activists to take "direct action," disrupting "development." As The Salt Lake Tribune reported on DeChristopher: "He didn’t pour sugar into a bulldozer’s gas tank. He didn’t spike a tree or set a billboard on fire. But wielding only a bidder’s paddle, a
Likewise, the late Utah Phillips, folk musician, activist and longtime
More than just scenic beauty will be harmed by these BLM sales. Drilling impacts air and water quality. According to High Country News, "The BLM had not analyzed impacts on ozone levels from some 2,300 wells drilled in the area since 2004 … nor had it predicted air impacts from the estimated 6,300 new wells approved in the plan." ProPublica reports that the
After being questioned by federal authorities, DeChristopher was released.
His disruption of the auction has temporarily blocked the Bush-enabled land grab by the oil and gas industries. If DeChristopher can come up with $45,000 by Dec. 29, he can make the first payment on the land, possibly avoiding any claim of fraud. If the BLM opts to re-auction the land, that can’t happen until after the Obama administration takes over.
The outcome of the sales, if they happen at all, will probably be different, thanks to the direct action of an activist, raising his voice, and his bidding paddle, in opposition.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in