An Evening with Tim DeChristopher

submitted by Barbara Weinstein

I’m not big on heroes, but Tim DeChristopher is one of mine. Like many other Transitioners, I was first introduced to Tim a couple of years ago when Fourth Friday showed Bidder 70, about Tim’s courageous act of of civil disobedience.

I was excited to meet Tim and honored to help introduce him, and I expected a rewarding January Fourth Friday. But I didn’t expect to be as moved and inspired as I was by the depth of his intelligence, commitment, and spirit. That reaction was echoed by everyone else I spoke to on Friday night, when 130 people packed the UUCPA sanctuary to hear Tim speak.

Jan 2016 FF banner

Tim served two years in federal prison for disrupting an illegal auction of energy rights on sensitive public lands in Utah. Now on leave from Harvard Divinity School, and completing his 3 year probation, Tim’s work continues. He recently cofounded the Climate Disobedience Center to support other activists.

Tim began by describing his experiences, evolution, and current work. On a note about the importance of bringing spirit and soul into the movement, he introduced his friend, musician Brian Cahall, who sang several wonderful songs.

For the rest of the evening, Tim answered questions from the audience. Here is a small paraphrase of a few of his answers (unfortunately, in my words rather than his…).

  • We’re well beyond the point where simply working within the system is enough. Civil disobedience represents a fundamental threat to the established order, which accounts its power to influence others.
  • There is a great power in being vulnerable, willing to expose oneself to danger, arrest, and incarceration. The climate movement needs to move beyond facts and figures, to do more to engage the intellect, heart, and soul.
  • True hope doesn’t mean avoiding or denying the what’s at stake. For true hope, we need to understand that it’s too late to avoid crisis, go through the grieving process and then move on with purpose and energy.
  • The Climate Disobedience Center is working to introduce the “necessity defense” at the trials of those indicted for direct action. A necessity defense argues that breaking the law is justified if the consequences of not breaking the law are much greater than the legal infraction itself. Tim was not allowed to use the defense at his own trial. Others have tried more recently, with mixed results. In this context, he mentioned the trial of the Delta 5, which you can read about here.
  • About the value of various approaches to direction action, Tim used the metaphor of people trying to knock down a wall. People may push on the wall in many places, but then when someone finds a soft spot, all can come together to push in one place.
  • Asked about whether he was a martyr (without having to pay the ultimate price), Tim answered an emphatic no. He doesn’t view his two years in prison as lost. They were different years, spent with different people. And that time helped hone his purpose, set a direction for his life, and define his current work. Without that experience, he wouldn’t have been here with us on Friday.

Click here to see the wonderful photos that Jack Owicki took.
–submitted by Barbara Weinstein


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