Chelsea Manning is the Biggest Elephant In The Room
Presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein visited Topeka, Kansas on July 2, and I was there. Listening to her make her case that afternoon was like a breath of fresh air this election season.
Dr. Stein touched on almost all of the policy issues, both domestic and foreign, that all of us 20-odd people present in that Ramada Inn room cared about.
Part of what she had to say was this: “We the people allowed ourselves to be silenced, to let the lesser evil speak for us. But, If our voices aren’t in this, there is a vacuum of values and a vacuum of vision and a vacuum for a moral compass. And we need a moral compass in order to, you know, figure out what is our way forward. And that’s something only, you know, we can do as a people. Corporate America isn’t going to do that for us.”
She also said, “We need a foreign policy based on International law, human rights, and diplomacy on economic and military domination which has been such an utter disaster that is, you know, blowing back at us badly—failed states, mass refugee migrations, worst terrorist threats. They keep getting worse. You can’t bomb terrorism out of existence. That’s what creates it.”
That same afternoon in Topeka we went along with Stein to visit the Equality House that is right across the street from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. Down in the Equality House basement we talked about Kansas’ pre-Civil War fight against slavery; we talked about the school, not far from where we were sitting, that was the focus of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision against racial segregation; we talked about LGBTQ/Indigenous rights issues in Kansas.
Before the moment slipped away from me, I reminded Stein that there was another human-rights struggle that Kansas is famous, or shall we say infamous, for. It can be found in the Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth prison, where Wikileaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year jail sentence.
Little did we realize that perhaps right at that very moment when we were all gathered in that dark basement addressing issues of the day, Manning was in a very dark place in her mind, struggling with feelings of hopelessness.
I say that because three days later, on July 5th, she attempted to take her own life. And, at the end of the month, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that in response to her suicide attempt, military officials were charging her with a series of “administrative offenses.”
Dr. Stein has alluded to the predicament of Manning in the past. When she was running as the Green Party presidential candidate in 2012, she said Chelsea “should not be further punished….The assault on [then] Bradley Manning’s basic rights for allegedly blowing the whistle on government misconduct comes at a time of an unprecedented assault on whistleblowers by the Obama administration….If I am elected and have the opportunity to pardon [her], I will do this as an affirmation that my country, the United States of America, strives to achieve the highest possible standards of justice, transparency, and honor.”
Now, four years later, Jill is once again running for president of this country on the Green Party ticket, and she has once again said that she will pardon Chelsea if elected. Only this time her focus is more on Edward Snowden. She recently said that Snowden “has done an incredible service to our country at great cost to himself for having to live away from his family, his friends, his job, his network, to basically live as an expatriate. I would say not only bring Snowden back, but bring him into my administration as a member of the Cabinet.”
And on July 6th, the day after Chelsea’s suicide attempt, Stein tweeted, “While Chelsea Manning remains locked up for transparency, FBI fails to hold Hillary accountable for a lack of it.”
I agree completely. And to be consistent with her slogan “Greater Good,’ not Lesser Evil,” Stein should also announce that she would bring Manning into her cabinet.
Dr. Stein has spoken out against the treatment of Manning by our government. But is that enough? In this era of soundbites, are a few soundbites of empathy every now and then toward our bravest whistleblower enough? Considering the truth-force that Chelsea stands for and our unjust treatment of both her and the truth she brought us, I would think not.
And now, our government is punishing her even more because she tried to kill herself? These charges would cut her off even more so from the world. Chase Strangio, staff attorney at the ACLU who represents Chelsea Manning in a lawsuit against the Department of Defense said recently on Democracy Now, “She is a transgender woman in a man’s facility. She is being denied healthcare related to her very well-documented gender dysphoria….If she is forced into solitary confinement, which could be indefinite under the terms of her charges, that will be absolutely catastrophic to her mental health, and particularly at this moment.”
Not only is Chelsea living in the prison of her own country’s (un)consciousness that has no room for her sacrifice, but geographically too, we have dumped her smack dab in the heart of this great nation’s prairie. So close, yet so very far away from us. Even further than Snowden or Jullian Assange.
