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The Eco-Hero Who Didn't Stand A Chance

How an environmental advocate faces jail time for peacefully derailing the government's auction of Utah land.

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DeChristopher helped organize a grass-roots campaign in an unsuccessful effort to unseat five-term U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah.

"I saw after the experience with the Waxman-Markey bill that our Blue Dog Democrats in Utah had to go,” he said. He worked for candidate Claudia Wright in a campaign that split the delegate vote and forced a runoff primary.

"There is value in working within the democratic system, but first we need to create a democratic system,” he said. “When we ran Claudia Wright it started with a Craig’s List ‘help wanted’ ad for a ‘Courageous Congressperson.’ We pulled together a panel of longtime activists who were well respected in Utah representing various issues, from environmental issues to peace and justice to LGBT rights, labor, immigration rights and health care. That panel held public interviews at the Salt Lake City Library with all the people who had applied to the Craig’s List ad. Everybody from the district was invited and got to vote in instant runoff voting. That is how we came up with that candidate. We started from scratch.”

"If we were going to have a democracy, what would it look like? That was one experiment,” he said. “Craig’s List is probably not the ultimate answer. But we started from the acknowledgement that if we want to work within the democratic process we had to build it first.”

DeChristopher, who is 29, admits he was “cautiously optimistic” during the 2008 presidential campaign.

"I saw that nothing Obama was saying was actually good enough in terms of the climate crisis,” he said. “There was a faint hope in me that perhaps he was saying what he needed to say to get elected and then he would turn out to actually be a progressive.”

He heard Naomi Klein give a talk shortly before the election. She told her listeners that if Barack Obama was a centrist and the center was not good enough to defend our survival then our job was to move the center.

"That resonated with me,” DeChristopher said. “That was where my thinking at the time was. We as a movement had to move the center. That is another reason I turned to civil disobedience. I was looking to do something beyond what was considered acceptable to shift those boundaries, to create more space where people could be more aggressive without being on the radical edge.”

"The chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said what we do in the next two or three years will determine our future, and he said that in 2007 and we didn’t do anything,” he said. “A lot of folks like Jim Hansen admit it off the record, but won’t say it publicly, that it is actually too late for any amount of emission reductions to prevent some sort of collapse of our industrial civilization. That certainly doesn’t mean all is lost. It means we are in a position where we are definitely going to be navigating the most intense period of change humanity has ever seen. What that means for us is that it really matters who is in charge during that intense period of change. It means that things are going to be desperate.”

"Generally in desperate times those in power do desperate things to hold on to their power in the name of order and security,” he went on. “That is when things have gotten really ugly in the localized examples of collapse that we have in history, whether they were economically induced as in Germany in the 1930s or environmentally induced as in Darfur. Rather than an opportunity for mass reflection, which it could be, where we could say we had this coming because of fundamental flaws in the way we structured our society, that maybe greed and competition were not the best values to base everything off of, rather than doing that, it is much more common in those historical examples to say, ‘Oh, it was because of those people.’ A class of people was scapegoated. The powerful said, ‘Those are the people who are causing our problems and if we take it out on them we can maintain order and security for the rest of us.’ That is when things get really ugly and dehumanizing.” 

 
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