Back in 1846 Henry David Thoreau got himself thrown in Concord, Mass., jail because he refused to pay a poll tax which he said supported slavery. It was an act of conscience, and he got himself thrown in jail for a night until friends — much against his will — paid the tax for him.
Still, while in jail, he is said to have been visited by Ralph Waldo Emmerson, who asked, “Henry, what are you doing in there?” and Thoreau replied, “Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?”
What indeed? If you are going to stand up for something, the idea is to remain standing.
Which brings us to the trial underway in SLC of Tim deChristopher, who is accused of messing up a BLM oil lease sale two years ago as an act of civil disobedience.
It’s a complicated situation. I agree the sale should not have gone on — the Bush administration was taking a last-gasp shot at making nice-nice with the oil industry — so I’m not really sad that deChristopher messed it up.
On the other hand, if he was engaged in a genuine act of civil disobedience, what’s he doing pleading innocent? His lawyer, Ron Yengich, in the first day’s questions, even seems to be laying a defense that the people running the auction are at fault because they didn’t stop the kid.
If he had any steel at all, deChristopher would just plead guilty, say he did it out of conscience, and go to jail. I actually think this would work in his favor — no judge wants to create a martyr, and if deChristopher went to jail for even a year, or a night, he’d be a better role model for civil disobedience.
As it is, if he does manage to weasel out by pleading it wasn’t really his fault, how does that look? There seems to be some feeling that he shouldn’t go to jail because he meant well and was really right, but sometimes being right and meaning well is precisely the reason you do go to jail.
More than one journalist has done time to protect a source.
People in Egypt and Bahrain and Lybia and Tunesia are dying in the streets for their civil disobedience.
In the US they’re lawyering up and claiming they’re not really guilty.
Heck of a breed of revolutionary we have in this country.