"Building political power for a movement has nothing to do with just voting for the candidate who is closer to our views."
Last Friday, Tim DeChristopher, the imprisoned Utah activist, lost his appeal, which his legal team had filed on grounds of selective prosecution. DeChristopher became a folk hero for environmentalists in December 2008, when he disrupted a controversial Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil and gas lease auction by winning 77 parcels of land in southern Utah worth $1.8 million. He was convicted of fraud in July 2011, and has been serving out his sentence first in California and now in Littleton, Colorado.
On Friday, a three judge panel with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld DeChristopher’s conviction. One of DeChristopher’s attorneys, Patrick Shea, the former director of the BLM under President Clinton, says DeChristopher’s legal team may appeal that ruling, partly because one of the judges dissented on one of the two counts. Chief circuit judge Mary Beck Briscoe wrote that DeChristopher should not have been convicted of participating in a scheme to violate the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, since he had no co-conspirators. “Because the statute of conviction requires group activity,” Briscoe wrote, “and because it is undisputed that DeChristopher acted alone, DeChristopher was convicted based on insufficient evidence of guilt.”
Still, an appeal of the 10th Circuit Court’s ruling would seem to be a long-shot. (Judge Briscoe affirmed the majority’s ruling on DeChristopher’s conviction under the second count, making a false statement—or fraud.) When I reached out to Shea he seemed aware of this. “We are adding oil and gas leases to loaves of bread and sleeping under bridges as being equal legal offense under the blind eye of the law,” he said. “It’s still amazing to me that there have been no people prosecuted on Wall Street who literally stole hundreds of millions of dollars, and Tim disrupted an auction that has since been deemed illegal by the federal courts and he’s in prison.”
DeChristopher is scheduled to be moved to a halfway house at the end of October, where he’ll serve out the remainder of his sentence. Yesterday I emailed him to ask for his reaction to the ruling, as well as his thoughts on the upcoming election. (Earlier this year he wrote a post for Grist.org suggesting that environmentalists should voice their frustration with President Obama by preventing his re-election.) Here are DeChristopher’s responses:
Were you surprised by the decision? What was your reaction?
I was not particularly surprised by the appeal decision. I think that if there is any hope of this country ever getting a justice system worthy of the name, that hope lies in fully informed juries of ordinary citizens, not in judges protecting the interests of those in power.
Have you been following the political footballing? Do you still stand by the Grist post in which you suggested that environmentalists should not vote for Obama?
I have been following the political nonsense as well as I can without Internet. The Grist post I wrote obviously didn't go over well. The point I was trying to make was that building political power for a movement has nothing to do with just voting for the candidate who is closer to our views. My failure to effectively make that point taught me something about developing ideas in my own head rather than developing ideas by interacting with a community, which is why I haven't published anything since then.
Rather than suggesting that enviros should not vote for Obama, I was suggesting that enviros should organize against Obama and other Dems. I think there is a critical difference, and I stand by the latter point, although the opportunity has probably passed.
My intent with the post was to try to get people to think about electoral politics as activists rather than as consumers who have to choose between the choices presented to us. I think the American Left is desperately lacking original thought about electoral politics. While incarcerated, I have had subscriptions to The Nation, The Progressive, Mother Jones, The Economist, The Week, In These Times, Funny Times, Earth First Journal, Slingshot, Harper's, The New Yorker, Yes Magazine and The Sun, and I have yet to read a good article on electoral politics. Most of those publications have a lot of great, smart reporting and commentary about other issues, but when it comes to electoral politics they simply regurgitate conventional wisdom. So I can only assume that electoral politics is viewed as a subject to which creative thinking should not be applied, and that is precisely what needs to change.