Monday, August 01, 2011

roundup: earwigs, sabotage

On Saturday I was out in the backyard, checking my earwig traps and watering the potatoes—the last remnant of a garden their ravages have left us this season—when my brother called. He’d spent the last week, among other things, following Tim DeChristopher’s federal sentencing and conducting some pedestrian sabotage of his own across downtown.

Actually, maybe I should back up here and begin by revisiting some stories I’ve been neglecting for the last couple years.

First of all, remember, Muntadhar al-Zaidi? The Iraqi journalist who put the shoes back into sabotage in Dec. 2008? After a 90 minute trial, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison, then released for good behavior after 9 months. Beatings. Routine torture. He’s been out for a couple years now. There’s even a play about it all that opened last month.

On the other hand, nobody’s staged any plays about Tim DeChrisotpher, unless you count the farce of a federal trial that pronounced his two year sentence and $10,000 fine last week, or the protests, demonstrations, and zip-tie sit-ins that happened in response. First of all, if you only read one thing about DeChristopher’s actions, motives, trial, and sentencing, read his official statement from his sentencing last Tuesday. It’s not short, but it’s one of the most honest, articulate, badass and polite things I’ve ever read on civil disobedience and the US legal system, our energy economy, environmental justice, and the ethical and civic imperatives of climate change.

"...This is really the heart of what this case is about. The rule of law is dependent upon a government that is willing to abide by the law. Disrespect for the rule of law begins when the government believes itself and its corporate sponsors to be above the law..."

Since last week’s sentencing, there’s been coverage on NPR, in the Guardian UK, Rolling Stone, and the LA Times—an op-ed byPeter(paul&mary) Yarrow. For better or for worse, Rolling Stone makes another facile analogy to RosaParks, but they’re not alone. In all the media on the trial, there have been comparisons to Dr. King, Thoreau, Gandhi, Susan B Anthony, and even Brigham Young. Why, in a reckless appeal to a readership of tea partiers and other Utah County conservatives, I even made a comparison to an angry horde of early Bostonians in brownface in a letter I wrote to a local newspaper editor a couple years ago.

But over the last month, some of the best coverage of the story has been, probably not surprisingly, from the Salt Lake Tribune. For starters, Brandon Loomis gives a very nice summary of things here. They ran a couple short letters from locals Terry TempestWilliams and Scott Carrier. There’s a great piece from Bill McKibben. And Paul Rolly’s column pretty well nails the hypocrisy and inconsistency of Utah’s selective enforcement of federal law when it comes to land use in the state.

Here’s a piece from the Tribune’s Friday op-ed.

“Now that [Judge] Benson has spelled out his reasons for sending DeChristopher to prison for two years, we are convinced this charade of a prosecution was bogus from the beginning.

“DeChristopher was not prosecuted because he caused harm to the government, to energy developers or to taxpayers, but because he was widely praised for his bold effort to draw attention to a crisis that has been largely ignored by our government. The lease auction that put some precious public lands on the block to be sold for development of fossil fuel energy was later deemed by courts and the federal government to have been illegal. In simple terms, DeChristopher was right.

“And, by his own admission, Benson punished him for pointing out something that conservatives do not want to hear: Human-caused climate change and government negligence in addressing its consequences are threatening the globe.

“Following the sentencing, the judge acknowledged that DeChristopher’s act of civil disobedience — for that’s precisely what it was — was “not that bad” and should not have prompted a prison term, and possibly no prosecution at all. What sent DeChristopher to prison was his brave exercise of his constitutional right to free speech.”

As entertaining/frustrating as it has been to watch the rhetorical angles of the prosecution (and, strangely but maybe predictably, of the court itself) slide all over the place, it has been even more encouraging to see how the terms of Tim’s defense—and the movement that has joined him—have adapted to the scale of the stakes involved.

This is a lot of what TR and I talked about the other day, how DeChristopher’s story, and the Peaceful Uprising/Bidder 70 movement that has grown out of it, have gone from being mostly about local, site-specific land conservation/preservation (v. oil/gas/coal extraction), to now calling for broader, more comprehensive action in response to CO2 emissions and climate change. For example, in December 2009, when Tim crashed the auction, he entered a debate that had, until that point, revolved mainly around wilderness, public lands, and the problems of “drilling in some of Utah’s most scenic redrock desert.” These issues were also emphasized early on in coverage by NPR, the New York Times, and the Peaceful Uprising website, which talks about the importance of protecting "lands deemed special because of their beauty or fragility," and where DeChristopher says that "it was more just based on me watching one parcel after another end up in the hands of developers, watching all those parcels go by and knowing that I could have stopped it."

But by the following October, the NY Times article opens with the statement that “Tim DeChristopher became convinced last year that global warming’s potential effects were so urgent and dire that direct action was needed.” By then, the movement had mobilized the trial’s momentum way beyond the limited meaning of the voided auctioned parcels themselves. Of course, I’m not saying that land, air, and carbon (and our national denial about how we use them) aren’t deeply connected, or that this is some kind of rhetorical sleight of hand. It’s just worth a look, I think, to consider how a movement that started with local “preservationists, conservationists, archaeologists, business owners, river runners, anglers and hunters” has effectively opened up discussion about a global problem, and, more specifically, about the persistent failure of our policymakers to confront it.

Anyway, here are a couple videos, if you’re tired of reading what’s definitely been my longest post here in a while. When it rains, it pours. Earwigs. It pours earwigs. When it rains, earwigs, I mean.

Looks like they’re making a documentary. Here’s a trailer.

And this from a Magnetic Zero.
For now, Tim has been ordered into immediate custody. He and his lawyers are planning an appeal. You can follow things over at and Peaceful Uprising.

No comments: