By Paula Morris
What if I told you that they were going to pave Paradise and put up a parking lot? No, not the Paradise in the Joni Mitchell song and not the Paradise of the Bible, but the Paradise that is part of Mount Rainier National Park.
Would you be upset? Would you want to do something about it?
Then, what if I told you it was oil companies who purchased the land by secret auction? And further, it was the National Park who put the land up for auction?
Would you be angry?
Well, that is how I have been feeling all week as I followed the trial of Tim DeChristopher, the young man who in 2008, during the final weeks of the Bush administration, tried to disrupt a secret auction of parcels of land that were public property near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in southeastern Utah.
DeChristopher’s intentions were to block the purchase of these parcels being sold to oil companies, so he bid millions of dollars which he didn’t have and eventually disrupted the auction.
I believe he had every right to attempt to do something to forestall the sale of public lands that would harm the state as well as its citizens.
Nonetheless, DeChristopher was arrested and convicted of disrupting a Bureau of Land Management auction.
However, his jury was denied knowledge of many important facts in the case, as determined from Mr. DeChristopher’s comments in his sentencing statement, such as: “Drastic restrictions were put upon my defense.”
Specifically, Mr. DeChristopher did not hide his actions or his agenda:
“The first person I met at the auction was Agent Dan Love. I told him clearly that I was there to stand in the way of an illegitimate auction that threatened my future. He did nothing to deter me.”
Mr. DeChristopher also wished to present crucial background information that was material to his case:
“My political statements about the value of civil disobedience, against mountain top removal and coal mining in my home state of West Virginia, which is illegal, and all the violations of The Clean Water Act related to it, committed by Massey Energy, were not permitted.”
Shortly after the auction Mr. DeChristopher was informed that he had committed a criminal act by falsely driving up the price of land parcels without truly intending to purchase these parcels, Mr. DeChristopher says:
“The fact that I then went ahead and raised the down-payment for the land and offered it to the BLM would have been clear evidence that I did not intend to commit a criminal act but was driven to attempt to stall the proceedings due to my conviction that the sale of the land was illegal. The BLM however, refused to accept my money. My defense was also not permitted to disclose the fact that the auction was later reversed as illegitimate by the Obama Administration.”
DeChristopher wanted to reveal to the jury “the fact that massive campaign contributions have elected most of the appeals court judges in the state,” but this statement was denied admittance by the judge.
In summation, he offered:
“They say I do not respect the ‘rule of law.’ 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.”
As a consequence of the jury not hearing much of DeChristopher’s defense, on Tuesday, July 26, he was sentenced to two years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.
Though the outcome could have been much worse, Tim DeChristopher should not be forced to go to prison for his act of non-violent civil disobedience, but the prosecutor on the case said he wanted to “send a message” to others who may have similar aspirations.
This is a totally unjust, immoral and unconscionable attitude. Do we or do we not live in a democracy? Do we not have the right to protest unfair or illegal actions perpetrated by corporations or even our own government? Does the Constitution of The United States of America not mandate that if we the citizens find our government to be against the Constitution and the citizens of this nation, we should hold them accountable and remove them from government?
In my mind, Tim DeChristopher is a hero. He is a role model and an example of what people can do to change the status quo where corporations have rights but are not held accountable for their actions.
Mr. DeChristopher did not go to that auction with a clear-cut plan, but when the opportunity arose for him to take action, he did so. He stood up and spoke truth to power.
I believe that this young American should be applauded rather than condemned, and what infuriates me, and has worried me all week awaiting his sentencing hearing, is that an American citizen did exactly what our Constitution specifies is the right thing and now he heads to prison for his brave action. I find this incredulous and cannot just sit quietly by and let this go.
Many others and I have signed petitions to free Tim DeChristopher, yet these appeals were not even addressed by the judge or prosecution.
As a result, I have come face-to-face with the weighty reality that our government doesn’t listen to its people and it just doesn’t care about us.
What can I do as a citizen to halt egregious assaults on our public lands? Will I be imprisoned for speaking out? Where are my constitutional rights?
Not surprisingly, I am feeling helpless and ineffective.
What can I do to get Tim DeChristopher out of jail? How can our judicial system justify sending this brave young man to prison yet do nothing to prosecute bankers and financial game players who have ruined our economy.
I have so many questions stirring around in my head. Do we have a representative government any longer? Are we a democracy? Does anyone even care if our national parks and forests are turned into oil sludge sites, toxic waste dumps, or tree-less asphalt jungles?
Evidently a jury of his peers thought that Tim DeChristopher was guilty of a criminal act worthy of a prison sentence. So much for the moral fortitude of our fellow citizens.
A court system played this case like a kangaroo court.
Do I want to accept that citizens are totally powerless in the face of rampant corruption and the corporatization of our government? Do you?
I’m glad it wasn’t “our” Paradise that was slated for destruction, but it could be next.
© 2011 Paula Morris