Impressions and Notes From a Day at the Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) Trial: Page 5 of 5

Impressions and Notes From a Day at the Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) Trial

Sketch of Chelsea Manning's trial. (Drawing by Clark Stoeckley)
Sketch of Chelsea Manning's trial. (Drawing by Clark Stoeckley)

What Did I Expect?

It’s over. What we were waiting for? What did I think would happen? I had no idea. Only now it’s clear to me. The defense already pled guilty. I suppose I don’t know that much, I've just heard things Manning said before, so I expected her somehow to be a martyr―a champion, even after being held for three years before her trial, after being tortured; after being isolated; and after sitting through all this.

Twenty-five years old. My daughter’s age. Arrested at 22. The defense’s plan appears to say anything that they think the judge wants to hear, to plead for mercy. To make this stop.

I think this may be a white thing, the “I’m sorry” defense. I think it's easier to do when you are white and look like Manning, especially when you look like her sister, who is a more charismatic witness then her aunt; and you speak paycheck (or what is more often called proper) English; and you fit other white middle-class cultural markers in dress and mannerisms.

This “I’m sorry” narrative might work for white folks. I wonder how it would work in other trials? I don’t think that everyone’s sister gets to show their baby photos and tell their life story with the same results. I think often that space is not even extended to people of color. I think back to the way that Trayvon Martin’s friend was portrayed in court.

White people know how to lie to authority. This is because they have been taught what kinds of lies that whiteness allows and because whites are taught that other whites in authority will give them the benefit of the doubt. People of color know they will not even be listened to when telling the truth, and so silence is best. Everyone subordinate tries to give those in authority what they want, but there is a difference in outcome, in what is allowed, depending upon, for one factor, the color of your skin.

White people are beaten, tortured, abused, and broken. But when they are broken they will more likely be allowed back into the system. People of color are also beaten, tortured, abused, and broken—but they are more quickly killed, as if their lives don’t matter, by Empire.

The message of being white is to do what you are told, or else. Take your opportunities; conform, assimilate, and be the aggressor OR you will be a victim. I have found the white people around me can more easily understand how to lie to authority, doing what you have to do, saying what others in power want to hear, when they are under suspicion. (They also can fear authority less, and call upon them for help quicker.) So to be a white person in a system of white supremacy means that you will be more easily accepted when you beg for mercy.

This sounds harsh to say about a young person who has been tortured and held in prison for three years awaiting this trial; who has had a hard life and who has just had to endure sitting and listening to every single personal detail of her life publicly scrutinized; but this is what came to me as an observer in the court that day. I felt a lot of sorrow but I also could not help but to notice the difference that whiteness made.

I say this not to lessen the respect for Chelsea Manning, but to increase, if that’s possible, respect and support for her, and illuminate for what she has stood up to expose and the personal price that she has paid in order to do it. She did not deny the truth to maintain the privileges that she had gained, and was trying to gain. That if she is being used as an example to us to be afraid to also tell the truth, we should also understand the truth, as much as possible―in order to not be afraid, and organize together, in order to support the truth. To understand how we are divided, and used, and what it means to be a young, low-income, transgender, white person in this country and the fact she is just a person, she has every right to that, she is not our fantasy of resistance but also that she is a person that risked destroying patriotic fantasies for exposing ugly truths and believed that the truth did have value to be known.

Conclusion Thoughts―Reality Wars

I was raised in the white middle-class (by parents raised working-class), and taught and have heard all my life, that you have to do things, and live your life, in ways you don’t want to because if you don’t, you will be poor. Poverty is the threat. You may not like how things are, but if you don’t do what you are told –that yes, might ultimately be at the expense of others, especially those in other countries abroad and marginalized communities at home—you will lose what you do have now; you will have much worse. Your very life will be at risk.

Also another thread that runs along in these American reality/dream narratives is that if you are poor you are a bad person: it is your own fault.

But there is no one reality, and we humans have the ability to take part in creating our own reality just as much as different factors can come to change what we know as our reality. Life holds out many possibilities and when all choice, all disobedience, all questioning, all expression and freedom of information are threatened—and every human behavior a diagnosis—then we are in a time of not just information wars, but reality wars.

Many people in the U.S. are too busy—consumed, surviving day-to-day—with their personal lives to pay attention to what is going on in the news. And the news is just depressing and overwhelming anyway, which will impact the little happiness they have. So they tune it out. They feel to be informed is depressing because they can’t do anything: they can’t change any of these problems for the better. They can’t make a difference. But this is the biggest lie of all. We can always do something. We in the U.S. have been conditioned, and dare I say it, crushed, to feel that we cannot.

Chelsea Manning made a choice to free information we would have never seen. It is our choice to be informed of what she released to the public, and she is paying the price. We can see how we can support her. It is a democratic ideal to believe in the power of the people. The majority of older folks from the peace movement show us that believing you can make a difference is something that never goes away.

At the very least, make the choice to not be depressed by information in this information age, to not numb and tune out, every time, to take care of yourself and find ways you can read and stay informed without feeling overwhelmed.

Information is essential to a Democratic society. Information is power. Resistance is not futile. The Military-Industrial Complex is not the only narrative. Justice is not a fantasy and grim suffering not the only reality. This is our time. Another world is possible.



If you would like to review any of these testimonies more in depth, there is a more complete transcription here.

China Martens is interested in radical working class/low income/no income/poor white anti-racist history. Martens is a co-editor of “Don’t Leave Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities” and currently collaborating with Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Mai’a Williams to create “This Bridge Called My Baby: Legacies of Radical Mothers.”