No 756 Posted by fw, May 27, 2013
“We will not be misled into thinking we are alone. We will not be lied to and told we are weak. We will not be divided and we will not back down. That fist is a symbol that we are connected and that we are powerful. It’s a symbol that we hold true to our vision of a healthy and just world, and we are building the self-empowering movement to make it happen.” —Tim DeChristopher
In a wide-ranging 34-minute interview on Bill Moyers and Company, activist Tim DeChristopher, fresh out of prison, recounts what got him into prison, his AHA! moment in the judicial process, his perceptive analysis of what’s wrong with America and what he thinks it will take to fix it, and finally, why he’s heading for Harvard Divinity School in the fall. (DeChristopher is co-founder of the grassroots environmental group Peaceful Uprising).
Click on the following linked title to watch the original Moyers and Company interview and to access the full transcript. Alternatively, scroll down to watch the embedded video and read a greatly abridged version of the transcript with added subheadings, text highlighting and hyperlinks.
Yes, the video is long, but it’s 34 minutes well spent with lots of valuable tips for activists. DeChristopher is one impressive young man.
[Introduction by Bill Moyers]
So if we now have representative government in name only, and are governed instead by corporations and their lobbyists, what’s to be done? Tim DeChristopher wrestled with that reality and decided what he would do. As a result, he spent almost two years in prison. He’s out now, and you can learn the whole story in the new documentary, Bidder 70.
In December 2008, as the Bush administration was coming to an end, this environmental activist, then 27 years old, went to an auction of gas and oil drilling rights on more than 150,000 acres of Utah wilderness, all of it public land. It was a sale DeChristopher believed to be illegal.
[Tim DeChristopher is the sole source for all the following passages]
“The law is the tool of those in power….We have two justice systems.”
The law is the tool of those in power. It’s corporations like BP that are in power right now. I mean Glenn Greenwald wrote a great book called With Liberty and Justice for Some about how we have a two-tiered justice system in this country.
We don’t really have a rule of law, we have two justice systems. And the division is not necessarily strictly between rich people and poor people. The division is between those that promote the concentration of power in the hands of the elite versus those that threaten to distribute that power or take away some of that power. And I think part of the mistake that a lot of people make is thinking that the law or words like legal are synonymous with moral or just. And that’s not the case, I mean most of our great examples of morality throughout history are people who broke the law.
There is evidence that people are signing up in sufficient numbers for acts of civil disobedience to reach some kind of critical mass
I think the numbers that it takes for civil disobedience, if people are actually committed to it, are not overwhelming majority numbers. I mean for years there have been all these polls that say only half of Americans believe climate change is happening or only a third of them actually understand what climate change really is. Those sorts of polls happen all the time.
They’re generally presented in a kind of discouraging way. And I look at that and I say, “Well, that’s plenty. That’s more than enough.” That a third of Americans who might understand this issue. That’s 100 million people. That’s more than enough to create change in this country if those people are willing to actually act like they believe it. If these are the people that understand that our children’s future is on the line right now. If they’re willing to act like that, then we can create the change that we need to.
There will be some kind of survival on planet Earth, but what will we have to do to survive? That’s scary.
I think both the planet and human beings are resilient. And I think there will be some kind of survival. The thing that scares me is what we will have to do in order to survive.
Whether we’ll turn against each other. I don’t think seven billion people can survive in a climate constricted world. And it’s that process of contraction where things can get really ugly. I don’t think it’s even to the direct impacts of it that is the scariest. I think the scariest is who’s making the decisions during that time of chaos. And what kind of drastic measures are we going to be willing to resort to. And again, that’s where a lot of our historic atrocities happen. If we look at places like Darfur, it’s not the direct impacts of the water crisis and the water shortage that they that is why Darfur is such a humanitarian crisis. It’s because of what people were willing to do in the face of that crisis and the way that they turned against each other. That’s where things got really ugly.
It’s really important who gets to call the shots as we head down this path of unprecedented change
And I think those are those are the challenges that we now face as a climate movement as it’s in all likelihood too late for any amount of emissions reductions to stop runaway climate change which means that we are on this path of rapid change. We know we’re going down this path of unprecedented change. And so it’s really important who is calling the shots during that time.
