ALEC and the Anniversary of Tim DeChristopher’s Sentencing

What.  A.  Day.

Peaceful Uprising and our allies gathered at 3:00 PM Thursday, July 26th, one year (to the hour) after our friend Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to 2 years in federal prison for stopping an illegal oil and gas auction. Together we honored Tim and political prisoners everywhere – past and present – with a moment of silence. Together we shut down ALEC’s registration desk.  Together we began the hard work of dealing with male dominance within our activist community. Together we encountered an ALEC provocateur attempting to malign our community. Locked out of the ALEC conference, together we met on the sidewalk with ALEC members in an impromptu People’s Movement Assembly. Phew.

Photo courtesy of David Andreason

The day started in Washington Square Park with PeaceUp’s Climate Trial puppets demonstrating the kind of tribunal our society should be convening instead of imprisoning brave citizens who are merely exposing injustice.

Then, across the street at the Matheson Courthouse, a member of Move to Amend Salt Lake – our Cool Spot for our Summer Community Audit – argued their case in front of the Utah Supreme Court to have a citizens’ initiative on Salt Lake City’s ballot in November. If successful, that effort will increase the robustness of democracy in Utah.

Then we all came together for an interactive Theatre of the Oppressed workshop where we addressed male oppression inside of our movement. Male dominance among activists is real and oppressive and we have a long way to go. We feel blessed to be part of a community that can bring this difficult issue out into the open with honest conversations.

Photo courtesy of Ashlyn Ruga

At 3:00 PM, we shifted our attention to Tim DeChristopher, who is serving two years in prison not because of his crime, but because his politics and ideas are dangerous to those who stand to lose the influence they buy with money. He is a political prisoner, one of many in our country and across the world, and we gathered to honor their bold sacrifices. After a moment of silence, our friends Henia Belalia, Jesse Fruhwirth, and Ashley Sanders all gave poignant speeches, culminating with excerpts from Tim’s sentencing testimony from a year ago.

This July 26th was not just about political prisoners, it was also about ALEC, a corrupt organization that attempts to criminalize activists like Tim, that fights on behalf ofclimate change, and that supports profits over people.

Photo courtesy of Ashlyn Ruga

Peaceful Uprising was also planning on doing more than just waving signs – though plenty of signs were indeed waved. After the speeches we announced our intention to go into the Grand America hotel and register for the ALEC conference. We knew the price for entry was $1350, but we wanted to illustrate how we are shut out of the process that affects people of all financial capacities – great or small. We marched over singing, but hotel security refused to allow anyone to enter to register.

Photo courtesy of Ashlyn Ruga

However, five of us had entered the hotel before security intervened, and walked up to register. With our arrival, the registration desk closed immediately, even though it was scheduled to be open all day. ALEC representatives told us we could not register, and soon they had the police escort us off the premises.  One among us was even cited for trespassing. Rather than give the public a chance to register, they locked us out. When that failed, they closed down the registration desk!

Prohibited from registering for the conference, PeaceUp and our allies continued to picket the sidewalk in front of the hotel. A few ALEC members stopped by in what seemed like an effort to help us see the error of our ways.  Rather than facing off in a contentious debate, we convened an impromptu People’s Movement Assembly with these gentlemen where we discussed how ALEC was failing society and asked each other questions. We thank them for their willingness to engage.

Photo courtesy of Ashlyn Ruga

Thursday we all discovered – very tangibly and in multiple ways – how we have already threatened the moneyed interests in our society.  An ALEC provocateur intruded on our actions, beginning with the Theatre of the Oppressed and continuing with our picket in front of the Grand America.  He attempted to rile up emotions among our ranks to discredit us, but ended up disappointed when his voice was overwhelmed by our joy and resolve.  The “powers that be” see us as a threat that they need to neutralize.  Also, just Thursday alone, two corporations – General Motors and Walgreens – decided to end their involvement with ALEC.  Because of actions like ours, ALEC is bleeding support every day; so we must not be deterred.

A year after Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in jail to deter us, we are continuing our resistance. We are engaging in authentic and difficult conversations as we build Communities of Resilient Resistance. We are fighting for a livable future.

And we will not be deterred.