As Tim DeChristopher neared the end of his senior year in college, he was achieving all that any modern, traditional parent could hope for: he was an economics major with a great GPA, possessed no police record, and had a job lined up after his graduation.
Today he is contemplating 10 years in a federal prison and $750,000 in government fines.
From the perspective of that ethereal council of environmental elders headed by Edward Abby, David Brower and John Muir, Tim had finally achieved real success.
His crimes were not accidental or committed in the drunken haze of a keg party.
DeChristopher had ridden his bicycle straight from taking a final to an illegal, backroom auction held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Oil companies had gathered to snap up prime, pristine real estate for setting up oil and gas concessions. Not content to protest ineffectively outside the venue, DeChristopher sauntered inside and was mistaken as an auctioneer.
At first he bid timidly.
During the first half of the auction, DeChristopher drove prices up from an initial $17 to $240/acre. But when the auction hit the halfway mark — and half of the parcels had been snatched up by the petroleum industry — DeChristopher found himself in a personal, moral crisis.
The oil company representatives at the auction did not, after all, lack in funds. If he did nothing more, all remaining parcels would be lost by the end of the day to the drilling rigs.
He knew decisive action was need. Perhaps in his studies during the previous four years he had come across that action-demanding meme in its original Latin, Fortes fortuna adiuvat — “Fortune Favors the Bold!”
DeChristopher committed himself to outbidding every other bidder on every remaining piece of land.
When the auction ended, DeChristopher admitted that he did not posses any of the funds required to pay for his purchases.
While awaiting trial in a federal court for two felonies, the situation was brought to the attention of Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, who blocked BLM from re-auctioning the land as the process was deemed strictly illegal.
The oil companies that attended were now out more than their original airfares and hotel fees. With all this virgin and prime real estate denied to them forever, Big Oil demanded a sacrifice.
DeChristopher was it.
Social justice artist and filmmaker Andrea Bowers took notice. In her 15-minute video "The United States v. Tim DeChristopher", she intercuts DeChristopher’s retelling of events with her traversing the striking landscapes he saved. When she nears the camera, Bowers silently writes the numbers of the parcels she has just walked over on a blackboard and holds them up for the lens to see.
Regardless of the outcome of the trial, the land will remain safe — the result of a single individual's audacious action on behalf of the public good.
DeChristopher admits that his pay as of late has been less than what he would have been making in the more traditional job he had turned down.
But then a hero’s wages have never been measured in decimal points.
The exhibit was curated by the Susanne Vielmetter Gallery in Culver City’s ever-expansive arts district in Southern California.
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