Chelsea Manning: “Someone much worse than Trump can come” | International

Chelsea Manning (Oklahoma, 34 years old) appears on the other side of the screen wearing a white tank top and her hair in a ponytail. She has granted an interview to this newspaper on the occasion of her presence, this week, in it at Culture and Business Pride Tenerife, where current issues affecting the LGTBI community are discussed. “I want to go. I haven’t been to Spain since 2004. I used to go when I was a teenager, just like any other tourist”. At her side, listening to the conversation, is her personal assistant, who ensures that the only untouchable topic is not touched: the leaks to Wikileaks of thousands of classified documents from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that made this former soldier and analyst gain global notoriety. intelligence of the United States Army. Sentenced for her audacity – for some high treason, for others bravery – to 37 years in prison, she was mistreated in prison, according to Amnesty International, to which was added the media ordeal she suffered after starting a gender transition process. Manning, who entered prison in 2013, finally managed to get out in 2020 thanks to the extraordinary pardon granted by Obama just before passing the baton of the presidency to Trump. She then said, “I was just asking for another chance. And now I have it.”

Ask. The LGTBI movement has as leitmotiv freedom, but that word has a very special meaning when it comes to you. How do you enjoy your regained freedom?

Response. It is very difficult to focus on the idea of ​​freedom when there is this avalanche of problems that are coming at us. Particularly, as a resident of the United States, where at least 12 proposals and counterproposals come out every day to persecute the trans community in some States. There is constant oppression, which in many cases is part of the culture and goes far beyond the law. Even though I’m no longer stuck in a concrete box, I still feel like I’m under enormous scrutiny. It’s hard to ignore that kind of shadow that hangs over me and my community.

P. You have said that when you hear about “the war on terror” you do not think of what that is conventionally supposed to mean, but of the terror that states inflict on their citizens. When was the last time you felt that fear?

R. I can think of a few occasions over the years. For example, when I was in jail. But also, when going to a demonstration or to certain parts of New York. There has been an increase in security, which serves no purpose at all, and has become an inherent aspect of our lives. In Brooklyn, you are constantly aware that we are being watched by the largest police force in the United States and the world. I think there are about 90,000 NYPD officers, which is the size of the armies of many medium-sized countries.

P. So, this morning he walked out of his house and there were police.

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R. Of course, there are police cameras outside my house. They do not specifically watch me, but everyone: a black person, an immigrant…

P. As soon as she got out of jail, she said she felt she had been institutionalized. Do you still feel the same?

R. Yes, it’s still like that. I can feel it even in the decisions I make on a daily basis, for example I have problems organizing my own agenda. My personal assistant, Austin, sees to it that I stick to more or less rigid schedules, which I like. I think that has to do with having been institutionalized: the idea of ​​not knowing for sure what will happen tomorrow makes me anxious. That’s what I mean by being institutionalized. In jail you know what the next day is going to be like; abroad I don’t know what is going to happen, who I am going to be able to trust, how things are going to change, what is going to work and what isn’t. I don’t know what level of risk I face or the certainties I manage. Although I am much better, comparatively, I still see as a advantage prison routine.

P. Who has been your main support network in these years?

R. I have been very supportive in the trans and queer community in New York, also in my family in Maryland. Also, I have good friends all over the world: in the US, but also in Berlin, London, Paris or Barcelona. These are people who have been there; who offer me good advice, interesting conversations; and that I can lean on if I’m tired or sad. It is a very diverse network, where there are political activists, journalists, musicians, artists, filmmakers, youtubers

P. What forms of affection have you discovered in recent times?

R. The healthy food [risas]. It has been very important for me to stay in shape, especially during the pandemic, to calm the anxiety of the last few years. It is a form of self-love that has to do with being healthy.

P. It affirms that our societies do not suffer from a problem of information and knowledge, and that people are sufficiently informed of horrible things and injustice, but of action. Does it also happen in the LGTBI movement?

R. I think it’s different. In the particular case of the gay and trans community, there is a lot of awareness that we exist, but I don’t think that awareness necessarily translates into security. One of the problems we have in the trans community is that we have been given so much visibility that our own voices are not taken into account.

P. Does the LGBTI community engage in sterile debates?

R. Definitely. Now I think it happens less, but a few years ago there was a lot of effort to be respectable. There was this idea that if we presented ourselves in that way we could make straight people feel closer to our cause and accept us. I’ve always been very against that notion. Until 2015, in the US the idea was accepted that marriage between two people of the same sex is equal to that of two heterosexuals. That notion does not explore the problems of monogamy, polygamy, nor the possibility of an unconventional family structure. It’s an idea that benefits a few well-off white gays and lesbians.

