Saturday, January 3, 2009

Bidder 70

The last few weeks have been an extended holiday for me. The week before Christmas we were snowed in so I had to work from home, then I had the entire week of Christmas off as vacation and most of the week of New Years' as well.

The rest and relaxation have been great, but I don't normally find the holidays and new year to be an inspiring time. 2008 has been a tough year for our family in many ways. While there are many reasons to be hopeful for the new year, the transition feels like that moment when you are standing on the edge of the diving board, ready to step off but not actually moving yet.

But over the holidays one person didn't just stand at the edge. He acted, and his act has kicked me out of my own holiday doldrums.

On Dec 19, 2008, Tim DeChristopher, a student at the University of Utah, realized he had an opportunity to save a small part of our precious Earth, and that he if he did not act in that moment, no one else would. His act was to disrupt a BLM auction of oil and gas leases on public lands in southern Utah. Not by shouting or screaming or hurting anyone. But by bidding.

The auction was a blatant crime by the Bush administration, a takeaway from the American people and giveaway to its energy industry pals, a fire sale done in the eleventh hour expecting that such goodies will be a thing of the past under an Obama administration, but also unlikely to be reversed by the new administration either.

When Tim arrived at the auction, he found protesters outside. Rather than joining them, he walked past them, signed in, took a bidder paddle, started bidding to drive up the price of the leases, and even won a number of bids, knowing full well that he had no money to pay for anything, and that his act of civil disobedience could land him in jail for fraud.

Why do I find Tim DeChristopher's act of disruption so inspiring? It isn't because I have a personal connection to the lands he was trying to protect. I haven't actually been to southern Utah, though I have a friend who vacations there almost every year. I find it inspiring because it is an example of one person standing up and saying no, of refusing to play along, and of being willing to take the consequences for it. I also find it hilarious since it was only possible because of the corrupt and rushed nature of the auction itself, which did not allow time for proper vetting of the bidders. And maybe because he looks a little like a younger balder version of Matt Damon to me.

But is mostly because of the last sentence of his interview on Democracy Now.

Seeing the opportunity, I could not ethically justify not taking it.

What a challenging thought. It makes me wonder how many such opportunities to act ethically each of us fail to notice in our lives, or refuse to act upon because it is not convenient at the time, or because we hope someone else will step forward to do it.

Tim is now trying to raise money to legally place a hold on the lands he won in the auction. His goal as before is to block the illegal auction of these lands until the Obama administration can take power and hopefully put a more ethical leasing process in place that protects the lands and the interests of the American people.

Update: The new Interior Secretary of the Obama Administration, Ken Salazar, will cancel the drilling-lease sale, details here. Well done.

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