This post was written by Henia Belalia and originally appeared on the Peaceful Uprising blog.
A few words about my friend, Tim DeChristopher: he is not a hero. He is a bright, inspiring and magnetic presence, but Tim is also human — a man with his own set of fears, insecurities and weaknesses. And idolizing him only serves to alienate him on a cold, lonely pedestal — a veneration that in reality troubles him. Viewing him that way is also critically disempowering to our movement. It gives us the green light to remain stagnant. “I could never be so brave, nor measure up to his actions.”
Let us not forget that in December 2008, at the time he waltzed into the federal auction, Tim was void of any formal training. He acted spontaneously, from a very vulnerable and inexperienced position. In fact, the first thing he did after being questioned by a federal agent was to call a friend for help. By neglecting to embrace his ordinariness, we are silencing his deep desire that everyday people take bold, non-violent action.
Equally as disconcerting is overhearing people say: “Tim, you’re truly extraordinary — good luck in there.” Have we accepted the plausible scenario of a 2, 5, or perhaps even an 8-year-prison sentence being imposed for peacefully raising a bidder paddle? Can we sit idly by as our judicial system clearly sends out the message that activists either take plea bargains or mentally prepare themselves to sit behind bars for x amount of time for acts of peaceful civil disobedience? Unacceptable, that these should be our options.
One of the traditions this nation holds dear to its heart is that of civil disobedience — individuals challenging the status quo to better our society. I’ve heard your anger at the unfair nature of Tim’s recent trial — your outrage as he was denied a comprehensive defense, your disappointment as jury members were kept from hearing the whole story and hence stripped of their power to be their community’s conscience. And your deep pain when the guilty verdict was announced.
As our brother, one of our leaders, prepares himself for what will potentially be the most intense experience of his life, we have to ask ourselves: How will each of us respond to this injustice? We are not asking for presidential pardons or the grace of the courts, as we have nothing to ask forgiveness for. We simply cannot, will not, compromise on fundamental human rights and a livable future.
As willing and ready as Tim may be to pay this price, I wonder how our movement can afford to have one of our own behind bars when the climate science undeniably gives us very little time to act. How will we respond as an empowered and unified movement? How will we galvanize our efforts to generate a national network of support for Tim, for each other, and for all future waves of activists?
We have two things to ask of you, Climate Justice Movement — activists old and new. On June 23rd, find a federal courthouse near you and make a statement. Demonstrate peacefully and speak to the absurdity of imprisoning bright, capable young people. To my knowledge, no climate activist has served more than 6 months for taking part in a peaceful action. Hence, my stance is that anything more than 24 weeks is inadmissible.
My second ask is that you take a stand — beyond Tim’s particular case. Be creative, spontaneous and vulnerable. Embrace your ordinariness and inexperience. And act. You have an entire movement standing behind you.