"The choice you are making today is what side are you on."
-- Tim DeChristopher
It should be a packed house tonight (Wednesday, November 14) at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City when the film "Bidder 70," the story of climate justice activist Tim DeChristopher and the group he co-founded, Peaceful Uprising, has its Salt Lake premiere.
The timing is perfect. Especially on the heels of DeChristopher's recent transfer from federal prison to a halfway house in Salt Lake City and the continuing involvement of the Bureau of Prisons in his life -- the most recent example of which was its preventing him from accepting a job with the First Unitarian Church's social-justice ministry.
It seems the powers-that-be felt that working with cases of discrimination that were in conflict with the church's beliefs would fall too close to DeChristopher's own morality code and the crime of which he was originally convicted -- not serving his "rehabilitation," as it were. The upside of all this, however, is that he ended up with a job at Ken Sanders Rare Books, a more secular social-justice ministry, some might say.
DeChristopher, of course, gained notoriety as "Bidder 70" when he infiltrated a 2008 BLM oil-and-gas lease auction and, by actually winning a few parcels, disrupted the process long enough for incoming Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to invalidate the whole shebang. Other than the acquisition of positive karma, Tim's rewards included a two-year prison sentence, of which he served 15 months.
The film takes you inside Peaceful Uprising as its members organize to raise the bar on civil disobedience as it pertains to bringing to light climate-justice issues within the community of man. As DeChristopher attempted to demonstrate, it's way too late for just marching and petitions if a real difference is to be made.
Tonight's Salt Lake premiere, presented by Peaceful Uprising, the First Unitarian Church Environmental Ministry and the Utah Film Center, will showcase a film that has actually been touring the country for months picking up best-in-show awards at more than a few of its film-festival stops along the way.
Principal shooting for the documentary began just weeks after the auction in question with filmmakers George and Beth Gage instantly and totally committed to the project. As they put it, "Once in a while someone comes along that totally wows you. That's how we felt when we read about Tim DeChristopher."
In a "Director's Statement," the Gages went on to expound on what they saw as Tim's altruism and commitment: "As bidder #70, DeChristopher bid 1.8 million dollars and saved 22,000 acres of pristine wilderness with no intention to pay or drill. No property was destroyed, no one was hurt, and valid concerns were raised over the entire BLM oil-and-gas leasing process. Bidder 70 was a story we wanted to tell.
"Tim DeChristopher is a young man with a message that needs to be heard: Climate change is upon us and there is nothing more important to work for than a livable future. Tim is not alone in this message, but his commitment to future generations, his evolution as a leader and his willingness to courageously accept the consequences of his action make his a story we hope will inspire and motivate a new generation of activists."
In an article published November 7 in the Deseret News, DeChristopher's attorney, Patrick A. Shea, the director of the BLM under President Clinton, noted that "the Bureau of Prisons official who interviewed Tim indicated he would not be allowed to work at the Unitarian church because it involved social justice and that was part of what his crime was." He added that the employment at Ken Sanders bookshop has been deemed "safe," however.
The piece also quoted Shea as saying that DeChristopher "is eligible to be released on parole come April and could possibly move to home supervision in February. You don't have the same freedom that you have as a regular citizen, but it's certainly better than being confined to a cell or being under a restricted program like he is in the halfway house."
This narrative has a long, long way to go before it plays out. With the recent back-to-back devastations wrought on the east coast by Superstorm Sandy and the powerful nor'easter that followed, even politicians are becoming more and more conscious of the consequences of climate change. Go figure!
The Salt Lake premiere of "Bidder 70" gets underway at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 West 300 South, Salt Lake City, at 7 p.m. with the doors opening at 6 p.m. With the hall being what it is, it would serve those with an abiding interest in this story to arrive early.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.