Don’t go back to sleep: Why I am one of the “Bidder 70 26.”

Flora Bernard's first time in handcuffsMy heart was shattered when Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in prison on July 26th. But something else also shattered—something that was keeping me from realizing my own potential as a powerful agent of change. That was Tim’s gift to me. That is why Tim was willing to make this sacrifice: to empower ordinary people to do whatever it takes to defend our world and our future.

When I heard Tim’s sentence, it had a strange effect on me: my heart was broken, but something else was broken as well. For the first time in my life, I felt no fear, and no hesitation. Through my sorrow and my outrage, I knew we needed to communicate a message to the Prosecution, to the federal government, and most importantly, to the climate justice movement Tim is dedicated to encourage and empower: we will not be intimidated by an unjust system. We will not be bullied by powerful, but cowardly, vested interests and corporate controllers. In the fight for a livable future, we will NOT be deterred.

We left the courtroom singing, and once outside the courthouse, we used sturdy plastic zip ties to bind our wrists to one another and to the railing of the steps. Others saw what we were doing, and suddenly our initial group of six swelled to a dozen. Shortly we were informed that even more supporters had joined us, and had peacefully blockaded the other courthouse door.

The federal  courthouse officers said they were going to “wait us out,” and make no arrests. When the rest of the group declared that we needed to escalate the situation, I realized that I was far from alone in that wholehearted sentiment. I can’t express the degree of ongoing, much-needed hope and gratitude that came with this knowledge. We moved our occupation to the adjacent intersection and spread out to block traffic, including a TRAX train. I was deeply moved when a family who stepped off of the train we blocked joined our circle when they recognized why we were demonstrating.

Based entirely on Tim’s dedication to awakening the widest possible audience to the urgency of the climate crisis, the Prosecution sentenced him to two years in prison for one simple reason: to deter others from taking action. The Bidder 70 26 were honoring Tim’s selflessness and his sacrifice. We were showing the world that ordinary people are ready to do whatever it takes to protect a livable future. As Tim said in his final statement to the Court, “When people stand together, they no longer have to be exploited by powerful corporations. Alienation is perhaps the most effective tool of control in America, and every reminder of our real connectedness weakens that tool.”

The Prosecution attempted to reduced Tim DeChristopher to a mere symbol; a means to intimidate activists committed to defending a livable future. This was made crystal clear in their pre-sentencing report: “As opposed to preventing this particular defendant from committing further crimes, the sentence should be crafted to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct by others.” We acted to reclaim Tim DeChristopher as a symbol of joy and resolve, and of a movement greater than the sum of its individuals. We also acted to reestablish Tim as a human being: much, much more than a tool or a symbol.

People arrested outside the courthouse wait to be bused to jailWe stopped traffic to convey a simple idea: business as usual could not go on outside that courthouse; not after what had transpired inside. Yes, we inconvenienced some innocent people; yes, some of them did not understand the gravity of what happened inside the courthouse that day. But: part of my personal mission as a climate justice activist is to awaken people to the urgency of our current situation. Our action targeted a system that would allow such incredible injustice to occur, and would see it done quietly and behind closed doors. I can’t apologize for inconveniencing commuters when I reflect on what my friend and colleague, Tim DeChristopher, is enduring now. 

Much of the climate crisis is scientific: difficult facts and opaque, clinical information. On July 26, we wanted to show that the climate crisis has immediate, visceral, painful human consequences. At the same time, much of the climate justice movement requires complicated, carefully-organized actions that utilize esoteric knowledge, complex equipment and immaculate timing. We wanted Tuesday’s action to be available to anyone and everyone gathered at the courthouse that day. We wanted everyone to have the option to join us, to express their own love and outrage, and to demonstrate their resolute commitment to the fight for climate justice.

We must not let that commitment end with Tim’s incarceration; instead, this must be a new beginning. We must continue to fight. At the end of August, I am traveling to D.C. to participate in the Tar Sands Action. Targeting the Keystone XL pipeline proposed by Secretary Hillary Clinton (with intention to fuel the United States with the toxic fruits of the nightmarish Canadian tar sands), the action could turn out to be the largest ongoing collective civil disobedience in the history of our movement. From there, I am going to Appalachia to support friends and allies at The RAMPS campaign. On Coal River Mountain, two brave women, Catherine-Anne MacDougal and Becks Kollins, have halted blasting for 15 days straight; the longest cessation of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, ever as a result of a direct action. I want to do whatever I can to support these courageous, creative, committed people.

On July 26th, Tim DeChristopher’s sacrifice on behalf of our movement inspired and empowered 26 ordinary Salt Lake citizens to take risks and make sacrifices in the name of something larger and more powerful than themselves. That is the mission of Peaceful Uprising. That is also what is required to create both an effective movement and the strong, supportive communities that will endure the inevitable difficulties that lie ahead.

Tim in shackles, en route to prison.

Photo by Ryan Suffern

When asked what he wants to see from other activists in this movement, and from the ordinary people he has awakened and inspired, Tim often quotes the poet Rumi: “Don’t go back to sleep.”

July 26 scarred my heart and filled me with unprecedented personal sorrow. July 26 was also one of the proudest and most hopeful days of my life. I will mark July 26 as a brave new beginning, and carry Tim’s gift—the gift of power, hope, and joyful resolve—with me through the rest of my years.

I will not go back to sleep. I am committed to facing the whole, unvarnished truth about the climate crisis. I am committed to awakening others to the urgency of our fight, and to the hope and joy that principled nonviolent action can bring to their lives. I hope that you will join me. Stay awake. Together, we will create the just and healthy world we want and need to see.