Tim DeChristopher took time off from his studies at Harvard Divinity School to come to Santa Fe. He and Terry Tempest Williams, who introduced and interviewed him, were brought by the Lannan Foundation, which brings amazing authors and speakers to town and charges people a whopping $5.00 to attend. The Lannan Foundation is one of the best things to ever happen to Santa Fe.
I was impressed by how well Tim spoke extemporaneously, and how well he is handling his sudden notoriety.
The takeaway points for me were:
- People will act if they feel their action is needed, and that they can help. He noticed a lot of women his mother’s age coming to help out, and he surmised that it was because he reminded them of their own children and they sensed, correctly, that he was in over his head. He seemed to feel that taking a real risk – not just a photo op arrest – actually provided others with the impetus to act.
- He said it was important to let activists who DO take real risks know that they will be supported, that the movement will not let people go, will not forget them. His father had said that Tim would get some Christmas cards in jail but would be otherwise forgotten. Finding that he was wrong, and that Tim was not forgotten, helped bring his dad, who spent his career in the natural gas biz, around.
- He contrasted the responses to Katrina and Sandy. In the first case, the vacuum was filled by military people chasing people down the streets, and then corporations coming in and seeking to privatize destroyed services. In the latter case, Occupy Sandy moved in quickly, and in every neighborhood, so FEMA and the Red Cross, when they arrived later, depended on the infrastructure that was already there. He pointed out that the incessant talking that took place in Zuccotti Park was actually building a community that could organize and work together, and said that, since we have passed the point where we can avoid the worst of climate change’s effects, we have to build such resiliency into our communities.
- He talked about his prison experience, and one comment stuck with me. He talked about how the inmates were normal people, and they were aware that the culture inside was something they created. Part of that was in orienting new inmates – something the guards and admins couldn’t be bothered to do. And he said this was why it was So Wrong for inmates to rat on each other to guards: because it gave the guard power that they had not earned by caring about the inmates or participating in the culture. What struck me about that observation was how true this is Out Here, too. We call the cops on neighbors or those in the neighborhood in many cases because we have not taken ownership or responsibility for our own neighborhood. If we see something suspicious or harmful, we don’t confront people ourselves, as a neighborhood or community, but we outsource responsibility for our community. Tim commented how easy it was to accommodate himself to his (minimum security) prison, and how distressing that was. He said ANYone could do prison like that. That made him wonder how tractable we would be if the authorities said that, in order to be safe and comfortable, we would have to live as if in prison. He found it plausible that we would accept those conditions – which raises the question, “Have we accepted those terms already?”
- He said that it was interesting that so many people were passionate in their hope and work to ensure that he NOT go to prison, while his concern was how to get more people to take actions that could land them in prison. In other words, if climate change is not rationale enough to take actions that entail that risk, what will ever motivate us?
Terry Tempest Williams asked wonderful questions. One that she asked, but Tim didn’t answer, was what was the difference between sabotage, Monkey Wrenching, anarchy, and civil disobedience – and, by implication, which would he recommend? I wish he’d answered that, but they were running out of time and got distracted by a dispute over whether he was a Monkey Wrencher or not.
If I could have asked a question, it would have been this: Do you see the basic conducting of business by oil and gas companies as a form of violence, knowing what we know about the causes of climate change? What are the implications of your answer to that question?
The following is a quotation that was cited as being important to Tim, in the documentary about his action and arrest, Bidder 70.
I was asked if I thought that his heart and passion, so in evidence in Bidder 70, wasn’t missing tonight. I had not thought of that, but yes: I wish he was more the fire and brimstone preacher than the cerebral Unitarian Universalist minister. He may still find that that spark is needed to fire people up, but he seems to be taking a break from being the “angry young man.” I wish he’d been more directly challenging to us, and had put on the cloak, not of counselor but of general. I Am Dying To Do SOMEthing. Remember that John Hiatt song, Through Your Hands? I feel like kindling yearning for a spark, and am guessing that many others do, too. One last quotation:
“In classical times, when Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, ‘How well he spoke.’ But when Demosthenes had finished speaking, they said, ‘Let us march.'” ~ Adlai Stevenson
I’m dying to march.