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This Hero Didn’t Stand a Chance
Posted on Jun 20, 2011
By Chris Hedges
“We weren’t able to tell the jury either of those things,” he said. “They never knew that the auction was overturned. They never knew I offered the BLM the money. They were told over and over by the judge they were not allowed to use their conscience. When the verdict came it was not a surprise.”
“When our Founding Fathers created the jury system they called it the best defense against legislative tyranny,” he said. “They expected that if the government was passing laws that were out of line with the values of the community, then people would break those laws and take their case before a jury of their peers who would decide whether or not that person’s actions were justified. That was the system our country was founded upon. That shifted radically as the role of the jury has been minimized in our criminal justice system. Juries are no longer given the opportunity to weigh all the factors of a case and are specifically told they are not allowed to use their conscience. It is not their job to decide if things are right or wrong. This is a drastic departure from the system that was originally created in this country.”
When I asked DeChristopher why he did not work within the system, perhaps by backing a progressive Democrat, he answered that “if there was such a thing I might consider it.”
“I don’t see anyone in our political system advocating for significant change,” he said. “I haven’t ignored the political system. I paid attention when the Waxman-Markey [cap and trade] bill was being debated. I saw that there was a Republican amendment that if energy prices in any region of the country ever go up by more than 10 percent the whole bill is null and void. In other words, if the survival of our children ever costs more than about $300 a year per household, we are going to stop and give up. Both sides debated for over an hour whether it would or not ever cost $300. But there was no one who ever stood up and said maybe the cost was worth it, maybe that was too low a price to put on the heads of your children, maybe it was immoral to put any price on the heads of our children. There was no one standing up and addressing the severity of climate change.”
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“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.”
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