April 5 is the fourth anniversary of Chelsea Manning's leak of the Collateral Murder video of footage from an Apache helicopter which shows trigger-happy soldiers killing twelve civilians. Manning, former US intelligence officer, also leaked massive troves of documents which include details about war crimes committed by US army personnel, such as the condoning of torture and killing of innocent civilians in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Four years after the releases, not one of the people implicated of war crimes in those documents or in the Collateral Murder video has been prosecuted. Rather, Chelsea Manning was arrested on May 29, 2010, charged with 22 crimes, endured a three-month court martial throughout the summer of 2013, and was sentenced on August 21, 2013 to 35 years in prison. As of the writing of this article, she has been in jail 1405 days, or almost four years.
Chelsea Manning’s story inspired me to make courtroom sketches each day of the three month court martial. My goal was to help publicize the historic trial which the world’s mainstream media was mostly ignoring. I spent many hours observing Chelsea and her attorneys. She appeared to me as a very patient, strong, focused, reasonable, and mature individual. She did not dramatize her own suffering during the trial and still avoids calling attention to the injustice of her ordeal.
Rather, every time Chelsea has been given the chance to speak, she shares her thoughts about the power of true information in the public’s possession.Manning stated in a pre-trial hearing: “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the [Iraq and Afghan War Logs] this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general, as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Chelsea spoke again this past Thanksgiving when Time magazine published a letter from her in which she lists Americans who risked their own safety in order to find and share true information with the public. Chelsea states “… I’m thankful that one day—perhaps not tomorrow—because of the accomplishments of such truth-seekers and human rights pioneers, we can live together on this tiny “pale blue dot” of a planet and stop looking inward, at each other, but rather outward, into the space beyond this planet and the future of all of humanity."
Four years after Chelsea’s arrest and imprisonment, the UN Human Rights Committee called for the release of the Senate Intelligence Report on the Bush Administration’s Torture and Rendition program. On DemocracyNow.org last week, Amy Goodman stated that the UN Human Rights Committee report listed several US programs which violate human rights: Obama’s drone program, racial profiling, life sentences for juveniles, NSA spying, police brutality, the death penalty, and the detention of homeless and immigrants. Specific actions which the committee called for include closing Guantanamo and prosecuting those who have been involved in torturing prisoners.
When presented with lists of egregious US programs, most people don’t hesitate to assign blame to people in governmental, military or corporate leadership positions. I agree that tremendous responsibility does lie in the laps of such people. However, when Chelsea has had the chance to speak publicly, she has not talked about being a victim under the thumb of people in influential positions of organizations with massive powers. Rather, she has consistently appealed to average citizens to be the arbiters of change.
Other public figures have also called for ordinary citizens to act, as if they can actually make a difference. Andy Shallal, founder of the very successful Washington DC Bus Boys and Poets restaurants and DC mayoral candidate, said in an interview last week for The Real News Network: “I think it’s important to have inspirational leaders. I think the other part is the people have to rise up. The people have to worry and get upset enough for them to make change. I really do believe that. I think people power has not been harnessed in this country.”
Dr. Cornel West spoke last year in Asheville, North Carolina about the impact of people’s response to injustice: ”You have to call into question indifference. That is the one trait that makes the angels weep.” He simply stated that not enough regular people care. He called our attention to some of those things which the UN Human Right Committee highlighted last week, for instance: “We spend over a half a trillion dollars on the prison-industrial complex for the new Jim Crow and act as if it is invisible. Why can we just turn our backs? White and black folk both do it.”
Reverend Barber, one of the leaders of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, appealed to the people at a February 8, 2014 protest: “In this moment we cannot be silent. . . . We must become the trumpets of conscience.” In that same speech Barber quotes Martin Luther King who said: “It’s not the words of your enemies that you remember, but the silence of your friends”.
Many people say that the problems are too big and intimidating to confront, stating that their solitary actions can't make a difference. Grace Lee Boggs, author of The Next American Revolution has been a leader in civil rights, women’s and environmental movements, which have prioritized massive street protests. But when I met with Boggs at her Detroit home, she mildly rebuked me for being another one of the many activists who overemphasize “critical mass” as a strategy element of social movements. Boggs referred to Margaret Wheatley who writes in Leadership and the New Science about how the differences between Newtonian and quantum physics should inform our activist strategies. In Newtonian physics, significant, globally-influencing change only occurs following the impact of very large forces. In quantum physics, the world is so energetically interconnected that small, individual actions actually have reverberations which are felt across the whole world. Wheatley states: “We need a paradigm shift in our understanding of how change happens. . . .Changes in small places also affect the global system…”