… those who write the rules are those who profit from the status quo. If we want to change that status quo, we might have to work outside of those rules because the legal pathways available to us have been structured precisely to make sure we don’t make any substantial change.
Tim DeChristopher is an environmental activist and founder of Peaceful Uprising, an organization dedicated to creating livable futures and empowering nonviolent action. Today, Tim is best known for an act of civil disobedience in which he disrupted a government oil and gas lease auction in order to protect fragile land in southern Utah from long term damage.
Tim DeChristopher didn't always live in Utah, but he did always love the wilderness. Born and raised in a small town in West Virginia, Tim gained an early appreciation of the impact of fossil fuel extraction as it is practiced by Mountaintop Removal. After pursuing educational and work opportunities from Phoenix to Missouri, Tim settled in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he worked with youth in a wilderness therapy program. Tim loved backpacking, spending time outdoors, and sharing his love of the natural world with young people.
Increasingly critical of economic inequity in the United States, Tim enrolled at the University of Utah to study economics. When Tim heard about a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil and gas lease auction in December 2008, he determined to show up to protest.
Environmentalists had decried the sale as a "gift" to the oil and gas industry by a departing President George W. Bush. Intending only to raise a ruckus and protest the fast-tracked sale of the public lands, Tim instead became the now notorious "Bidder 70" when he posed as a legitimate bidder. After sitting through several rounds of bidding in the back of the auction, Tim made a split-second decision to try and save the land, much of which bordered national parks.
The value of the south Utah land was deeply undervalued by the fossil fuel industry – some parcels were selling for as little as $2.25 per acre. As he intended, his act of civil disobedience drove auction prices higher through the day, netting Tim 22,000 acres of land for about $1.7 million. Once those in the room realized what was happening, the auction was stopped. Tim was taken aside by federal agents and subsequently charged with fraud.
Supporters of his actions raised the funds to pay the entire down payment on Tim's bid, but the BLM refused it. The lease parcels were later re-evaluated and regulators announced that only a small percentage of them were legal for sale. Despite this, Tim was prosecuted and convicted of fraud in March 2011.
Tim's insistence that the auction was illegal drew the ire of the prosecution, as did his ongoing activist work outside the courtroom through Peaceful Uprising. On the day he was sentenced, Tim told his supporters that he believed he had been given a particularly harsh sentence in order to intimidate other activists, and urged them to continue their work. In statements to the court, Tim made clear that he found it unacceptable that his future, and the future of his community, was being traded for short-term profits.
Tim's motivation is not that of simply a wilderness purist. As a deeply engaged American citizen and student of the country's economic system, Tim is concerned about the impact of climate change and environmental degradation on human society. He believes in social justice, and in returning democracy and decision-making power to the American people. Tim and those who support his work at Peaceful Uprising seek to achieve a livable future – a goal they believe the mainstream environmental movement no longer fights for.
Tim's actions drew attention to the government's relationship with the fossil fuel industry, and his continued commitment to his cause has also earned him a great deal of respect. For Tim, his journey to becoming Bidder 70 began long before the day he walked into the auction, and he has no intention of letting time in prison stop him. On July 26, 2011, Tim was sentenced to two years in prison and taken into immediate custody for his act of civil disobedience.