Happy International Day of Solidarity for Political Prisoners! I know you must be exhausted by all the press coverage, political pandering and witty, yet touching google-doodles this day has inspired. No? Is that because it has gone completely unnoticed in mainstream media? Yeah? Well surely there's like, a totally valid reason for that, like that there are no political prisoners in the West, especially not in the dear old beacon of Liberty that is the US of A.
That's what I thought.
And so, in the spirit of the day, I'd like to share with you the inspiring and infuriating story of one such prisoner; Tim DeChristopher, or bidder #70 as he's been known since accepting the paddle bearing that number for a BLM auction.
I have alluded to DeChristopher in other "fight back friday"-posts (more like whatever day of the week it happens to be, eh?) and perhaps you know the story of his convictions and conviction already, but this is a tale so exemplary of the persecution of environmental activists and the failures of the justice system that it bears repeating.
The facts of this fable are as follows: On December 19th 2008, a University of Utah economics major, Tim DeChristopher, went into a BLM auction of public lands for oil and gas drilling with the intention of protesting the auction. As luck (fate?) would have it, DeChristopher was mistaken for a bidder, handed a paddle and proceeded to win 14 parcels for which he neither the means, nor the intention to pay.
Once it became clear to the authorities that DeChristopher had no intention of paying for the parcels, he was indicted with two counts of felony under the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act.
This despite the fact that said auction was a last ditch effort by the Bush administration to push through the sale of these lands before its term was over and was later found to be unlawful, and that several other cases of non-payment by bidders in past auctions had not been pursued by the government.
On July 22 2011, DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 10 000 dollars.
What's the big deal? One might wonder. The guy committed a crime and should be prepared to face the consequences.
Well, aside from the fact that the auction was indeed found illegal after the fact, which highlights the extremely laissez-fair attitude of The Bureau Of Land Mismanagement about the lands commonly held and trusted in their care by the American People; what is disturbing about DeChristopher's case is the vindictiveness with which the government went after him.
Because his actions were overtly political and he kept publicly discussing them as such throughout the investigation and his trial, he received a sentence far harsher than might have been expected if, say a group of frat boys had committed the same acts as prank after a night of hard partying.
The judge who convicted him even went on record saying that DeChristopher could have gotten a lighter sentence if he hadn't kept discussing the moral motives behind is act of civil disobedience and "inciting" others into similar actions in his public speeches. It was the opinion of the prosecution as well, that harsh sentence was required to deter others hoping to forward their cause trough similar actions.
That then is more or less the definition of a political prisoner; someone sentenced not in proportion of the crimes they have committed, but because of the beliefs that led them to commit those acts.
In a country that has lost its moral compass, where the laws that govern the nation and what is actually right are often on opposite sides, we can expect to see a rise in imprisoning people for politically motivated actions.
But at the same time people like Tim DeChristopher are here to tell us that we do indeed have the power necessary to act on our convictions. That collectively, no matter how far flung, we are not alone. Be it big and brash, like DeChristophers, or small and silent, any action who's aim is to set the right something one considers wrong is a powerful thing.
So if you feel like it here's something you can do for him:
Help find out the name of the Congressperson who put DeChristopher in isolation. (Fun political action for the whole family! You get to communicate with your very own congresspersons office!)
Find out more about Tim DeChristopher's case:
Interview in Orion Magazine by Terry Tempest Williams
Tim DeChristopher in YES! Magazine's "Breakthrough 15"
Tim DeChristopher's Speech Upon Sentencing (Reprinted in Yes!)
Inspired by the imprisoned? Share your heroes and judicial horror stories.