Bidder 70: The Tim DeChristopher Story
One month before George W. Bush’s final day as president, the Bureau of Land Management held a lame-duck fire sale in Salt Lake City, auctioning off oil and gas leases for 77 public land parcels in southern Utah. Attending the auction were energy companies looking to mine the rich landscape for oil and gas, a handful of heartsick environmentalists watching yet another climate disaster unfold, and the mysterious Bidder 70, who swept up 22,000 acres with bids totaling over $1.7 million.
That bidder was 27-year-old economics student, Utah resident, and climate justice activist Tim DeChristopher. His spontaneous decision to take up the number 70 paddle and bid money he did not have monkey-wrenched the auction process, and kept the parcels in public hands until new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar took office and withdrew them from the market. But the change in federal administration was not enough to prevent DeChristopher from being indicted on two felony charges—and eventually, serving a prison sentence.
Bidder 70 tells the story of DeChristopher’s decision to bid and its consequences. As he awaited a trial that was postponed nine times, a process that dragged out over two years, DeChristopher intensified his activism. The filmmakers’ extensive access to DeChristopher allowed them to make a nuanced portrait of a young man who has become a symbol of resistance for a generation frustrated with the lack of government action on climate change. We see DeChristopher in quiet moments with family and friends, listen to him describe the urgency of fighting for a livable future, and see his leadership emerge at Power Shift rallies in Washington, D.C., and at backyard meetings of Peaceful Uprising, the creative activism group he started with friends.
Scenes of the surreally beautiful Utah landscape DeChristopher saved, statements of support from Robert Redford, Terry Tempest Williams, and Bill McKibben, and a lively soundtrack from the likes of Wilco and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros give Bidder 70 a popular appeal befitting the newly energized movement DeChristopher helped create.
“We’ve always just been told that things are just beyond our control and that corporations have all the power,” says DeChristopher. “We don’t often get to be reminded that we’re citizens of what was once the greatest democracy on the planet, and we’re human beings with the power to inspire others through our actions.”
Bidder 70 is ultimately about people power and one of the many forms it can take. By the film’s end, DeChristopher’s audacious direct action seems not only heroic, but also accessible, possible, and perhaps one of the few real ways forward.
Samantha Herndon wrote this article for It's Your Body, the Fall 2012 issue of YES! Magazine. Samantha is a writer and filmmaker living in Seattle. She is a former intern at YES!
- Tim DeChristopher began serving a two-year prison sentence on July 26, 2011. Peaceful Uprising posts updates on his incarceration at Bidder70.org. They recently organized a successful campaign to move DeChristopher out of isolated confinement.
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