President Obama Pardon Chelsea Manning-She Must Not Die In Jail-The Struggle Continues- A Story Goes With It
Click on link to White House Petition To Pardon Chelsea Manning-
By Fritz Taylor
“You know it is a crying shame that the Chelsea Manning case has fallen beneath the cracks, that her plight as the only woman prisoner in an all-male prison out there in the wheat fields of Kansas, out at Leavenworth has been ignored except an occasional news note or yet another petition for President Obama to do the right thing like he has with the drug cases and pardon her, to commute her sentence to time served, to the six plus years she has already been tossed away behind the walls,” yelled Ralph Morse over to Bart Webber while they were preparing to set up a banner proclaiming that very idea as part of a birthday vigil for Chelsea on her 29th birthday on this cold December day. (Ralph thought to himself while he was yelling over to Bart that he would never get over those basic training drill sergeants during his time in the military during the Vietnam War, never get over being spooked by them that if you did not toe the mark you would wind up in Leavenworth and here he was supporting a young transgender whistle-blower who did what he should have done but cowered to those redneck drill sergeants. Well even 60-somethings can learn a thing or two from the younger crowd.)
“Yeah, between the fact that she had to in order to protect herself against maltreatment from a bunch of goddam threatening guards who told her to “man up” at Leavenworth after she was convicted and sentenced to those hard thirty-five years in 2013 “come out” as a transgender woman and the overriding blow-up over the Snowden revelations which took all the air out of any other whistle-blower case Chelsea got the short end of the stick,” replied Bart also yelling his comment against both the windy day and the constant stream of loonies, crazies and con men and women who populated the environs around the Park Street subway station at Boston Common on any given Saturday between the hours of one and two in the afternoon when the space, or part of it, was given over to peace action groups and other left-wing political organizations.
Ralph thought to himself as he cut a few wind holes in the banner proclaiming the need for President Obama to grant Chelsea her pardon that he had come a long way (and Bart too) since the fall of 2010 when they learned that Chelsea (then using her birth name Bradley but we will use her chosen name and assume everybody understands we are talking about the same person) was being held essentially incommunicado down at the Quantico Marine Base (strange since Chelsea was in the Army) in solitary and their organization, Veterans for Peace, had called for demonstrations to have her released even then, or at least taken out of solitary and stop being tortured (no small “peacenik” charge since the appropriate United Nations rapporteur had made such a finding in her case). Ralph and Bart had been among the very first to set up a rally (not at Park Street but in Davis Square over in Somerville where Bart had lived for the previous decade) and they had been committed to her defense ever since. (Their own admittedly sorry response to “their” war, Vietnam, by in Ralph’s case joining the Army and in Bart’s case by accepting induction into that same Army had caused then after the fact, after their military service to “get religion” on the questions of war and peace. They saw the Chelsea case as pay-back to a real hero, maybe the only hero of the Iraq War and had worked like seven dervishes on the case. More importantly had kept the faith even after the case inevitably went off the front pages and became a cypher to the general population.)
Both men had agreed once the fanfare had died down that along with keeping the case in the public eye as best they could they would commemorate two milestones in Chelsea’s live yearly-the anniversary of her incarceration by the government now over six years in May and her birthday in December (her 29th ). That was why Ralph and Bart were struggling with the downtown winds to put their banner in place. These days they were not taking the overall lead in setting up such events but had responded to a call by the Queer Strike Force to do so and they were following that organization’s lead to rally and to make one last desperate push to get Chelsea a pardon. Everybody agreed, willingly or not, that under the impending Dump the Trump regime that Chelsea’s chances of a pardon were about zero, maybe less. So the rally. And so too the desperation in Ralph and Bart’s own minds that the slogan their fellow VFPer Frank Jackman had coined-“we will not leave our sister behind” would now fall on deaf ears, that she would face at least four, maybe eight years of hard ass prison time-time to be served as a man in a woman’s body when the deal went down. Worse that Chelsea had already attempted twice earlier in the year to commit suicide and the hard fact emblazoned in the added sentence on their banner-“she must not die in jail” had added urgency.
Ralph and Bart had met down in Washington in 1971 after both had been discharged from the Army and had gotten up some courage, with some prompting from their respective very anti-war girlfriends, to go down and get arrested during the May Day actions when in another desperate situation they tried to help shut down the government if it would not shut down the war-the Vietnam War. They had been through a lot over the years in the struggle to keep the peace message alive and well despite the endless wars, and despite the near zero visibility on the subject over the previous ten plus years.
Both had grown up in very working class neighborhood respectively Troy in upstate New York and Riverdale out about thirty miles west of Boston and had followed the neighborhood crowds unthinkingly in accepting their war and participating in the war machine when it came their time. So no way in 1968,1969 say could either have projected that they would hit their sixties standing out in the lonesome corners of the American public square defending an Army private who in many quarters was considered a traitor and who moreover was gay. In the old days the best term they could think of to describe their respective attitudes toward gays was “faggot and dyke”-Jesus. (That whole gay issue was already well known to them from some information provided by agents of Courage to Resist, the organization which was the main conduit for publicity about the case and for financing Chelsea’s legal defenses. They also were aware through those same agents about Chelsea’s sexual identity which all partisans and Chelsea herself had agreed to keep on the “low” in order not get that issue confused with her heroic whistle-blower actions during trial and only later revealed by her publicly as a matter of self-defense as mentioned above.)
Later that night after the birthday vigil was over and Ralph and Bart were sitting at Jack’s over in Cambridge near where Bart lives (Ralph still lived in Troy) having a few shots to ward away the cold of the day’s events both had been a bit morose. The event had gone as well as could be expected on a political prisoner case that was three years removed from the serious public eye. The usual small coterie of “peace activists” had shown up and a few who were supporting Chelsea as a fellow transgender and there had been the usual speeches and pleas to sign the on-line petition to the White House to trigger a response from the President on the question of a pardon (see link above). (That lack of response by the greater LGBTQ community to Chelsea’s desperate plight all through the case had had Ralph and Bart shaking their heads in disgust as the usual reason given was that all energies had to expended on getting gay marriage recognized. The twice divorced Ralph and three times divorced mumbled to themselves over that one).
Ralph and Bart were in melancholy mood no question since they had long ago given up any illusion that the struggle against war and for some kind of social justice was going to be easy but the prospects ahead, what Ralph had called the coming “cold civil war” under the tutelage of one Donald Trump had them reeling as it related to Chelsea’s case. They bantered back and forth about how many actions they had participated in since they got the news of the case that a young whistle-blower was being held for telling the world about the cover-up of countless atrocities committed by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan (via Wiki-leaks, not the mainstream media who would not touch making the information that Chelsea had gleaned for love or money).
There were the trips to Quantico down in hostile Virginia in order to get Chelsea out of the “hole,” get her out of Marine base solitary (and where they faced an incredible array of cops and military personnel all to “monitor” a few hundred supporters). The trips to the White House to proclaim their message. The several trips during the trial down at Fort Meade in Maryland where they had to laugh about being on a military base for the first time in decades (they had been barred many years back for demonstrations on a military base against the Reagan administrations war against Central America). The weekly vigils before the case went to trial and over the previous three years the fight to keep the case in the public eye.
As they finished up their last shots of whiskey against the cold night both agreed though that come May they would be out commemorating Chelsea’s seventh year in the jug if Obama did not do the right thing beforehand. They both yelled as they went their separate ways (Ralph was staying with his daughter in Arlington) old Frank Jackman’s coined phrase-“we will not leave our sister behind.” No way.