I attended a rally the other day in support of a climate activist named Tim DeChristopher. A few years ago, at the end of the Bush administration, Tim attended an illegal auction of oil and gas leases on publicly held lands, drove up the bidding, and managed to derail the entire proceedings. He was recently convicted of two felony counts for his actions, and faces up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine.
Tim knew what he was doing. He knew what the consequences of his actions could be. But he felt that risking his freedom for the sake of preserving a healthy planet was a worthwhile tradeoff. He said after his trial, “we know that now I'll have to go prison, we know that now that is the reality. But that's just the job that I have to do. That's the role that I face. Many before me have gone to jail for justice and if we are going to achieve our vision many after me will have to join me as well.”
Tim’s capacity to embrace his fate is something I think about all the time. I’m so deeply aware of the perilous state of our planet. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is up around 391 parts per million. We’re seeing extreme weather events all the time now. The world’s oceans are deeply stressed, and marine scientists say we’re facing unprecedented mass extinctions. The list goes on and on…
And so if you are someone who is aware of all this, who cares deeply about the fate of the world, and who feels compelled to do something about it, then you have to ask yourself the same question Tim DeChristopher asked: How far am I willing to go? How much of my life am I willing to sacrifice in an effort to preserve all life?
I ask myself those questions all the time. They come up on a daily basis. Do I go to an organizational meeting or to a friend’s birthday party? Do I fly across the country to visit my aging mother or just tell her it’s Skype video chats from here on out? Or, even more significantly, am I willing to get arrested and go to prison because it’s what must be done for the world? Would I be willing to make a statement with my body and my freedom in order to get the point across?
The issue isn’t having a felony on my record and being considered unhireable by some potential employer. I’ve been an actor my entire adult life. I’m pretty much unhireable anyway. I don’t have kids, my husband could take care of the cats, and my paying work as a wedding officiant could easily be farmed out to someone else. There is nothing for which I’m so vital that I couldn’t go get locked up for a decade or so.
Of course, I don’t want to go to prison. But where do we draw the line? At what point do we say, “My love for the world is so great, and my commitment so profound, that I am willing to give up my freedom - and eat what I hear is really lousy food - because it is what must be done. And I will do it with, as Tim DeChristopher says, joy and resolve.”
I don’t know. I really don’t. But I wonder if I’m going to find out.