Organization: Peaceful Uprising
DeChristopher is facing two federal felonies, ten years in prison, and $750,000 in fines. Last December, he bid on, and won, close to $1.8 million worth of oil-and-gas rights near Utah's Arches National Park. The crime: He couldn't pay. He'd bid in protest of any drilling. "We didn't get the Civil Rights Act because the last bigot in Mississippi stopped being racist," says DeChristopher, an economics student at the University of Utah and climate-change activist. "It was because people stood up and were willing to go to jail." In February, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar shelved about 80 percent of the land parcels DeChristopher bid on, and DeChristopher has since founded the nonprofit Peaceful Uprising to promote nonviolent protest. In the coming months, he and pro bono lawyer Pat Shea, the BLM director under President Clinton, will make the precedent-setting argument that DeChristopher's action was designed to slow climate change and therefore falls under the lesser-of-two-evils defense. If DeChristopher wins, climate-change protestors have a legal shield. Despite the gravity of his situation, DeChristopher recommends acting for climate change in any way possible. "It's terrifying," he says, "but sometimes you jump off the cliff, then build your wings."