The last thing we want is an apathetic citizenry afraid of their own government
The collapse of industrial civilization with an ignorant, apathetic citizenry that’s afraid of their own government and feels like they have to accept what corporations want to do, that’s really scary. That really ugly. And that’s, I think, the big challenge that we face now.
The climate justice movement is “looking for a genuinely healthy and just world”
We don’t want Walmart to be a greener, corporate citizen. We want Walmart to be subservient to human interests. We don’t think corporations should be masters of men. That’s really, that’s the difference between the climate justice movement and the environmental movement, in my opinion.
Or the big green side of the environmental movement. That we’re not looking for a cleaner, greener version of the world that we have now. We’re looking for a genuinely healthy and just world.
It’s time for Americans to stop thinking of themselves as consumers and start thinking of themselves as citizens of a democracy
I think one of the weaknesses of the environmental movement and parts of the climate movement is that it’s always encouraged people to think as consumers, to think about what they can do in their consumer purchases to drive in a hybrid, buy the right light bulbs and that sort of thing.
And I think that’s understandable because we have so many reminders of our role as a consumer. We see 3,000 advertisements a day that all remind us you’re a consumer. That’s who you are. And we don’t have nearly as many reminders that we’re also citizens of what was once the greatest democracy in the world.
We’re also human beings and community members who can connect with one another and inspire one another. And these are also ways that we can be powerful. These are also the ways that we need to engage. And I think I think there’s more of that now. I think in the past few years, especially for the younger generation, there’s been more of the reminders that we are citizens, that we can shape our society. And there’s been this resurgence of people power which I think will have big reverberations.
Life in America has been like a football game with most of the people up in the stands, watching. The time has come for us to rush the field and stop the game
<Clip from Bidder 70> “The way the environmental movement has been for the past thirty years, it’s like a football game. And there are some players on the field that are fighting it out, but most of the people in the stadium are up in the stands. Most of them just paid their money at the door, and now they’re just yelling and screaming, and it’s not working. Our team is getting slaughtered. The refs have been paid off, and the other side is playing with dirty tricks. And so it’s no longer acceptable for us to stay in the stands. It’s time to rush the field, and it’s time to stop the game.”
We need a diverse movement, using a variety of tactics and strategies
Well, not everyone has to do what I did. Not everyone can, not everyone should. I think we need a diverse movement. If we look at social movement history, the ones that have been most successful and most powerful are the ones that have used a variety of tactics and a variety of strategies.
No one person has all the answers
Not everyone has to go to prison. But I think everyone has to feel empowered to take strong actions. No one can say, “This is the kind of action that we need right now “because nobody knows. Nobody has the answers. Nobody has ever stopped a climate crisis before.
So nobody can say, “This is what’s definitely going to work.” That’s what’s limited us in the past in the movement, is when we’ve had one element that said, “Listen, we know how change happens in Washington. We know how to do things. This is what’s politically feasible and you have to do it our way.”
Instead of being bound by what’s politically feasible, we’re going to start from what we know is necessary
Up until 2009 with the Waxman-Markey Bill, that really held back the movement. That was the cap and trade bill that was a big corporate handout bill written in collusion between the biggest green groups and some of our biggest corporate polluters, like Shell and DuPont.
I think that that bill was really the turning point for the climate movement because up until that point, the groups with so much money and access in Washington held everybody unchecked basically. Their rhetoric about, “This is what’s politically feasible,” that held sway with so many other folks in the movement who said, “Okay, well, I guess we’ll do it your way even though this bill doesn’t really make sense and doesn’t seem to do anything worthwhile. We’ll do it your way.”
But they failed even to pass that bill. It turns out they didn’t even know what was politically feasible. The rest of the movement afterwards said, “Well, we tried it your way and it didn’t work. And now rather than start from what’s politically feasible, we’re going to start from what we know is necessary.”
“And rather than working from what corporations tell us they’ll accept, we’re going to work for what we actually want, something that’s actually in line with our vision for society.” And so there’s been this huge resurgence of the climate justice side of the movement and the real grassroots side of the climate movement over the past few years. And that’s both moved past the mainstream of the big green groups and also swayed some of those big green groups.
