Happy 27th Birthday to American whistleblower and hero (or traitor; opinions vary although this one is wrong) Chelsea Manning.
It’s a birthday Manning celebrates in custody, as she has every birthday of the last four; she can anticipate many more, as she’s serving a 35-year sentence in maximum security at Fort Leavenworth military prison for leaking US intelligence to WikiLeaks. The most optimistic outlook is that she’ll be out in approximately eight years, assuming time off for good conduct and the like.
If you’ve heard of Cablegate, Arab Spring, or Hillary Clinton being enraged, you can pretty much thank Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning for it. The intelligence she sent to WikiLeaks has changed the world, rewritten borders and toppled dictators, and opened the way to the Snowdens and others whose revelations allow us to once again question the diktats of government.
Prior to Chelsea Manning, all we had was a post-Watergate malaise, in which we knew we couldn’t trust the government, but we didn’t think we could do anything about that. One person and a stack of “Lady Gaga” CDs changed all of that.
Manning’s leaks showed not only that the government was (in many cases) corrupt and evil, but also that it was human and vulnerable, logy and self-satisfied. After 9/11 it gave out security credentials like candy on the assumption that everyone shared its vision of America’s future: a vision in which the people served the government without question, a vision of the people of America as nothing more than an instruction-execution machine made of docile livestock, waiting for orders from K street or Davos or wherever. They did this in some cases out of legitimate belief it would make the world a better place, and in millions of cases out of a legitimate belief that their individual lives would be better if they just shut up and did what they were told. Millions of Americans doing their level best to be Good Germans.
Chelsea Manning changed all of that.
You didn’t get her anything for her birthday; neither did I. But the least we can do is honour her legacy by remembering and embodying it when we can. By saying No to the contract from smiling companies who are, at bottom, fascist apologists. By saying Yes to social movements who aim to put governments in their place (remember when we used to call government workers “public servants” instead of “officials?” It is, as poker players say, a Tell). By making personal choices as a free individual rather than an acquiescent social unit on which pressure may be brought to bear.
By saying “fuck it” to the consequences and doing the right thing.
Happy birthday, Chelsea Manning.