Bidder 70 goes from college student to felon

By Sarah Bergen

Tim DeChristopher faced jail time after bidding on land in Utah he couldn’t afford. He will be at Rider on Earth Day discussing ways to preserve the environment.
Tim DeChristopher faced jail time after bidding on land in Utah he couldn’t afford. He will be at Rider on Earth Day discussing ways to preserve the environment.

The last green film of the spring semester, Bidder 70, showed Rider students that even an everyday college student can promote positive change.

The documentary, shown in Sweigart Auditorium on April 8, 9 and 15, tells the story of a student who shook up the oil and gas industry in Utah when he posed as a wealthy bidder at a land auction. That now-former student will speak at Rider on Earth Day, which is April 22.

On December 19, 2008, 27-year-old Tim DeChristopher stood up for the future of people around the world in an act of civil disobedience that transformed him from a student at the University of Utah to a felon. DeChristopher entered a Bureau of Land Management auction, where parcels of land were being sold for oil and natural gas drilling, and raised his bid in an effort to preserve Utah’s beautiful red-rock landscape.

In that spur-of-the-moment decision to create hope, DeChristopher was completely aware that he could go to prison, but said that he could not live with himself if he did not take this opportunity to make a difference. He saw this act of peaceful protest as an “ethical, necessary and direct action to protect our planet” and its people. In the film, DeChristopher stressed that his motives are not to save the ocean, the polar bears or the ice caps. He is trying to save human lives of today and of the future.

“I may go to prison tomorrow, but I will wake up every day and defend our future,” he said.

DeChristopher successfully won 12 bids in a row, but with no funds or intention to back up his purchases, he was charged with making false statements during an auction. This federal offense came with a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison, fines of up to $750,000 and a long and anxiety-filled waiting period.

The auction was later found to be illegal, but this did not benefit DeChristopher. In fact, the illegitimacy of the auction was not a valid fact to be used in court.

As he awaited his sentencing, DeChristopher was offered only 30 days in jail, but refused to barter in his effort to set an example for others. He also started an activist group called Peaceful Uprising, with the goal of empowering people to take strong, nonviolent action to create change.

DeChristopher’s trial was postponed nine times before he was finally sentenced on July 26, 2011, to two years in prison.

After DeChristopher was taken away in handcuffs, his supporters tied their wrists together and peacefully protested in the streets of Salt Lake City. In an effort to carry on DeChristopher’s resilience and passion, 26 people of all ages were arrested that day. They did not shed a tear when they were led to police cars, but instead smiled brightly into the cameras.

DeChristopher’s actions also inspired Rider students in attendance, including freshman biochemistry major, Veroniqe Raczkiewicz.

“Normally people say, ‘Well, you’re just one person — what are you going to do to make a difference?’ but he started this whole revolution,” she said. “It’s really awesome that he just stood up for something he believed in.”

 

Printed in the 4/16/14 edition

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