It’s going to take confrontational actions to get us to an appropriate response to the climate crisis
The change in the Sierra Club has been a tremendous shift over the past few years. When we look at the challenge that we have right now of creating that drastic shift from where we are right now where we have one party that doesn’t believe in climate change and one party that provides empty rhetoric and no action, that’s a dramatic shift that we need to get to actual appropriate response to the climate crisis. To get us to that point it’s going to take really confrontational actions.
I don’t look at the political spectrum as this straight line between left and right. And I think it’s more like a really steep pyramid. And I found that a lot of people on the bottom have far more in common with each other regardless of whether they’re on the left and the right than they do with anybody at the top of that pyramid.
And we need to kick corporations out of government
[We have to] get corporations into an economical rather than a political role. Corporations do have a role to play in our economy, but they don’t have a role to play in our government. Corporations don’t have a conscience. And so they’re not appropriate for being part of our political system.
And when I say overthrow I mean ending corporate personhood, I mean kicking them out of our government. And that will take a constitutional amendment to get that to happen. And I think that’ll be a dramatic shift. And I think it’ll it’s a huge battle. They’re not going to easily give that up.
We need a radical overhaul of our institutions to align them with our values
Yeah, yeah. But I think that’s an overhaul to bring us in alignment with our values, which is why I think that this is a challenge that we can actually rise up to. I don’t think it’s an impossible challenge because it’s not primarily about changing people’s values.
I think most people regardless of where they are politically, if you get them in an honest moment to really talk about what they value they’re not going to talk about that they value their SUV or they value the extra few thousand square footage on their home.
They’re going to talk about human relationships. Almost everyone is going to be talking about their friends and their family and their communities as the things that they truly value. When we’re talking about that radical shift it’s about aligning our world with those values, not so much about changing them which is why I think this is possible.
Civil disobedience — the role of dissent of the existing power structure — has an important role to play in the change movement
Civil disobedience is always a criticism of the existing power structure. And it’s always been that way. That’s the role of civil disobedience. That’s the role of dissent.
Next up for DeChristopher — Harvard Divinity School
In the fall I’ll be going to Harvard Divinity School to study to become a Unitarian minister because I think a lot of what we’re facing is really spiritual struggles. As I was saying I think we have enough people onboard, but not enough people who really have faith in their own power to make a difference. And that to me is an internal struggle, something that’s more on a spiritual level.
The point that I fully decided that I was going to become a minister or go to divinity school was the same point that I mentioned earlier was when I knew that I was going to be convicted. That point when I watched one juror after another say yes, I’ll do whatever you tell me to do even if I think it’s morally wrong that to me was a huge turning point. Because I saw two things in that situation where he was telling people they had to let go of their own moral authority. I saw how willing people were to let go of their moral authority. But at the same time I saw the vulnerability of the prosecutor.
He was a US attorney, he was the United States attorney, he represents the United States of America, he’s got the whole power of the United States government behind him and he was terrified. He felt vulnerable to the notion of citizens using their conscience in exercising their civic duties.
The bedrock of the rule of law is the conscience of the community and the values of our citizenry. And I think that that’s where he missed it. Because at the same time he said the rule of law’s the bedrock of our society, not acts of civil disobedience. He failed to understand that acts of civil disobedience are what have shaped the rule of law in this country and how it’s been acts of civil disobedience that have made the rule of law line up with the values of our people.
An important part of personal empowerment comes through connecting with a community
I think part of it is the empowerment that comes through connecting with the community. And I think that’s part of why churches and religious institutions have played such an important role in so many social movements throughout our history because there’s so much alienation, especially right now in our society and so much that encourages people to view themselves as an isolated individual.
And as an isolated individual people are weak and they look at the problems that we face, and even if they understand these issues they look at it and say, “I’m just one person. What can I do against these corporations or this government? They’re so big and so powerful.” And that’s true. Honestly as an, an isolated individual can’t make a difference in any of these issues. But people are not isolated individuals, they’re connected to something much bigger than themselves.
<Clip from Bidder 70>
“We will not be misled into thinking we are alone. We will not be lied to and told we are weak. We will not be divided and we will not back down. That fist is a symbol that we are connected and that we are powerful. It’s a symbol that we hold true to our vision of a healthy and just world, and we are building the self-empowering movement to make it happen.”