When Democratic Institutions No Longer Give Citizens Power, Civil Disobedience Becomes Essential to Challenge Legalized Injustice
By Kevin Zeese
The trial and sentencing of Tim DeChristopher highlights the conflict between the people of the United States and the corporate-government that protects the privileged. In his pre-sentencing statement (republished below) Tim told Judge Dee Benson that the judge was making a choice: " The choice you are making today is what side are you on."
Tim brought out the corruption of leases of public lands by the Bureau of Land Management, an agency with an ugly history of corruption, and how in this bidding the oil companies expected to get the land at the cost of pennies on the dollar. For the lands Tim did not bid on the average price was $12 an acre, for the one's he did bid on they were $125. That number rose to the higher levels because oil companies knew that even at the higher price they would make tremendous profits. These public land leases occur for a wide range of corporations and are another example of massive corporate welfare that robs the American people of their public resources, while causing tremendous environmental damage and funneling wealth to the wealthiest 1%.
The connection between corporations and government was highlighted to Tim early in this prosecution. One day before he was indicted the Associated Press called him to tell Tim he would be indicted. The AP reporter had known about it for weeks because an oil and gas industry lobbyist had told him. Evidently the prosecutor's office was keeping his colleagues in the corporate world well informed about their plans to punish DeChristopher for spoiling the illegal lease auction.
Tim also brings out the twisted nature of the rule of law in a government corrupted by corporatism, saying: "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." The rule of law is twisted by government often working hand in glove with corporate interests in foreign and domestic policy. When Judge Benson ruled early in the trial that Tim could not show the jury how his actions prevented a greater harm, i.e. preventing an illegal auction and preventing environmental destruction, the judge essentially ruled that the violation of the rule of law by the government in cahoots with the oil companies was not something the jury should know about. Tim told the judge at sentencing: "I agree with the founding fathers that juries should be the conscience of the community and a defense against legislative tyranny." The judge did not want the jury to have that power.
On civil disobedience Tim said: "the rule of law was created through acts of civil disobedience. Since those bedrock acts of civil disobedience by our founding fathers, the rule of law in this country has continued to grow closer to our shared higher moral code through the civil disobedience that drew attention to legalized injustice. The authority of the government exists to the degree that the rule of law reflects the higher moral code of the citizens, and throughout American history, it has been civil disobedience that has bound them together." Civil disobedience has always challenged the unjust status quo -- whether it was slavery, Jim Crow, women not voting or the crony capitalism Americans confront today.
Finally, Tim makes the important point that making an example of him with a harsh punishment will backfire as the history of political prisoner's shows. His sentence will not stop others who are standing up for a sustainable future. He says "those who are inspired to follow my actions are those who understand that we are on a path toward catastrophic consequences of climate change . . . they know we are running out of time to turn things around . . . [and] the people who are committed to fighting for a livable future will not be discouraged or intimidated by anything that happens here today."
And, Tim displays his courage and conviction telling the judge: "I will continue to confront the system that threatens our future. Given the destruction of our democratic institutions that once gave citizens access to power, my future will likely involve civil disobedience. Nothing that happens here today will change that. I don't mean that in any sort of disrespectful way at all, but you don't have that authority. You have authority over my life, but not my principles. Those are mine alone."
This brief summary does not do full justice to the words of Tim DeChristopher. His ethical approach to challenging unjust laws and corporate-government actions should inspire all of us to Stand with Tim -- by standing against corporatism that is destroying the nation and planet. Join us in stopping the machine and creating a better world, http://www.opednews.com/populum/www.October2011.org.
Pre-Sentencing Statement of Tim DeChrisotpher
July 26, 2011
Thank you for the opportunity to speak before the court. When I first met Mr. Manross, the sentencing officer who prepared the presentence report, he explained that it was essentially his job to "get to know me." He said he had to get to know who I really was and why I did what I did in order to decide what kind of sentence was appropriate. I was struck by the fact that he was the first person in this courthouse to call me by my first name, or even really look me in the eye. I appreciate this opportunity to speak openly to you for the first time. I'm not here asking for your mercy, but I am here asking that you know me.
Mr. Huber has leveled a lot of character attacks at me, many of which are contrary to Mr. Manross's report. While reading Mr. Huber's critiques of my character and my integrity, as well as his assumptions about my motivations, I was reminded that Mr. Huber and I have never had a conversation. Over the two and half years of this prosecution, he has never asked my any of the questions that he makes assumptions about in the government's report. Apparently, Mr. Huber has never considered it his job to get to know me, and yet he is quite willing to disregard the opinions of the one person who does see that as his job.
This is not going away. At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow. The choice you are making today is what side are you on.
There are alternating characterizations that Mr. Huber would like you to believe about me. In one paragraph, the government claims I "played out the parts of accuser, jury, and judge as he determined the fate of the oil and gas lease auction and its intended participants that day." In the very next paragraph, they claim "It was not the defendant's crimes that effected such a change." Mr. Huber would lead you to believe that I'm either a dangerous criminal who holds the oil and gas industry in the palm of my hand, or I'm just an incompetent child who didn't affect the outcome of anything. As evidenced by the continued back and forth of contradictory arguments in the government's memorandum, they're not quite sure which of those extreme caricatures I am, but they are certain that I am nothing in between. Rather than the job of getting to know me, it seems Mr. Huber prefers the job of fitting me into whatever extreme characterization is most politically expedient at the moment.
In nearly every paragraph, the government's memorandum uses the words lie, lied, lying, liar. It makes me want to thank whatever clerk edited out the words "pants on fire." Their report doesn't mention the fact that at the auction in question, the first person who asked me what I was doing there was Agent Dan Love. And I told him very clearly that I was there to stand in the way of an illegitimate auction that threatened my future. I proceeded to answer all of his questions openly and honestly, and have done so to this day when speaking about that auction in any forum, including this courtroom. The entire basis for the false statements charge that I was convicted of was the fact that I wrote my real name and address on a form that included the words "bona fide bidder." When I sat there on the witness stand, Mr. Romney asked me if I ever had any intention of being a bona fide bidder. I responded by asking Mr. Romney to clarify what "bona fide bidder" meant in this context. Mr. Romney then withdrew the question and moved on to the next subject. On that right there is the entire basis for the government's repeated attacks on my integrity. Ambition should be made of sterner stuff, your honor.