With a backdrop of snow-capped mountains providing a reminder of the natural world threatened by climate change, hundreds came from far and wide on a chilly late-winter morning in Salt Lake City to march to the federal court house, where they kept a day-long vigil in support of climate activist Tim DeChristopher, whose long-awaited trial got under way Monday afternoon.
DeChristopher ran afoul of federal authorities when he disrupted an oil and gas lease auction on Dec. 19, 2008. With no intention of paying, DeChristopher "won" the rights to thousands of acres of pristine wilderness before anyone realized what he was up to. Although that auction was subsequently found to be improper, he now faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years for his actions.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson has denied DeChristopher the right to use the "necessity" defense, that his actions were justified in order to prevent a greater harm, not only to an environmentally sensitive area, but also catastrophic climate change.
Such a defense was used in England when six Greenpeace activists were tried for scaling the chimney of the Kingsnorth coal-fired power plant and painting "Gordon" on its side. Climate scientist James Hansen testified in their defense, and a jury agreed that their actions were done to prevent a greater harm.
I find it quite ironic that we fought a revolution to free ourselves from the tyranny of England, and now the United States is the nation suppressing justice and free speech. Jurors in DeChristopher's trial--selected Monday afternoon -- won't get to hear the more relevant argument in this case, that the future of civilization is jeopardized by the continuing use of fossil fuels and that DeChristopher's action were therefore justified. They won't even be able to hear that the auction he disrupted was later deemed bogus.
While the real facts were carefully kept under wraps inside the court house, DeChristopher's supports stood in solidarity outside with "Bidder 70," singing songs throughout the day.
The rally on Monday included an appearance by folk icon Peter Yarrow, who led the crowd in singing protest standards such as "We Shall Overcome," "If I had a Hammer" and "Have You Been to Jail for Justice."
While Yarrow was singing, Actress Daryl Hannah spoke at fundraiser for DeChristopher's organization, Peaceful Uprising, saying that DeChristopher's trial is an "historic moment," a time for people to rise up.
The trial resumes with opening arguments, limited as they must be, today.
Follow Steve Valk on Twitter: www.twitter.com/citizensclimate