Dublin shows us how it’s done: Solidarity in action for Chelsea Manning and family
Sunday December 08, 2013 22:31 by genny - WISE Up
A woolly hat sent with love from California leads me to Chelsea Manning’s Welsh Mum, we catch and run with a rugby ball, Ciaron’s faith carries us to Ireland and the Irish respond with gifts of truth for Wales.
Read the original, full post, with links and pictures:
Susan Manning, Chelsea's Mum pictured with Ciaron O'Reilly
Random acts of human kindness
For the past three years I’ve been doing what I can to keep the cause of persecuted and imprisoned military whistleblower Private Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning in the public eye, or at least in the activist eye in Wales and England. Most of my efforts and those of the loose network of groups and individuals I work alongside have been documented on the wiseupaction.info website we set up for the purpose, reported on indymedia.org.uk, and occasionally in the mainstream press. During this time we’ve had some random encounters and support from unexpected places and one of the more bizarre of these was a consignment of hand-knitted hats and scarves sent to me in Wales for Manning supporters all the way from sunny California courtesy of Occupy Berkeley’s Knit In at the Sit In.
I was touched by the spirit of solidarity that had inspired Occupy knitters thousands of miles away to make and send things to keep activists, babies and others warm in places such as Fukushima, Egypt and Newfoundland as well as cold, wet Wales. I enthusiastically accepted the offer, but instead of a box of hats and scarves, I received first a bill of around £35 in import taxes that had to be paid before the authorities would release the goods. It wasn’t a good start but I knew people had put time and love into their knitting so I grumbled a bit and coughed up the cash, a small act of faith that set off a chain of events leading to contact with Chelsea’s Welsh family and a trip to Ireland with them for one of the best solidarity efforts of the past three years plus plans for more. Never underestimate the possibilities in any situation. Never doubt that random acts of human kindness will lead good places.
One hat’s journey
The hats and scarves were duly handed out to those who needed them. Mary and I wore them on a particularly damp and miserable day in July in Wrexham, a couple went to Helen and Wejdy in Newport and two more to Julia and Leonna from Faslane Peace Camp, all Manning supporters.
Each item came with a hand-made label, but one beautifully knitted ‘stars and stripes’ hat contained a letter – we were asked to pass it on to (then) Bradley or – failing that – a member of his Welsh family. Since items of clothing aren’t allowed into the prison, we hoped to get the hat to someone in the family but my initial attempts via peace activists in Pembrokeshire were unsuccessful and the hat stayed in the box over winter.
In March, we were snowed in for days and passed the time by making an 8 foot high snowman, loaning him the hat, a placard and a badge for an ‘I am Bradley (snow)Manning’ photo. A few days later I retrieved the hat, only a little worse for wear, dried it out and returned it to the box.
The hat came with me in May when I embarked on a Bristol and south Wales solidarity tour as the trial was finally about to get underway at Fort Meade, Maryland. By the first day of the trial, 3 June 2013, I’d reached Haverfordwest and cycled over to Castle Square with my assortment of banners. The police in Bristol had seized my best ones but that’s another story (and the spurious court case against me was eventually dropped).
I set up a display on and around my bike, grabbed a handful of flyers to give out and sat on a bench waiting for something to happen. I’d just come from Cardiff where a number of groups had organised solidarity actions over several days but no one else had been available to join me in Pembrokeshire. Nevertheless it felt important to have some kind of visible presence in the town where Manning has a large extended family to note the start, after three long years, of this trial of a young soldier who had acted on conscience and refused to remain silent in the face of murder, abuse, exploitation, corruption and cover-up.
A woman stopped to chat, thanking me for being there. She said she knew all about the case because her Mum was good friends with Chelsea’s aunty Pat. By this time I had the hat in a gift bag with a card addressed to Susan Manning explaining where it had come from, expressing my concern for her at this difficult time as the trial was beginning and offering my solidarity along with my contact details in case there was anything I could do to help. I figured this might be my best chance to get the hat to its destination, so I offered her the bag
Would you mind giving this to your Mum to give to Pat to give to Bradley’s Mum Susan?
She seemed pleased to oblige, so I handed it over. Many other people stopped by during the morning including a number of relatives; I began to feel more confident that my lonely and uncertain vigil was in fact a worthwhile act of solidarity that would be appreciated by the family of brave Private Manning.
The hat connects us
Back in Wrexham a few days later, my partner took a phone call from Susan, thanking me for the hat and saying she would call again soon. She did and we were connected, brought together by the solidarity of the Californian Occupy knitters. I met Susan’s brother Kevin in town during another visit to Haverfordwest while the trial was still underway; this was our second meeting as we’d also spoken in 2012 when we were in Haverfordwest for the Radicalisation of Bradley Manning play.
At the end of August I went back to Haverfordwest to meet members of the family after the sentencing, along with Ciaron O’Reilly who had raised funds for them in Australia last year and more recently in London. There was understandable caution on the part of the family who have had bad experiences in the past, but we got on OK and I was pleased we’d had the opportunity to meet in person and explain ourselves a bit. It was clear that the family felt unsupported and I wanted to find a way to change that, to offer support without imposing. The ongoing cost of prison visiting was clearly going to put stress on the family – they had self-funded their trips to date and would do so again, but raising money for this purpose seemed one practical thing we could do to take the pressure off, so a fund was set up to collect donations and we started a new website manningfamilyfund.org to document our solidarity efforts and encourage people to contribute, particularly those in Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England.
Catching the ball, running with it… then passing it on
A rugby match was being advertised at Wrexham’s Racecourse football ground in November: Wales vs USA, part of the Rugby League World Cup series 2013. I mentioned it to Ciaron who – more sports orientated than me – grabbed the ball and ran with it. In the space of a few weeks, we called two vigils outside Wrexham rugby matches (Wales vs USA and USA vs Australia), made a couple of solidarity videos, put on a gig in Liverpool with musicians from Liverpool, Wales, London and Ireland, a great event unfortunately hindered by the bitter and twisted intervention of the intersectionalists whose idea of supporting Chelsea Manning was to disrupt our event; we also set up a draw for a rugby ball inscribed with ‘Free Manning’ and signed by Julian Assange that has helped us raise over £500 in donations in November.
Next stop Dublin
The next plan was to take members of the family over to Ireland. Chelsea’s maternal grandfather was born in Dublin and there are Irish connections on the Manning side of the family too, in Schull, county Cork. I was apprehensive after the trouble in Liverpool, anxious about the risks involved in exposing the family to the possibly hostile attention of the media, worried about practical arrangements, financial viability, the fragile health of family members, whether sufficient support for the trip could be mustered in a short space of time. I’d only been to Ireland once before and that was nearly 30 years go, cycling round the sparsely populated south-east corner of the country in a heatwave that left me with sunstroke – an experience unlikely to offer many lessons for a Dublin city visit in November. It seemed like a very big responsibility with a lot of potential for things to go wrong.
Fortunately for everyone concerned, Ciaron had faith enough to make up for my lack, knew the scene in Dublin, the culture of hospitality and solidarity, the good people on the ground there and was confident that if we brought the ball of solidarity to Dublin, others in turn would take it up and run with it.
http://wp.me/p42I6Q-5X (full post with pictures and links)
RoJ Whelan (centre) pictured with the family
Gerry Conlon addresses the meeting at Trinity
The stars and stripes hat sent by Occupy knitters in California
Joe Black (centre) pictured with the family