Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Calling on the Defense Department to do right by Bradley Manning: one participant's view of last Sunday's demonstration at Quantico

Martha note: Harrisonburg's indefatigable Harvey Yoder sent out a notice last week that Diana Woodall would be driving to Quantico to join last Sunday's protest against the treatment of detained army private Bradley Manning, who's accused of giving classified information to Wikileaks (which, as you can see if you click on the link, is no longer available.) 
I immediately e-mailed Diana and asked her to write about her experience at the protest for the WMRA blog. 
I think of this time of year when forsythia is in bloom as the very tender beginnings of spring. I could have easily talked myself out of going to Quantico. I would have preferred to work in my garden than drive to a demonstration. After all, what difference could one person make?

The call to end the prison mistreatment of private Bradley Manning has been picked up by Amnesty International, as well as supporters in Australia, the UK, and more. Last week, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley resigned after calling Manning's treatment, “Counterproductive, stupid and ridiculous.” I believe we all need to “Think Globally—Act Locally.” Here was a local action—in Virginia at least—that now has global significance.
Bradley Manning is the soldier alleged to have leaked documents to Wikileaks about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But here's the thing: He has not yet been tried or convicted. Yet, he has been held for 300 days in a military brig in Quantico, in solitary confinement, forced to stay in his cell for 23 hours a day.
Now I am not a fan of Julian Assange and have mixed feelings about Wikileaks. But several months ago I heard on NPR that because of the treatment Manning was receiving, his condition had declined. That had me concerned.
So, on Sunday March 20, 8 years to the day after the beginning of the Iraq War, I drove the 2 ½ hours to Quantico to join between 400-500 others in support of Bradley Manning. Quantico base is at the intersection of Route 1 and Anderson Rd, in Triangle, VA, about 30 miles south of DC, and north of Fredericksburg. Just south of the base is the Marine Museum, and instructions on the BradleyManning.org website prior to the event were to park in the museum lot, which is open to the public.
I arrived at just past 1:30pm to find this was not going to be an “ordinary” demonstration. Police had parked perhaps 50 of their cars in the lot, and some sections of the lot were blocked. Soon, a white van with Florida tags parked, and out came 7 or 8 Veterans for Peace members. We walked back to the intersection of Route 1 and Anderson, and by now the demonstrators had moved north to a section of land between the road and a small church, where they set up for a rally.
photo: Diana Woodall
The crowd of between 400-500 people was young and old, white and black and other people of color. I'd say the median age was above 40 if not 50, and the gathering was largely white. Several bus loads of folks had come from DC. Others came from as far away as Harrisburg, PA and of course yours truly from Harrisonburg, VA. People generally seemed to be in good spirits, and some signs had a tinge of humor: “Briefs for Bradley” and “The Emperor has no clothes” referred to the reports of Manning being forced to strip naked at night, even stand at attention in the morning with no clothes. [The “official” version is that Manning is given a suicide-proof gown to wear.] Apparently his underwear was taken from him after Manning made a sarcastic remark about it to the guards. Yet, even the military psychologists do not think Manning is a suicide risk.
In addition to Veterans for Peace, other groups represented included Code Pink, Courage to Resist, Answer Coalition and Richmond Defenders.
Speakers included Daniel Ellsburg, who said his only regret was that he waited as long as he did to leak the Pentagon Papers—which exposed top secret government handling of the war in Vietnam.
After the rally ended, about 3:15, the plan was to march peacefully to the entrance of the base. On the south side of the entrance is a replica of the famous Iwo Jima memorial—Marines lifting the flag after a decisive battle in the Pacific during WW 2. 

Normally open to the public, today the memorial was barricaded. At first, no one was going to be allowed to go near. Then, word was that 6 veterans would be allowed to place flowers at the memorial. I went ahead, and crossed the intersection in order to get a photo. A police woman told me I could not stay on the sidewalk, it was federal property. I didn't think she was correct, but moved on ahead away from the demonstrators about 50 yards. 

photo: Diana Woodall
It was then I noticed at least 50 police men and women in full riot gear, standing hidden from the main road, on an access road in the woods. There were also 8 mounted police, and at least 2 canine units, and 2 helicopters. By this time, all traffic, all directions, had been stopped and re-routed by police. The veterans walked to the barricades around the memorial and placed their flowers, and then four of them sat down in the road. The signal was given to the riot police, who then came out and formed a “V” formation facing the group. Two were arrested, then more sat down. It was not clear to me whether the demonstrators were blocked from being able to cross the street to return to where they had parked their cars or not.
Finally, at about 4:10pm, after about 40 minutes at the intersection, some of the demonstrators began walking back toward the museum, and I walked back with them. I felt a bit too much adrenaline, in my own blood and others'. One woman told how when she bent down to pick up a bottle, trash on the street, one of the police jumped. But I saw no sign of any violence on the part of the demonstrators.
What would happen? Surely there were too many cameras for it to turn too ugly. . .but noticeably absent were any TV stations, local or otherwise. Also absent, by the way, were any counter-demonstrators.
Daniel Ellsberg was one of the 35 people arrested outside the Quantico marine base
In the end, I found out what happened on the Internet: 30 demonstrators were arrested, according to an AP wire story filed by the Washington Post Sunday evening. Other rallies in support of Manning were held in Minnesota, Oregon, California, the UK and Australia.
It's fascinating to me that now it doesn't matter if there is a media blackout on an event or not. People were tweeting from the rally, and one man attempted a live stream of the event using a laptop and cell phone. I don't have a Facebook or twitter account, my phone is not smart. I have thought of it all as a great time-waster. But if it can help in the exercise of our first amendment rights to peacefully assemble to address grievances against our government, then it is fine by me.
Not since Cindy Sheehan, the woman who tried to get an audience with George W. Bush on why her son had died in Iraq, has the current anti-war movement had a name or a symbol. Whether or not you think Bradley Manning is a war hero or war criminal, he has done two things: disrupted the machinery of war as usual, and provided a cause to rally behind for those of us who believe in freedom.
-- Diana Woodall lives, thinks globally, writes, and acts locally from her home in Harrisonburg.

1 comment:

  1. Dan Easley's comment mysteriously disappeared, so he sent me an e-mail, asking me to repost. Here tis:

    "wikileaks is still up at wikileaks.org - there's a list of mirror sites at wikileaks.info in case the main site goes down."

    you can credit me as "your erstwhile white hat secret agent in residence, Don Beasley (name changed for his own protection)", or however you'd like, or not at all. :)

    i'm dumbfounded by how many people dislike wikileaks and suspect i'm now on a list for typing its name so much. ah, well - i guess i'm better off applying my paranoia to spy-stuff than to everyday life, which, by the way, ain't half bad!

    heck, quote this whole email - somehow it reads like really bad free verse.

    P.S. dear government watchers in the sky: you need not fear me - i'm only a banjo player.