Dozens of environmentalists and social justice advocates planning to rally outside of a climate activist's federal trial gathered at Westminster College throughout the weekend to urge continuing political action against fossil fuels.
Peaceful Uprising, the group Tim DeChristopher helped found after he was charged with disrupting a federal oil and gas lease auction, sponsored the organizing conference. Participants attended workshops on coordinating media campaigns, practicing civil disobedience and other topics.
DeChristopher, who facestwo felony counts for bidding on Utah oil and gas leases with no intention of paying, spoke at the conference's beginning and asked his supporters to keep up the pressure for what he called a "livable future."
"The world will be watching," he said, referring to his scheduled four-day trial that starts Monday in Salt Lake City. "They're looking to see how you react when I'm prosecuted and when I'm likely convicted and sent to prison. … The world is watching because they want to see if you're going to back down."
About 100 people attended his speech, and that of his Unitarian minister, Tom Goldsmith, on Friday evening. DeChristopher said their support makes him confident that the movement can create change.
"When I did this action, I didn't have a whole lot of hope for my future," he said. "But looking at you, I know that our odds are getting better."
Goldsmith said the momentum must now build in the community, instead of ending with DeChristopher's message as he stands trial alone.
"We are beyond the point of saving the world by screwing in the right light bulb or driving a Prius," he said.
Claudia Wright, the retired school teacher recruited by DeChristopher and others to challenge Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson last year, said with monied interests swaying political campaigns, it's up to passionate citizens to keep government honest by continuing to voice their grievances.
"We are the real politicians," Wright said.
Brandie Balken, director of Equality Utah, advised the activists to take a lesson from the state's gay-rights activists, who have helped persuade 11 local governments to pass anti-discrimination ordinances after the state Legislature refused to do so last year. It's a slower change than some would like, she said, but working community by community can win results because local officials tend to be more responsive.
Salt Lake City Council member Luke Garrott, also a University of Utah political science professor, told the audience he sees room for a "politics of love" in addition to more traditional battles over climate change. It's important to look for common ground, he said. "The energizing side of politics for me is building community."
Jury selection in DeChristopher's trial is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday.
The activists planned an 8 a.m. march from Pioneer Park to the federal courthouse on Main Street, and a daylong rally across the street at Exchange Place.
Peter Yarrow of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary was scheduled to lead the group in song at various times.