Why I fought for Chelsea Manning
The U.S. government wanted to erase Chelsea Manning and the crimes she exposed, writes activist Evan Greer ahead of Manning’s release on Wednesday. This is how — and why — Greer helped keep the whistleblower in the spotlight.
Chelsea Manning is my friend, but I’ve never seen her face to face, or given her a hug.
That’s because Chelsea has been in prison for the last seven years, sometimes held in conditions that the United Nations considers to be torture. She has been serving what was meant to be a 35-year sentence — all for helping to expose some of the U.S. government’s worst abuses by making public thousands of military documents.
This week, Chelsea will be released. I have to type those words again to believe them. This week, Chelsea Manning will walk out of an all-male, maximum-security military facility in Leavenworth, Kansas, and begin the rest of her life.
This moment may never have come. Chelsea attempted to take her own life twice over the last year of her incarceration, after years of abuse and harassment at the hands of the U.S. government. She was first locked up as a whistleblower, but as a transgender woman behind bars she was systematically denied medically recommended health care, and routinely subjected to degrading treatment even as the Obama administration trumpeted its support for LGBTQ rights.
Chelsea’s release is a victory for human rights and the future of freedom of expression. And it’s a testament to the power of grassroots organizing. If not for the hundreds of thousands of people from across the political spectrum who spoke up, rose up, and fought for Chelsea’s freedom, I firmly believe that she would not be with us today.
Well before I met Chelsea, a strong network of activists, lawyers, journalists, nerds, veterans, free speech advocates and LGBTQ folks were rallying around her, drawing public attention to her case and ensuring that the U.S. government’s persecution of this brave woman did not go unnoticed.
Through my work at Fight for the Future, I connected with Chelsea and began to speak with her regularly on the phone. She is one of the most compassionate and humble people I have ever met. Whenever we would speak, in spite of the inhumane conditions of her incarceration, she would always ask me how I was doing — what could she do to help?
Chelsea has always been motivated by a driving desire to help others and make the world a better place. And by refusing to remain silent she has shifted the world in ways that will benefit so many, from other trans people living in America’s prisons to those in the crosshairs of our foreign policy.
Chelsea is a great connector. From behind bars, without access to the Internet and prevented from speaking directly with the press, Chelsea still managed to share herself with the world. She ran a Twitter account, and wrote a column for The Guardian. She even drafted a piece of cyber security legislation, which Fight for the Future delivered to lawmakers’ desks.
When prison officials targeted Chelsea and threatened her with solitary confinement, a broad coalition of organizations worked together to defend her. We gathered hundreds of thousands of petition signatures, and flooded officials with phone calls, tweets and messages demanding basic dignity and humane treatment.
We protested in the streets, at the Pentagon, at the prison, at pride parades. We rallied artists, technologists, libertarians, queer folk and rock stars.
The U.S. government wanted to erase Chelsea Manning along with the crimes that she exposed. We helped keep her in the spotlight, and ensured that she was never forgotten.
When Chelsea walks through those prison doors on Wednesday, everything will change. She’ll have the chance to make her own choices and define her own destiny for the first time in her adult life. She’ll be a prominent and outspoken transgender woman — one who has already inspired so many of us.
It was an honour to fight for Chelsea’s freedom. After all, she has dedicated her life to fighting for mine.
Evan Greer is a transgender activist and musician based in Boston. She’s the campaign director of Fight for the Future, and writes regularly for The Guardian, HuffPost, and Newsweek. Follow her on Twitter @evan_greer.