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DeChristopher: 'Stick your neck out' for the planet

Published June 24, 2011 12:08 pm

SLC • DeChristopher addresses backers on day he was originally set to be sentenced.
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Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher insists his "climate justice" movement isn't going away — even if he might have to go away for a while.

Instead, as he did on the March day when a Salt Lake City jury convicted him of two felonies stemming from his 2008 bogus bidding at a federal oil and gas lease auction, DeChristopher stood Thursday within view of the courthouse where he will be sentenced and implored his supporters to sacrifice themselves to the cause.

"There is still not an understanding that climate change is a war against the living," DeChristopher, 29, said at a small rally in Exchange Place on the day he was originally set to be sentenced. It will take a sustained campaign, he said, by people willing to go to jail to make the government act.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson has rescheduled DeChristopher's sentencing for July 26. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

DeChristopher's group, Peaceful Uprising, organized Thursday's rally at Exchange Place and said backers in 40 other cities also demonstrated outside their federal courthouses. Activists intend to conduct civil-disobedience training Friday at Liberty Park.

The Salt Lake City protest attracted the Rev. Billy Talen of the Church of Stop Shopping, a New York-based performance artist who made headlines with such stunts as exorcising cash-register demons at chain stores he opposed in city neighborhoods. He has formed an "Earthalujah Choir," which plans to tour Europe to advocate against climate change.

Talen met DeChristopher last year when both were protesting mountaintop-removal coal mining. Talen said he was arrested a sit-in at a Washington, D.C., bank that finances the mining in West Virginia.

He said Thursday he wanted to learn from Peaceful Uprising coordinators and take home their civil-disobedience tactics.

Many Americans are trying to sound the alarm against their country's carbon-based economy, Talen said, but the alarm is "disabled by government and corporate marketing and police."

"It is a time to become radical Americans again," said Talen, whose church draws on many faith traditions in a "post-religious"movement.

"Loving the Earth is a faith," he said.

Talen will perform Friday with one of his choir members at the activists' barbecue at Liberty Park around 6 p.m.

Several Salt Lake City police officers watched DeChristopher's speech to about 40 supporters. Rallies during his trial attracted much larger crowds and a strong police presence but encountered no reports of trouble.

DeChristopher's message Thursday invoked the memory of the freedom riders of the early 1960s. Those activists rode integrated buses through Mississippi, he said, until enough of them were jailed under that state's Jim Crow laws that the Kennedy administration was forced to act.

The same will happen, DeChristopher predicted, and quicker than most believe — if enough people sacrifice their freedom fighting for the end of the fossil-fuels industry and the "corporate governance of this country."

"If you do stick your neck out," he said, "people will come from out of nowhere and have your back."

That has been his experience since monkey-wrenching the auction, DeChristopher said, and the movement will grow as more people practice civil disobedience on behalf of the planet.

Activists said whatever happens to their friend will only embolden them.

"We won't be deterred," Salt Lake City resident Flora Lee Bernard promised. "We won't be shut down."

bloomis@sltrib.com

What's next

P Peaceful Uprising's eco-activists plan to conduct a "boot camp" Friday starting at 10 a.m. capped by a barbecue at 6 p.m. in the northeast corner of Salt Lake City's Liberty Park. On Saturday, they plan to single out area businesses as climate-change offenders or models of progress.