P. And if you had to summarize the main points of your fight, what would you say?

R. I have two points. One, and I think it represents the trans community, we want to be left alone. We are very tired. Sold out. People who want to support and help us, please leave us alone because we have been through an ordeal. The second thing – and this is especially critical for the non-binary part of the community in the United States – we have to be prepared, especially after the potential abortion ban. We have to think about how we are going to protect ourselves and how we are going to defend ourselves, in a fight similar to the one we waged in the 1980s, when a huge stigmatization campaign was launched with the HIV pandemic. It looks very bad because we have had a certain margin to build the community and live more peacefully in a politically more progressive period, such as the late 1990s and early 2000s, but we have to look further. We have to rebuild our fighting capacity and defend ourselves with unconventional methods.

P. You have always been very critical of artificial intelligence. What role do you think you play in this regression you speak of?

R. Without a doubt, the algorithms, in particular those that feed social networks, have encouraged a rhetoric with increasingly radical points of view to turn any issue on the political agenda into a huge controversy. One of the things that most clicks gets is the informative controversy. It is exactly the same concept that was brought to television audiences in the nineties and two thousand, but now extreme, to the microsecond. The amount of data that is collected on user behavior is insane. In addition, these controversial topics appear on our mobiles, causing us anxiety and fear only for us to return again and again to the phones to leave our personal information. In 1995, you turned on the television, but you could turn it off for a while. Personally, I have to be very proactive in my digital hygiene. So yes: I think that many of the problems that affect the LGBTI community come from our absolute dependence on technology, and that everything is a strategy of an industry that exploits artificial intelligence to get people hooked on its services. .

P. He said that Trump’s victory was not so serious since if the United States had become almost a fascist state it was not because of him, but as a result of its recent history. Now, with Biden in power, do you maintain that idea?

R. Yes. This president has not changed at all; he has curbed the excesses a bit, but the tendency is to favor the extreme right. I believe that US politics is actually run by a conservative undercurrent and that Trump winning the election is not an aberration, but rather the inevitable conclusion of the rise of the far right as an institution over the last 40 years. I know that some people think that Biden is deeply anti-establishment and perhaps it is in his style, but the Supreme Court candidates he chose, the legislative agenda he has set in motion, everything is aligned with standard positions of the right. And while true progressives oppose many positions on the right, centrist Democrats are totally on board with them, so those ideas are going further and further. After George W. Bush, people used to say to me, ‘Oh, he’s the most right-wing president we’re ever going to have.’ I answered skeptically. Then Donald Trump appeared. And now I think someone much worse than him can come.

P. He has said that in 2030 we will probably laugh at the problems of 2022…

R. Totally

P. Do you congratulate yourself for not having succeeded when you tried to make an electoral career?

R. Absolutely! I learned a lot from that experience. It’s going to sound crazy, but I think people should consider running for office. I was given the unique opportunity to be a candidate in Maryland and I would love for more people to experience it; Although it is hard, intense and harrowing, it is an experience that opens your eyes to the problems of American politics. I went in thinking I knew more than I really did. It was an invaluable learning. Though I wouldn’t submit to that again

P. It was the next question I was going to ask

R. I do not rule out that in the future I could stand for elections, but it will not be soon. I think it’s somewhat more appropriate for when I hit 40 than now.

P. Did the experience in prison and loneliness make you have a different relationship with your body and make the decision to make the transition?

R. I had to turn my relationship with my body into a judicial matter and, in a way, that forced me to make it a public matter as well. I had no choice. Would you have preferred more privacy? Definitely. But I made the decision to fight against the legal system, which forced me to air extremely intimate matters. One of the great things about transitioning is that it’s not a topic I have to talk about anymore. Now I just make my life. I worry about paying taxes and stuff, but that’s it.

P. One of the conditions for this interview is that he not be asked about the leaks. What would you say to someone who thinks that, compared to revealing military secrets that affect world security, the LGTBI cause is not important?

R. I would tell them that everything is connected. The world is beginning to face the climate crisis, which in the early 2000s was discussed in theoretical terms. From my own experience, after going to the Polish border with Ukraine to help trans refugees get out and try to get them to Berlin, it is clear that all the causes are overlapping. What is spoken on a geopolitical scale ends up impacting the most vulnerable communities.

P. Perhaps in Russia or Ukraine there are already the new Chelsea Mannings…

R. Of course they already exist.

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