Alongside Hillary’s rhetoric—“We will defend our rights — civil rights, human rights and voting rights… women’s rights and workers’ rights… LGBT rights and the rights of people with disabilities,” the Republicans are fed up with their own candidate; the Republican candidate on his part is preemptively blaming the Democrats for his potential loss; the DNC treated their more electable candidate like shit in the primaries and convention; and both Democrats and Republicans simply ignore independents like Jill Stein.
And, then you have all of the above, except Stein, ignoring the rights of Chelsea Manning (Stein’s just not talking about it enough.)
We don’t have to go too far back into history to see that both the Democrats and Republicans have their hands dirty with war and free trade policies that have affected the lives of millions around the globe, killing and maiming them, displacing them, destroying their land, water, infrastructure. And they have lied their way through it all.
So, which came first the lies or the lives? Well, if it wasn’t for all the white lies, so many lives of various hues wouldn’t be lost. So, yes, White Lies Matter, now, more than ever.
I decided to start this embroidery series, White Lies Matter, with the predicament of Chelsea Manning. I’m starting with the present and going back in history. She’s someone who, to me, embodies all of that which Jill was talking about that July afternoon in Kansas. Someone who values the truth more than her own life, someone that is a moral compass, someone with vision, someone who represents the ultimate victim of the military-industrial complex, someone who is living like a refugee in her own country, someone who gave us ample warning that we should stop handing fuel to the terrorists if we want to stop the madness. But we don’t seem to be listening.
Chelsea is the most ignored of them all. In fact, she has herself become as transparent as the transparency she brought the people of this country. So delicate and yet so strong. You can look through her if you want to….and ignore her words if you want to. Or you can do the opposite and maybe take to the streets and demand accountability for our bloody wars and for her freedom.
I see her locked up….a punching bag in a cage in the middle of a vast former prairie. I can see her right now, with the cowardly establishment taking a jab at her with the right foreign-policy-hand symbolizing our wars based on lies that she exposed. Then comes the next jab. This time a left, the domestic-policy-hand, the treatment meted out to her, one of our own, right here at home. Left, right, left, right, left, right: the blows keep coming, and the lies go on and on and on.
Regarding punching bags, in the shadow of Black Lives and White Lies, we must recall the powerful words of Mohammed Ali as well as Chelsea Manning. That’s what I’ll leave you with: their words on war, white lies, and white betrayal.
My conscience won’t let me go shoot….some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger. They never lynched me. They never put no dogs on me. They never robbed me of me nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. Shoot them for what?….those babies and children….Just take me to jail….You’re talking about me, about some draft and all you white boys are breaking your neck to get to Switzerland and Canada….If I’m gonna die I’ll die now right here fighting you. My enemies are white people. Not Vietcong….You’re my poison when I want freedom. You’re my poison when I want justice. You’re my poison when I want equality. You won’t even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs and you want me to go somewhere and fight when you won’t even stand up for me right here at home.
I am always afraid. I am still afraid of the power of government. A government can arrest you. It can imprison you. It can put out information about you that won’t get questioned by the public – everyone will just assume that what they are saying is true. Sometimes, a government can even kill you – with or without the benefit of a trial. Governments have so much power, and a single person often does not. It is very terrifying to face the government alone.
(The 5’2” elephant in our rooms describes so exquisitely the life that most of us take so much for granted.)
It’s a very strange reality that taking hormones has made clear to me. I can feel emotions much more immediately and deeply. Before, I used to just put my feelings in this little box in my head and say—I’ll deal with you later. But now, when I’m feeling sad, I cry. When I’m feeling angry, I need to take a step away and cool down for a minute. When I’m feeling happy, I laugh and get excited—and when I’m feeling lonely, I reach out to someone that I care about. Life is a much richer and fuller experience for me as a person.
—Taken from the second episode of Amnesty International’s series In Their Own Words that featured Chelsea Manning. You can listen to her story here.
Priti Gulati Cox is an interdisciplinary artist, and a local coordinator for the peace and justice organization CODEPINK. She lives in Salina, Kansas, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.