Yesterday a federal grand jury charged Tim DeChristopher, a University of Utah econ student, with one felony count of interfering with a federal auction and another felony count of making false representations at an auction. The penalty could range from no punishment to a combined sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $750,000 fine. Last December, when the Bush Administration was planning to auction off land to oil and gas developers at fire-sale prices, DeChristopher "grabbed a bidder's paddle, drove up prices and won 22,000 acres of land for $1.79 million, an amount he later said he didn't have the means or intention to pay." The Associated Press reports
He isn't affiliated with any major environmental group but has said that he infiltrated the auction as a protest. He made no apologies Wednesday for obstructing the lease of land in Utah's red-rock country.
"This auction was a fraud against the American people and a threat to our future," DeChristopher said. "My motivation to act came against the exploitation of public lands, the lack of a transparent and participatory government and the imminent danger of climate change."
One of his lawyers, Patrick Shea, said prosecutors hinted weeks ago that the case could be settled with a misdemeanor plea bargain instead of a felony punishable by prison time.
"Nobody was hurt. No property was destroyed," Shea said.
The auction was already being challenged by environmental groups, who won a court stay on the sale of some parcels. Weeks later, new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar rescinded 77 of the leases, saying they were too close to national parks and never should have gone up for sale under the Bush administration.
The companies he bid against are out for blood, of course.
DeChristoper's action is a bold form of civil disobedience I can't recall seeing before. It worked much more effectively than the tactic of trying to physically block drilling on site would have. He scared off most of the companies bidding and forced those that did to pay fair rather than the usual fire-sale prices the government offers oil and mineral exploiters who pollute and trash the land they buy.
This story resonates with a piece I read yesterday on Politic.com, A New Generation Shapes a New Era, discussing a potentially huge political-demographic shift underway. The authors refer to the "Millennial Generation," born between 1982 and 2003 (what used to be known as the Echo Baby-Boom)--which it claims was responsible for the election of Obama and claims will be completely dominating politics by 2020:
But the 2008 election was barely the tip of the millennial iceberg. Important as they were a year ago, not even half (41 percent) of millennials were eligible to vote, and they accounted for less than one-fifth (17 percent) of the voting-age population in 2008. A bare majority of millennials will be eligible in 2010. Close to two-thirds of them (61 percent), representing a quarter of the electorate, will be able to vote when Obama runs for reelection in 2012. By 2016, eight in 10 millennials will be eligible to vote, and they will account for 30 percent of the electorate. In 2020, when virtually all millennials will be old enough to vote, they will account for more than one-third of the electorate (36 percent). With numbers like these, the millennial generation will be in position to dominate U.S. elections and politics for decades to come.
However, the sheer size of the millennial generation is only part of the equation. If it were as sharply divided politically as is America’s last large generation, the baby boomers, the potential impact of the millennial generation would be greatly minimized. But millennials are anything but divided.
Among millennials, Democrats now hold a nearly 2-1 edge in party identification over Republicans (55 percent vs. 30 percent). Moreover, there is no evidence that the Democratic proclivities of millennials have in any way lessened since the Inauguration of Obama. The latest Daily Kos tracking survey indicates that clear majorities of millennials have favorable opinions of Obama (80 percent) and the Democratic Party (62 percent). By contrast, only 10 percent of them have a positive opinion of the GOP. Decades of voting behavior and public opinion research tell us that once identifications and attitudes like these are formed in early adulthood, they almost invariably remain constant throughout the lives of individuals and generations.
The authors suggest that the Beltway is oblivious to the shift in progress. A pity their piece doesn't offer much particular information about the millennials' political behavior and attitudes. But I can't help but note that Tim DeChristopher, at age 27, is at the very leading edge of that generation...