Manning in Fort Meade, Maryland, February 23, 2012. (Reuters/Jose Luis Magana)
I lost count of how many times I read your brilliant statement yesterday, a statement that illustrates your conviction for justice, and one that now places you with some of the most radical thinkers in history. I can read any single sentence from it and examine it with awe—and as a fellow writer, I can attest to how hard that is to do. Yet perhaps I’m writing accolades to you in order to distract myself from what is much harder for me to write, and to admit: I failed you, Chelsea Manning.
I should have paid much better attention to you and your trial. I could lie and tell you that I didn’t have time, but it’s simply not true. I failed you because I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the many charges levied against you. I failed you because of the way the unbelievable power of the US government was used against you. I failed you because it was easy to ignore you, and leave you in the backseat of my mind. I chose to read about you only from time to time, at my own convenience. I chose to talk about you with friends and colleagues only occasionally, but would stop talking about you when they quickly lost interest. And for all of that, and more, I’m sorry.
In your statement yesterday, you referenced the Declaration of Independence—only to improve upon it, by letting us know that you are “gladly” paying the price of imprisonment “if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.” By closing with that line, you’ve made clear that you recognize your duty to be one that advances the limits that keep the United States from achieving a full democracy. By expanding on the document that declared this nation into being, you’ve broadened the conversation to include the still-revolutionary idea that all human beings are equal, regardless of their gender.
You also made clear that you rooted your actions in the long struggle for racial justice. Few white women ever draw attention to the forced removal of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee and Seminole people during the Trail of Tears. Few white women recognize the sad significance of the Dred Scott decision, which failed to confer citizenship on free or enslaved blacks. Few white women—especially white women who are preparing to serve a prison sentence—recall that more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. Most white women do not have to think about these injustices, and their silence secures their comfort in a stolen land that became wealthy on stolen labor. Yet you not only risked your comfort—you risked your very life.
Your statement hardly comes as a surprise. You had already made perfectly clear that you believed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dehumanized people, and that that dehumanization made it easier to kill innocent people with impunity. And yet, I didn’t really listen. I skimmed articles, skimmed analysis, but never made the decision to support you like I should have. I’m sorry, Chelsea. I’m sorry, at the very least, that I wasn’t a better listener.
I understand now that you wanted to make the world better for women of color like me. Now it’s up to me to make the world a better place for women like you.
Read more about Chelsea Manning’s recent statements here.