Tim DeChristopher, an economics student at the University of Utah, gained attention from the press for his bidding on proposed oil drilling properties in Southern Utah in late December.
His participation at the auction gained attention because, unlike the oil company representatives in attendance, his intention for bidding on land parcels was the prevention of speculation and development in the land surrounding the Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
In a speech to the UVU community on Feb. 19, DeChristopher recounted that his activism started long before the events of Dec. 19. He said that he went through a period of mourning for his future because of the climate crisis. “What brought me out of that period of despair was the realization that even if there were only a one percent chance of bringing us out of the despair, we have to go for that chance,” he said.
DeChristopher spoke on the challenges that humans would face if the environmental crisis continued, “How am I going to have to figure out who gets to eat and who doesn’t?” he said. “We need to change what we think is politically feasible.”
The activist voiced his frustrations with the traditional forms of dissent — writing letters, holding signs, raising funds and protesting, “I did those things that were supposed to make change. I realized maybe that the someone that needed to take those steps was me,” he said.
DeChristopher found that through direct action, or civil disobedience, he could make his point more powerfully. Although it is a federal offense to bid without intent to pay, he stands by his decision to bid on the land, saying, “It was enough of an injustice that it demanded more from me than just holding a sign.”
DeChristopher began winning numerous parcels of land during the auction and driving up the prices of others. He noted that he experienced an ethical dilemma: three years in prison, as was the penalty for the crime; or watch the land be sold away piece by piece and choose the after-effects of what he called “unprecedented human suffering.” He decided. “I could not live knowing that I had the opportunity to stop it.” He continued bidding and won 23,000 acres of land and was exercising an act of civil disobedience. Because the auction had legal technicalities of its own, DeChristopher is still waiting for formal charges to be pressed.
The aftermath of his decision has prompted DeChrisotpher to start a group called Peaceful Uprising. The group is a non-violent, direct action group aimed to protect our environment from climate change. “We as citizens must stand up and make demands. That is the power of civil disobedience,” DeChristopher said.